Saturday, January 28, 2006

Girl Without a Pearl Earring

Running completely counter to my normally unerringly accurate political predictions, the Liberals have lost the election.
I can relate; I lost an earring today.
Beautiful. Got the pair in Barbados – a long swirl of delicate spiraling silver ending in a lovely little Mabe pearl – and I lost just one of them.
It drives me crazy because apart from the grrr factor, I still have the one sitting here solo on my desk, becoming ever more precious and valued by the moment, teasing me with its smug, self-satisfied thereness. Somewhere is its mate – in the middle of the road, crushed under some careless boot or oblivious car, lying obscured under some restaurant table, or perhaps glinting delicately (and oh so beautifully and preciously and finally) in a trash bin at the Business Depot where I stopped in this afternoon (happy – I was happy then) to mail a letter and look at the pens and pencils.
(I like looking at brand new pens and pencils. I rarely have any at hand. Can you guess why?)
And it also drives me crazy because in the larger sense, this is what I do; I lose things, I break things, I bump into things, I knock over things (usually glasses – full, natch) I crash into things (five broken baby toes tell the sad, sad story) and I forget things, usually crucial sorts of things. Important directions, appointment dates if made more than a week in advance, people’s names (hideously rude and embarrassing) and ‘where did I put my keys?’. The phrase itself should have a trademark symbol next to it, so ubiquitous and classic it is to my daily perambulations.
(This is why I’m fit; it’s not the five day a week workouts or the relatively healthy diet. No, it’s running around, back and forth, up and down the parking lot steps, into each closet, rifling through coat pockets, looking for those stupid, stupid keys.)
My friend (with whom I traveled to Barbados) crashed headlong into the glass door that separated the lanai from the living room on Monday, shocking me into silence. I neither comforted her, nor fetched ice, nor looked for blood or bruises – I was too busy staring at the offending glass door, wondering what she was doing in my place. Wondering why she had suddenly taken on my job, doing the comical Three Stooges/Marx Brothers pratfalls, banana peel slips and crashes headlong into closed, unforgiving doors that has been my inadvertent shtick since first I tripped over a roller skate and fell headlong down the concrete steps outside our house at the age of five.
(Really, you should see these earrings – correction: earring – never before have I possessed anything so poignantly, perfectly lovely. I realize it now. And unless I get a call from the restaurant or the office supply store, chances are, I never will again.)
This isn’t the first single earring I’ve lost. The first I remember was a diamond stud I lost about 20 years ago when I was living in the South of France; it must have rolled under the bureau, or down the drain in the shower, because I know I had it when I went to bed the night before. But even so, for years after, in countries all over the world, I would fumble through purse linings and coat pockets (winter coats!) thinking: maybe, maybe my fingers will light on it one day and bring it gleaming and twinkling and back into partnership with the single stud I still own and still keep tucked away in the back of a jewelry box. Maybe – maybe in Bizarro world! Surely not in this one.
I lost two single earrings in the backs of cabs on the same visit to New York a few years back. In one of those cabs, I also left my burgundy paisley wool Ralph Lauren scarf that went with everything I ever owned and a few things I still aspire to. I think about that scarf. And I occasionally look at those two lonely, single earrings – the intaglio that made me look at least two levels more sophisticated than I really am, and the small silver burnished silver Me & Ro dangly earring that still makes my stomach churn thinking how perfect two would be.
I was taller wearing those earrings. Prettier and smarter and the sort of person who doesn’t lose everything that isn’t nailed down or too heavy to lift.
I missed an appointment once that can still make me quiver with loss and mortification more than 20 years later. (My mother used to call them: "those moments so shameful, they can keep you warm on cold winter nights.")
I had written some segment ideas on spec for a breakfast television show in London when I first arrived in town and couldn’t get arrested as a disc jockey. Nothing new now, but back in 1984, my makeover segments and fashion and decorating tips (designed to be packaged and sponsored) were still pretty fresh. To my surprise – seriously, I didn’t know anybody… I got the producer’s name off the credit roll at the end – the production secretary called to say the Big Name producer would be happy to meet with me within the next 10 days on a specific day and at a specific time. I was dizzy with excitement and anticipation, imagining the future that lay before me, practically decorating my new career girl corner office in between selecting and rejecting dozens of outfits to wear on the day of The Big Meeting.
