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My mouth cringed as I saw the instructor swiftly and effortlessly bounce his two silver rings on the floor. They bounced right back into his firm grip. He looked up at his gasping students and grimaced.
“It’s just an inanimate object. It doesn’t mean anything.”
But it does, I thought as I played with my own two silver rings that I had placed on my two ring fingers, opposite each other. It was real silver and my dad had given them to me before he went back home to bury both of my grandparents.
I was in my “reinvention” phase and part of that was me embracing my edgy feminine side with trying out different accessories. All the rings I had bought turned my fingers green, and then eventually became so rusty that I had to throw them out.
But these... not only were they really cool and different, they hadn’t turned my fingers green, they added a bit of an allure to my aesthetic, and I had felt almost naked without them.
In a weird way, though, it was like I had a piece of dad with me everywhere I went. He’s alive, but we live worlds apart. This will be my ninth year since I’ve seen him in person.
“Yes, my wife and I vowed to be together for as long as we shall live, till death do us apart blah, blah, fucking-blah.”
The class was silent.
“These,” he motioned to his rings. “Have no more significance to either her or I than last night’s dinner. You know why?”
We all shook our heads.
“Because we’ve both cultivated a bond that is inseparable on a foundation of trust and open communication, a free-for-all dialogue, if you will.”
We still didn’t get it. Perhaps it was because we were all, for the most part, 16 years old. Ya know, 16 meaning oblivious, naive, carefree, the-world-is-our-oyster type of optimistic. We also, to a certain extent, were hefty romantics, so the gesture of bouncing the rings off of the pavement was rather appalling.
We all, for some godforsaken reason, opted into taking advanced placement psychology. It was an interesting divide of people: The “too smart for their own grade” kids who had all the necessary qualifications to skip a grade, but couldn’t due to some unspoken rule about cut-off birthdates, the trendy nerds who always were either invited or threw the “hottest” suburban parties on the block, the eastern European crowd, and the undisclosed ADHD kids front and center.
Me? I don’t know really know what crowd I fell into. I emigrated to the States when I was eight, so my would-be eastern European accent was nonexistent. I blended into the American high school system like a goddamn chameleon. I was smart and I had the fortune of skipping a couple grades before I had arrived at my current suburban residence. I never threw any parties, nor was invited to any, but people from all sorts of cliques were always gravitating towards me.
I was greeted in the hallways, acknowledged in classrooms, people would applaud after presentations…
I was what my dad at the time called a “floater.”
Resuming back to the lecture, the instructor shook his head and scribbled some stuff on the board, albeit our cue to take notes. Handwritten notes…
Believe it or not, half a decade ago, laptops were still considered a monetary luxury that maybe about 10 percent of these suburban snobs could afford. And because we were all such advocates of “equality,” we all suffered the consequences of handwriting every... fucking... thing.
Thankfully, our instructor was one of those “get-to-the-point” lecturers so the notes we had taken were brisk and to the point.
That day’s lesson was all about symbolism or symbolic interactionism, which is a sociological theory that aims to explain social behavior, how people interact together through symbols, its connection, and that kinda thing. I will not recall the full lesson word-for-word, considering that this took place nearly eight years ago, but I do recall the impact it had left on me.
People attribute or construct symbols to stay connected; for example, holy matrimony is often symbolized through two rings, sealed with a kiss, etc.
Then, there are purity rings signifying a person’s promise to stay pure until they eventually meet “the one.”
Mine were neither of those, but because of both of these prior social constructs we have developed as society, you can probably guess how annoying it was to have to explain that the two silver rings on both of my ring fingers were neither promises of purity (since that ship has sailed a long time ago—sorry dad), nor a promise of forever.
My dad isn’t the world’s greatest father. He seldom keeps in touch. He mainly keeps to himself. But... he has never made me feel like I’m not a loved daughter. Whenever we would engage in conversations, we could talk for hours and hours, depicting musical genres, quote stupid Polish comedies that we watched together, and sometimes even thoroughly digest the meaning of life. I think what I appreciate most about him is that he hasn’t really judged me on any bat shit crazy thing I may have done. He’s always been keen on being true to yourself, making your own choices no matter what they may have been, and living bold.
“Grab a backpack and explore. Who cares?”
That’s mostly where I inherited my wanderlust from.
So, when he brought in those two silver rings one day and asked if I’d want them... of course, I said yes. It was a connection. The man honestly hardly ever expresses himself openly, and here he was, asking me if I would like to wear something he meticulously picked out for me.
When you’re an immigrant and one of your parents has no other choice but to move back home, thereby fulfilling their duties as the estate of their parents, a part of you feels like it’s missing.
I lost a lot that day... and a part of me feels a little bit broken, see-through, and omnipresent. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter if you have settled in a new city or country, homesickness never ever leaves. It’ll be there until you have enough money and courage to get some closure, step on your sovereign land, and revisit your childhood home. And even then, that solution isn’t a hundred percent certain of whether it’s going to fulfill a gaping void.
Unfortunately, revisiting my childhood home is not an option for me right now, but I crave it every single day. So perhaps Mead was right when he developed his sociological theory. Symbols—or my silver rings—are small ways in which I make sense of my social order.