The story I’m about to tell you is hard for some people to believe. After hearing it, they ask a series of predictable questions: You hired these people, right? (Answer: No.) You knew them ahead of time? (Also, no.) Are you joking me? (No.)
First, a little background. I met my husband, Dustin, when I was a baby. In fact, because my dad was deployed when I was born, I met Dustin before I met my dad seven months later.
Our lives intersected multiple times throughout our childhood, but for 10 years, we didn’t see each other at all. Then, when I was 20, Dustin and I went on a date. We got married less than two years later.
On July 17, 1999, I gave Dustin a practical, inexpensive wedding band. He wore the ring every day for 12 years — through two cross-country moves, flight school, three children and two deployments — until July 30, 2011.
That was the day we took the kids to Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine to visit our favorite swimming hole, an offshoot of the Penobscot River, where the water churns and a rope swing hangs from a tree. In three months, Dustin would leave for a yearlong deployment.
Dustin was swimming with the boys in the rapids when his wedding band slipped off his finger and disappeared into the foaming water. A wedding ring is just a piece of metal until that moment when it’s gone.
As I cried on the banks of the river, Dustin rubbed my back and whispered into my hair, “We’ll buy a new ring before I leave, and someday, I’ll come back here and find the real one.”
But in my heart I knew: the ring was gone.
I wrote about the lost wedding band in a column a week later, and when Dustin left for his deployment that November, he had a new, shiny wedding band on his finger. It wasn’t the worn and scratched one that had represented our love for more than a decade.
Over time, I moved on and forgot about the ring.
Thirteen months later, in September 2012, I received a cryptic message in my Inbox.
“Hi Mrs Smiley — My dad, Greg Canders, read your article about losing your husband’s ring last year. My dad showed me the article this morning and we decided to attempt to find it. Could you please give me a call as we have found a wedding band and would like you to identify it. Zac Canders”
I hate to admit that at first I was skeptical. I had dark thoughts about Greg and Zac, whom I didn’t know. Were they tricking me? Did they have some kind of motive? Did they want something from me? Because it didn’t seem possible they could find the ring. And why would they look for it anyway?
I agreed to meet Greg and Zac at a local parking lot.
Greg, a professional diver, told me that my column had touched him. In fact, he had saved the clipping and had it in his shirt pocket.
That morning, he and his son had decided to drive 80 miles out of their way, with all of their gear, to find the swimming hole I had hastily described and look for the ring.
Greg reached into his other pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag. While my husband was still eight time zones away, my hand trembled. Greg opened the bag and put Dustin’s ring, tarnished and spotted from 13 months under water, in my palm. I slipped the ring onto my right hand.
Greg and Zac wanted nothing in return, though we had them to Dinner with the Smileys, and when Dustin came home from deployment three months later, he could hardly wait to shake their hand.
When Dustin held his ring again, it was with the same amount of awe that I had in the parking lot that day.
But when I asked him, “It hardly seems real, does it?” Dustin said without hesitation, “I always knew we’d find it.”