The day before The Big Meeting I got very grown up and decided to call to confirm my appointment and was surprised to receive such a frosty reaction from the production secretary who took my call.
“Yes, hello, this is Jane Wilson – I’m just calling to confirm my interview with Mr. X tomorrow at two?”
“I’m sorry Ms Wilson,” said the chilled to below zero voice of Ms Production Secretary. “But that appointment was for today at two. We were wondering where you were.”
“But, no, wait, that’s impossible! My appointment is for Wednesday the 22nd. I have it written down here…”
“Today is Tuesday the 22nd,” replied Ms P.S. “Today was the day.”
“But – oh my God – I’m so sorry! This is horrible!” I was beside myself with embarrassment and remorse; I couldn’t tell the days of the week? “Please – may I please re-schedule the interview? Any time – I’m just so sorry, I can’t think how…”
“I’m afraid Mr. Big Name doesn’t have any time available for the next few weeks,” she said with total lock-down finality. “And we’re not taking any meetings for the next few months. I’m afraid you’ve missed your chance,” she added, her voice suffused (or so I imagined) with contempt and patronizing dismissal.
Then she hung up.
I wrote the producer the most craven, apologetic, spineless begging letter I could compose, and sent it off, expecting nothing and receiving just that.
It was hard to forget or put out of my mind. It was just so clownish and pathetic and stupid and there was no one – no one – I could blame besides myself. The memory was cringe-worthy and to this day I can conjure up those feelings of futility and sheer gobsmacked horror at having blown such a great opportunity so completely and thoroughly.
(There is a footnote to all this though; about a year later while I was living and working in the South of France, a note from the Big Name was forwarded to my mailbox. In it he apologized for being so late in replying – he was only now going through his correspondence he said – as he had been fired from Channel Four a few weeks after our proposed (and disposed) appointment. They were good ideas he said; keep working on it, though sadly, he wouldn’t be the one who would produce them. Nice eh? I still feel sick about it though…)
Since then I’ve lost a pair of unusual pink cotton casual pants I picked up for a few bucks on a weekend trip to Montreal. (I called them my happy pants. They were. Happy. Then. Not so much now.) I’ve misplaced a black Benetton cardigan that was totally ordinary but fit perfectly. Perfectly I tell you! I’ve lost at least a half dozen more single earrings, a crazy hat (vivid purple crushed velvet on one side, poisonous chartreuse printed silk on the other – and it’s reversible!) a couple of love letters I can still more or less quote from memory, a handful of boyfriends and two parents.
It’s amazing I still have so much stuff left.
And despite the occasional painful twinges of frustration I feel at each of the losses and accidents and disasters (I am now thinking of tracking down the lady at the tiny, anonymous little jewelery kiosk in Holetown Barbados to see if she can send me a replacement earring – damn the cost!) I am truly conscious of the importance of being able to let go of things – of not letting material stuff control my emotions or upset my equilibrium.
My mum taught me that.
A few months before she died we were celebrating what would be our last Christmas together. I remember she was wearing the pretty cream coloured blouse with the ruffled collar I had given her that morning and apart from looking tired and much too thin, she was enjoying the dinner and the family and the fireplace and all the beautiful twinkling gleaming family heirloom stuff that came out on only very special occassions, admiring the table we had set while she was napping earlier just the way she would have set it: the large balloon wine glasses, the red bordered hunting print place mats, the best silver and the china she had inherited from her mother. 1900’s Limoges china, simple and beautiful, with just a narrow strip of burnished gold bordering the dinner plates. She treasured that china – we all did – as one of the few really nice things her mother had been able to pass down to her.
I was clearing the table, hurrying to get it done so we could all sit down again together, shoes off – as is my toe-smashing tendency – and as I went to go down the two carpeted steps that led from the dining room to the kitchen, my stockings slipped on the rug and I went down with a bang and a gigantic crash. Seven dinner plates were shattered beyond repair.
I just sat there, the wind knocked out of me thinking how devastated – maybe even angry – my mother would be. So careless! So stupid! So precious.
I was already crying when she reached me. She just knelt down and said:
“Don’t cry – don’t be upset. They’re just things. It doesn’t matter – they’re not people. Come on, get up, let’s see if you’re okay.”
I was. And so was she.
I have what’s left of the china and I haven’t broken another plate, though the few chips they’ve acquired over the years don’t upset me as much as they might. I’m okay. They’re not people.
I hope Mr. Martin is okay too.

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