Theme: When something changes – good or bad. A twist of events, an unexpected turn of events, a change in the wind, weather, love, whatever.
by Laura Gene
I was waiting for silks class to begin. I hated waiting, and I also hated being early. But you can’t really have one without the other. That day I decided not to sit and people watch (okay, judge) and decided to hit the walkways of waxed tile in the seven-story mall next door. I trekked to the top, spiraling my way down floor-by-floor not seeing much of interest until I hit the 4th floor. There I found the most random store of kitschy fashion baubles and ironic couture.
I tried on rings made of curved brass arrows, ostentatious neon bracelets, feathery earrings, and mini-pendant necklaces. I had found the mecca of all cheap (yet fashionable) and completely unnecessary jewelry at my fingertips, literally. As I slid on ring after ring after ring, I came across an adorable brass ring – borderline cutesy and very not me, but I had to have it. The 3D curves of ribbon, one-size-fits-all squeezable ring band and S$5 price tag helped make it to the “definitely buy” pile.
Our two-year tour-of-duty in Singapore was nearing its end, spawning serious conversation about whether to stick it out for another two years in the swamp, or throw caution to the wind (or, more practically, sending CVs out to recruiter-land) and see where it would take us. Eventually, the winds carried us to Shanghai, along with the smog.
China has not always welcomed America with open arms, or borders, which is very evident when an American tries to apply for a visa to live on the Mainland. Our application was no exception. Do you have a police record? Contagious terminal disease? Been kicked out of a country? Have you ever eaten sushi?!? They are very thorough.
Essentially, a foreigner is not allowed to overstay their leisurely tourist agendas without holding down a visa-sponsored job, being the direct relative of a Chinese resident, or sharing DNA with or being the spouse of a visa-holding expat. Spouse. Ugh. I did not realize how incredibly important that title was until our long-term relationship was threatened because of its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the law. With my job prospects in Shanghai weak at best, we couldn’t risk moving to China not knowing if we could be together, live together, in the long run. Cue collective sigh.
A new job, a new life, and a new familial designation. The only way to make Shanghai a reality was marriage. Ugh. My parents didn’t have the most amazing marriage, but it was by far not the worst. Though I still saw their relationship as something I would never want to consciously choose to repeat. Over the years, I had developed, what I thought to be, a solid argument for not getting married. I had always wanted to end up in a long-term relationship, just not be married, so commitment was never the issue. Commitment was an act of loyalty and dedication, neither of which required a signature or certificate to attain. Commitment was a choice to be made every day to wake up next to the person you love. Simply, you choose to stay because you want to be with that person, not because of fear or avoidance of legal matters and paperwork an ensuing divorce would bring. Getting married made things complicated, and they didn’t need to be. Someone could be truly committed to another, with or without a piece of paper.
To move to Shanghai, I needed to step down from my pulpit, and we needed legal documentation stating we were a committed married couple. In December, on that balmy, overly sunny afternoon, we sat at our square white table on our white wood benches in our lime green apartment while our two friends witnessed a miracle unfolding before them. We signed a piece of paper, with a header that read, ::gasp:: “Marriage Certificate”.
We didn’t have a ceremony, though we did manage brunch. I didn’t wear white, as orange is more flattering on me anyway. I didn’t don blue, borrowed or dusty goods. I did, however, have a ring. Our solemnizer (or Mr.Miyagi as Kyle fondly refers to him), though kind as he may be, was still a stickler about us exchanging rings when reciting our vows, unbeknownst to us. With no wedding bands stowed under the mattress or inside a Crisco tin, I rummaged through my lone jewelry box looking for something remotely applicable for the situation at hand. What could be more solemn than a ring – in the shape of gift wrap.
I don’t wear the ring often, but when I do, I treat it like a flawless, super ideal, D-grade, 2-carat diamond ring. It was the turning point in my life and my concept of marriage. Now married, life is really no different: living together for years playing house versus marriage. Only the titles are different: tàitai (wife) and lǎogōng (husband). Newlywed life has been good, really good. I didn’t expect to find an amazing guy who could check off all the boxes in my partner checklist, and I certainly didn’t expect to get married, as all my friends can attest. Our commitment to one another happened long ago when we decided to move across the world together. So the ring, well, it was just the finishing touch on an unexpected gift.