Life has a funny way of coming full circle.
Sure, we grow older, maybe wiser. We get married—have kids. Experience the heartache of losing loved ones. Shed some tears. Maybe sometimes we even feel like we don’t recognize the face in the mirror as we brush our teeth. Or, worse yet, we don’t recognize ourselves when we look at an old photo from high school…we don’t recognize the sparkle in the eyes—the look of youthful exuberance (naiveté?) of the person in the corny black and white yearbook portrait. Was that me? Beyond the goofy-yet-groovy hairstyle, does that kid still exist anymore?
Four years ago, circumstance and synchronicity reminded of that old 18 year-old me from over a quarter of a century ago. I was sitting at my desk in my farmhouse in Cutchogue—looking for a simpler, calmer life, I had moved to the East End during the summer before the infamy of 9/11—when an email brought me back to 1982. It was an email from my alma mater, the Bronx HS of Science Alumni Association; it seemed that someone had found my high school class ring and had been trying to contact me.
Initially I thought that it was a prank—it had been so long since I had lost my school ring, that I didn’t even remember that I had ever had one. But as I strained my memory to its farthest reaches, I ever so vaguely remembered having once proudly worn my gold-plated extravagance. As I thought about it, I seemed to recall that it had been lost somewhere during my college years in the mid ’80s.
Sure enough, the next day, I was emailed by a man who claimed to have found my well-preserved gold and turquoise “Class of 82” ring which, apparently, had been buried in six inches of dirt in Binghamton, New York. Even more shockingly, it was found outside of a horrific crime scene—the mass shooting outside of an immigration center where an unhinged Vietnamese-American named Jiverly Antares Wong had shot and killed 13 innocent people in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
Outside of that indescribable carnage laid my long-buried Bronx Science school ring—found by a man who had been using a metal detector to look for spent shell casings at the crime scene. I had spent two semesters at SUNY Binghamton before transferring to Cornell; I figured that it must have fallen off of my finger after a night of bar-hopping (there was a bar on the corner of where the immigration center was).
Conflicted feelings ensued; I was repulsed by the crime that led to the discovery of my ring—yet I was elated—and strangely sentimental and nostalgic to reconnect with a part of me who I wasn’t sure even existed anymore. Admittedly, I’ve had a surreal personal life: After graduating from Cornell in 1986, I tripped and stumbled into a career as a NYC restaurant and nightclub owner; in that world of hipsters, gangsters and drag queens, I somehow lost my way—and my soul. Drug addiction would lead me to an almost fatal overdose and a coma.
But almost dying would lead to my rebirth; emerging from that coma, I got clean and sober and went back to school. A master’s degree and a Ph.D. later, I now teach the treatment of addiction at Stony Brook and am the Clinical Director of the Dunes in East Hampton—a high-end drug and alcohol treatment program. As I found out, life can sure be full of twists and fate can be quite the trickster.
And after that 25-year journey, the “me” from high school came a knocking. Why? After an exchange of emails, my prodigal school ring was mailed to my doorstep—it looked brand new; no one could have ever told that it had lain in the dirt for a quarter of a century.
But, as a believer in synchronicities, I asked myself again and again, why did this little hunk of gaudy metal make its way across space and time to reunite with me? As I thought about that, I began to realize how important it was for me to get reacquainted with that young man—indeed, how important it is for any of us to reconnect with our younger selves. As we can sometimes get ossified by life, it can literally be a life-saving reunion.
Interestingly, long-lost rings returning to me has become a bit of a theme in my life. I had lost my wedding ring while swimming at Nassau Point in Cutchogue in 2007 (a couple of years before the return of my high school ring in 2009); it had slipped off my finger as I swam back to shore late one fall afternoon. Distraught, I counted the paces out from some wooden steps to the spot where I believed that my ring had fallen. I went back every day for a month searching for it, but never got more than handfuls of sand and endless grief from my wife.
Years passed…children were born (twin boys)…and my wife and I decided to move to Sag Harbor in 2010 because we just always loved the character and more creative flavor of the people who call Sag Harbor home. By chance I would meet David Cosgrove—a man who owns one of the most high-tech and powerful underwater metal detectors on the planet. Emboldened by the return of my high school ring, I asked David—an exceedingly kind man—if he’d be game to take a trip to the North Fork to look for my wedding ring. He enthusiastically agreed as my wife and 4-year-old twins followed behind in our Jeep for our treasure hunting adventure.
Not really believing that I could find my aquatic ring after three years, I tempered my expectations as my boys excitedly followed the determined Mr. Cosgrove into the water as I paced off where I thought that my ring might have settled.
He found it within 5 minutes.
My high school ring and my wedding ring have defied the odds and returned to me; as I look back on my life, I think I’m beginning to understand why.
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., is a Cornell graduate, author of “How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life” (Conari, 2011), Clinical Professor at Stony Brook University, Executive Director of The Dunes East Hampton and a regular contributor to “Psychology Today.” Having lived a colorful life (he’s a former NYC nightclub owner and a coma survivor), he lives in Sag Harbor with his wife and twin sons.
This essay is one of the many entries in the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction competition. Visit literaryprize.danspapers.com to find out more!