Sunday, January 31, 2010

This is why we can't have nice things ...

My great aunt Jule had a wonky eye. This, of all the thing that can happen to a face after a car accident, is my favorite. It's like having your own secretary: One eye taking everything in, examining the facts, taking notes, listening; The other eye freely roaming the landscape and daydreaming. As for the car accident, Jule was in her early 20s, a wild woman running free. Hair tied in a scarf, sexy fiance at the wheel of a convertible. And then the accident. He died; she lost an eye.

This is either true, or at some point I was told the true story while watching an episode of "The Young & the Restless," and the latter storyline stuck.

She went on to marry a man who looks like Uncle Fester, and I don't mean that unkindly. He does. They lived in this exotic place called Marshalltown, Iowa, for awhile, then LaCrosse, Wis. My aunt was a big welcoming bosom of comfort. Soft as a sofa with a big hug.

I wrote poetry chapbooks for her, then bound them in cardboard tied with yarn bows. Once when we visited their home, which was decorated with cross stitched one liners about golf, Aunt Jule had my first collection -- "I'm Not Afraid" complete with line art by me, age 9 -- on the coffee table. I imagined that was where she always kept it. "Look at what my niece wrote. She's a poet, you know. And also quite skilled at the standing broad jump." I flipped through it and found myself brilliant. The youngest person to write a truly significant book of poetry. More than half of the ideas and themes lifted lifted from Shel Silverstein, admittedly. But the words were my own.

Aunt Jule died a few years ago, and a couple years after that Uncle Fester told me that he had something for me. He handed me a small box. Inside: A pair of Aunt Jule's diamond earrings.

The kindness and sentimentality of the gift weren't lost on me, although the true value of the jewelry was. I haven't ever been a real jewelry hound. I lose things. I break things. I subscribe to a $20 or less philosophy, although not on purpose. On my most-accessorized days I might wear a clunky ring and a leather cuff, or a clunky ring and a beaded bracelet. I have seven holes in my ears, but only wear a small hoop in the cartilage of my left ear. I got that when I was 19, and first didn't take it out because it hurt so much to get in the first place (for at least a year), and now I forget it's there until the guy who does my hair snags a comb in it. I've had my belly button pierced since I was 18, and never think about that, either, unless Chuck sticks his finger in there and tells me my navel feels like its full of Shake n Bake.

When I moved in with Chuck, I abandoned a lot of my worldly possessions. I left behind teeming piles of clothes, books, CDs, shoes and furniture for the women who were moving into my apartment. Then I paid them an obscenely low amount of money to clean the place for me. At some point I just stopped going back to my old place. I probably don't even notice half of the stuff I gave them, which probably means I didn't need it. They probably didn't need it either.

Then I realized that I couldn't find the earrings from Aunt Jule.

I assumed they were in one of my unpacked Rubbermades. I considered very seriously that one of the girls who moved into my old place took them. I don't know her well, and it seemed like the sort of thing a stranger might do. FREE EARRINGS! Once in awhile I would get really frantic and hunt around for them, dig through bins feeling sick. "This is why we can't have nice things," is like our motto around here, and I would think that to myself as I imagined the day I would have to admit to my mom that I simply did not have the earrings anymore.

When I'd once joked that I was going to take them to a pawn shop, my mom looked like she was going to squeeze my throat. My mom loves jewelry. When my grandma worked in a jewelry store, my mom and I would always stop in and visit whatever piece my mom was imagining wrapped around her finger. There was also a weird summer involving QVC purchases, but that's another story.

I think about those diamond earrings every day, and that is not an exaggeration. Every time I see one of the women living in my old place, I do a lobe check. When I see anyone wearing diamond earrings, whether in real life, on TV, or in a magazine, I feel like I'm going to barf. The word "diamond," the word "earring" -- there are enough triggers in the world to set me into a funk of shame at least once every day since I realized they were missing.

Last night mid-packing I was staring at this small chest that an exboyfriend got me for a birthday gift many, many, many years ago. I love this little chest from Pier 1, but have never known what to do with it. I've always just kept tax info in it, or anything else that looks official. I stood there thinking: Was there anything important in this apartment that I should stick in there so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle?

And then a fucking lightning bolt went off in my head. Important things. Chest. Move.

"Oh, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease," I thought, taking a few seconds to live in the possibility that my earrings might be buried in there.

I opened the lid, and there they were. Still in the jewelry box. Not at all hidden. Just sitting there. Two feet from the couch. In the place where I put important things.

Huge relief that I found them, didn't fracture a stranger's lobe at the bar, and I never had to tell my mom that they were missing.

I should get myself one of those wonky eyes that remembers where I put things.


chuck said...

Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction has some good ideas about where to store valuable jewelry you've inherited from loved ones.

Amy said...

this is a great story.

feisty said...

what a find. hidden in plain sight.

Mach1 said...

You should buck tradition and wear those earrings. My stated reason for telling you that is "because you should celebrate finding them!" My real reason is that I can't quite picture you with diamond earrings on.

Laurie said...

that made me teary!

travellerb said...

christa pista, that's a most beautiful thing you've written there. thank you for sharing. fred and i will be back in duluth this summer for an express superior circle tour and demand a recount at luce's.


dr buford

jcrew said...

I am so happy you found those things. I thought someone like snicks had them for sure.

Sproactually said...

That... Was a great story.

Tuska said...

Thanks for making me cry, you dick.

Nice work.

Anonymous said...

will you be sporting them this weekend? you could wear one in one ear and some large clunky thing in the other ear, a la desperately seeking susan? - fan