Her fingers were unusually bare.
The place where her wedding rings would normally have gone was empty.
Her ears had empty holes.
Her grandmother’s ring was not proudly—and humbly—displayed on her now-naked right hand.
Her good luck elephant charm was nestled snugly against her favorite palm-sized chunk of iridescent purple lepidolite—a special type of lithium-rich mica that creates its unique violet hue—instead of against the soft, smooth indentation between her collarbones, where it’s often found dangling from a delicate golden chain.
Her twice-pierced belly button had the Swarovski-like disco-ball barbell removed (pierced once in high school then again in her mid-twenties—not pierced in two different places).
She remembered fondly the time when her young husband took her to get it re-pierced when she was 25 because the original hole had never completely closed from her initial 18 year-old experience and its appearance always bothered her. He almost threw up when she’d gotten it done and she remembered feeling relieved that she had never taken him along to get her tattoos.
She could easily envision the stretch of postcard-scene desert highway laid out before them, as they drove in their black, Back-to-the-Future Toyota pick-up—their reliable truck carrying them from their little New Mexican college town to the piercing shop in Albuquerque, about 75 miles away.
She reaches up and touches her naked ears, missing the large blue topaz studs that remind her of the Christmas morning her young but slightly-older husband gave them to her—their beginning as a tiny family in the first real place they had ever set down roots after so many moves, including more than one cross country.
She can still hear his tender voice tell her that he thinks she’s loud and fiery enough to pull off such large gemstones, rather than the quiet, smallish ones she’s typically prone to wear.
She reflects back on what jewelry truly means—what hers means.
She studied inorganic chemistry (p-chem) because of her love of minerals, rocks and gems. She’s always been attracted to not only fine jewelry but also to older antiques that tell a unique story and that have their own unique past.
And she’s always created her own stories surrounding the pieces that she wears now—the ones that her family wore until they left her.
She sees glass-covered cases of ancient jewels in her favorite art museum in Toledo—gems and metals thousands of years old—worn by noblewomen and by ordinary people too.
She sees in her mind’s eye the mourning jewelry behind this glass wall of treasures in this same collection—the pendants, rings and broaches that are made from departed loved ones’ hair.
She looks at her right hand again, where her grandmother’s ring fits so perfectly, where it belongs and where it now belongs to her (which always still amazes her, saddens her, and lightens her heart with a love that never died). She can practically feel and touch the elder woman’s aged but beautiful hands, with buttery but papery thin skin, and only a few freckles granted to her by a generous life.
The ring shines there, on this older woman’s hand, like it was yesterday rather than years behind.
She thinks of how when she chooses her gold and silver and her platinum adornments each morning that she’s both setting her mood for her day and honoring the mood that she woke up with.
Because jewelry holds more than settings filled with finely-cut rocks—it holds memories and it holds dreams and it can even hold an infinite love.
Her heart leaps as if she was still that 25 year-old girl—girl, if she’s being completely honest—and walking through the plaza in that little New Mexican college town on her way to work; newly engaged and floating with joy and with hope.
Her eternity band sparkles on her tiny left finger as she turns it over and over to watch the diamonds glisten like rainbows in the glaringly bright desert sun.
And then she’s back, naked without her jewelry.
She recalls the feeling of her sticky sweat from this morning’s yoga class as it gently coated her golden elephant charm, which then slightly sticks to the perspiration of her damp, musky skin, in the dip beneath the center of her clavicles.
She’s naked in a way that she knows could, and maybe should, be considered shallow—but she, thankfully, knows better and she knows that this fleeting awareness of triviality isn’t true.
What’s true, however, is the connection of her tired and her nervous spirit—anxious for the surgery tomorrow morning that’s forced her to be so naked—with the people who have worn these belongings before her and with the gentle, loving man who has gifted her with some of it and, also, with the younger woman who she has already been and lived as.
She feels these presences and she feels her love for them—whether here or gone—and she feels, too, the love she has for her former little girl self—she feels all this in every cell of her worn-down being and body and she understands immediately and intrinsically why women long for these small, velvet boxes.
She understands that they’re longing for love, and for their future, and for their past.
These small, velvet boxes contain tokens and symbols of her own specialness, her belovedness and of her meaning and place in other people’s lives—people that hold a memorable place in hers.
She looks down at her naked finger and she knows that she can still feel the timelessness of her love and her relationships—with these forged mementos or without them—but she can’t help looking forward to tomorrow, when she can slip her jewelry back on.
“These gems have life in them; their colors speak, say what words fail of.”
~ George Eliot
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Editor: Bryonie Wise