Since I’m old and sometimes lose the plot of my own stories, let’s start with the end of this story: When you turn fifty, don’t hide anything. Because you will never ever find it again.
Upon turning 50, I bought myself a simple gold bar earring made by the exquisite minimalist, Kathleen Whitaker. I was content to buy only one, not only because it was all I could afford, but also because I liked pairing it with other earrings.
My 50th birthday party was going to be big. Many people were invited, LA’s best barbecue and 3 foot long sparklers were procured, friends and family flew in from all over.
I knew I had matured because I valued my earring more than being dumb enough to wear it to my party. It would either poke a drunken eye out or a hug would catapult it right out of my ear and it would be lost forever in my backyard. I hid it in a safe place and since I had a brilliant memory before 50, I wasn’t afraid.
Then the next morning I couldn’t remember where I hid my earring. Since I’m an OCD Virgo, I tore my bedroom apart like Gene Hackman tore his apartment apart in “The Conversation”.
Despite searching for weeks, I never found it. Mourning hard I swore to never buy pricey treats again.
Cut to January 2016. My healthy mother died from the fucking flu two months earlier. In the early days of losing Mom, shock kept us moving forward. Shock helped us get through the wakes, the funeral, parenting and having to comfort all the people who were actively grief-stricken.
The shock lifted just in time for the tsunami of grief to hit. It rolled in suddenly, on the long security line at JFK. Leaving New York, Brooklyn and Long Island, my mother’s queendom, felt like I was leaving her life behind. As the tears soundlessly flowed, I really missed being in shock.
By late January I was getting used to her being gone, which is the defeated pain of acceptance. I let grief have its way with me, since medication, meditation & wine failed to stop the loss from weighing me down and emptying me out.
Guiltlessly going back to bed at 9am, I was looking for my sleep mask when I quietly uttered–
ME: Mom, just give me something, anything, to feel you.
Staring inside my bedside table drawer, annoyed by the dead pens, dental floss and other detritus that had accrued while not paying attention, a line of gold glinted as I pulled my sleep mask over my tired eyes.
It was the gold earring. It had been missing for three and a half years. I gasped, breathlessly stunned at how right there in front of my face it suddenly was.
And as far as connections go, it was way more Mom than I had bargained or hoped for. She outdid herself with that one.
In celebration, my newly restored gold bar earring was paired with one of Mom’s gold ball posts that were her constant companions of the 1970s and 1980s. I loved wearing my mom.
Two nights later I was pulling off a fuzzy scarf when I felt the gold bar catapult like an Olympic javelin right out of my lobe.
I didn’t hear the metallic ting of the earring landing, so I knew it could be anywhere amid dog beds, bookshelves, a pile of toys or a clump of recyclable shopping bags all crammed by the front door.
Since it was night, looking made no sense. I was at peace because the earring showing up after all this time had already satisfied me for the rest of my evers. Three days later I was heading out the door and there it was. I was almost embarrassed by my sudden finding fortune.
I have been a great bloodhound for others, I have a talent for finding what others misplace or fear lost for good. But when it comes to myself and things I have lost? I’m much more of a loser than a finder.
Two weeks ago I took Grace with me to NY to survive with my sisters and all our step-family what would have been Mom’s 75th birthday, scatter her ashes and celebrate her life. My sisters and I burrowed with children and nieces in our childhood home to ride out our first motherless Mother’s Day. At least all the women in our family were together; daughters, sisters, nieces and granddaughters- Mom would have wanted nothing more for Mother’s Day.
While sadly straightening out our childhood home to show to potential buyers, we sifted through Mom’s lost and found life-things, half-written greeting cards, at least ten half-written journals, and perfectly preserved Ma Bell bills from the 1970s. I silently commiserated with Mom, who clearly put these things someplace safe when she was fifty.
After multiple runs to Goodwill, loading our luggage, girding my loins for wrassling Grace’s Mini Cooper-sized car seat through JFK– (may I just mini-rant about how much more preferable an anesthesia-free colonoscopy performed in a crowded sweaty subway is compared to untethering a 5 point restraint car seat at an airport curbside with a traffic cop breathing fire and a toddler running amok while hauling said car seat and luggage and child through check in?) Oh, not to mention the five hour flight alone with a feral four year old.
Envisioning all the above ahead of me, I looked down to steady myself. Precisely situated between my feet was Mom’s gold ball post. A hand flew up to my other ear. The gold bar was gone.
This time I truly had to let go. We were running late for JFK, and after all the people and stuff that had come in and out of the house– I simply closed my eyes and let it go. Thankful for having found it twice, I sadly, silently left my childhood home. I had left that house many times before- but this goodbye might last forever.
After our endless flight, LAX was like an evacuation scene in a zombie movie. Finally home and furiously tired, I desperately searched for my toothbrush to wash Virgin America off my teeth. When I glanced in the bottom of my makeup bag, a sliver of gold winked at me. Like a new moon on a dark lonely night, there it was.
Mom was clearly showing off. To find one earring in New York and the other back home in LA felt like an absolution from above. She forgave me (or I forgave myself) for decades of guilt about moving so far away from her. Even distance is nothing when love is all that’s left.
Then, in the everyday depths of loss, I found someone.
I met Beatrice a year ago when I taught a poetry workshop at the school library near her group home. Beatrice was the most bookishly emo foster kid I ever met– a profoundly quiet but sassy and skinny 14 year old with thick as stew eyeglasses and a proclivity for anime and Shakespeare.
After Beatrice begged me, I took her to see my nephew perform in Romeo & Juliet in Griffith Park. Watching Beatrice watch her first ever play was a private viewing of wonder. She knew the play so well she told me which scenes had been trimmed. We hung out until she moved in with a foster family.
But when the foster family didn’t work out and her mother failed to comply with the orders of the court, Beatrice was returned to the group home. Hopeless, she started running away. It soon became clear our weekly visits weren’t enough to keep Beatrice or hope alive.
After months of discussion Andrew and I decided to foster her.
Last Friday she moved in. We all all celebrated our first night together at a local pizza place. Standing by the fire pit, enjoying the warmth of the fake fire, a hot flash hit me hard. Spontaneously combusting, I yanked off my sweater and heard the gold bar tinkle against the polished concrete… in the cavernous darkness of the restaurant. And again, I was willing to let it go, because now I had so much more than I had bargained or expected…
The connections to my mother continue. As we agonized over our decision to foster Beatrice, now nearly 16– I realized that everyone in our family has fostered someone- my cranky-ass dad absorbed his son’s boarding school friend for summers and holidays, when the kid’s family just didn’t appear up to the task. Decades ago my mother took in my childhood friend and her baby for years. My sister provided months of stability for a young girl with a troubled mother.
As Grace and I eyed the fire, Beatrice squinted through her thick as sin glasses, then bent down and calmly picked up my earring.
What’s lost might never be found, but what’s found will never be lost. But the biggest lesson of all is never hide what you value. Risk losing what you love by wearing that love on your sleeve. Or in your ear.