gall and gumption

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Left Luggage

One way I can spot West Indian women is that, like me, they wear gold bangles. It is an old tradition in the Caribbean. My grandmother put my first pair of gold bangles on my wrist when I was three days old -- or that was the story that she told me many many times. This was the mean grandmother, by the way. I lost them when I was seven and until I was in my early twenties from time to time, my grandmother would pick up my wrist, shake her head and say in a sad, deceptively weak and pathetic voice, "Lost the pair of beautiful gold bangles that I put on you myself when you were three days old."

I have never asked anyone for jewelry. But people have given me jewelry, and I am, in some strange way, superstitious about it.

When I was sixteen my father gave me another pair of gold bangles. I still wear those. They are the traditional open ones, a piece of gold wire with the little knobs at the ends. Since then he has given me some even nicer ones, two closed ones from Saudi Arabia, where he worked for several years.

I like to treat myself to earrings. My favorite earrings ever were two pairs of traditional Sardinian earrings that I bought one winter on a trip to Sardinia (don't ask what I went there for). They do this sort of filigree work, it's medieval-Spanish in style sort of, with pieces of this coral-red coral. I bought one pair that was gold plated with very elaborate filigree and small pieces of coral and another pair that was solid gold with big ovals of coral. I lost them both in St. Kitts. The only way I'll ever replace them is if I go to Sardinia again. I would go there for the earrings.

I also like cheap costume jewery earrings and can waste a lot of time at street fairs looking over the sort of thing you find there. I had a pair of iridescent glass drops that I just loved. Lost one of them, too. But then losing one of those is an excuse to go look for replacements.

I also wear a gold chain around my neck that has this weird sort of pendant on it, just a little bar, like a flattened out chicken wishbone, vaguely. This necklace has an interesting history. When I was living in Nevis I was dating this English guy who was -- well, let's put it this way: the first time I met him I was sitting at a beach bar with a bunch of new acquaintances and this very nice older tourist couple, and he was sitting there looking depressed. He looked like a parody of your basic working class English guy, what you call a navvy. Which, it turns out, he was. Anyway this whole group of people were all chatting and he wasn't saying much till in a lull in the conversation he remarked, "I can retract one of my testicles at will."

He was ex-army, he was the sort of person whose idea of a really good time was to go to a pub with all his mates and get shitfaced and maybe get his teeth knocked out in the general brawl that seemed to conclude such evenings. He was almost illiterate, and when he was drunk he said and did incredibly foolish things, he was half a maniac. But one of the things I liked about him was that we could do things together, like go and swim in the rough sea on the windward side of the island, or take hikes in the mountains. He was always up for adventure. When he got drunk he would try to intimidate me and only succeed in irritating me. One night in a jealous rage he was driving his car crazily along a country road we didn't know too well, he was trying to frighten me and impress on me how angry he was, and I was just sort of sitting there braced against the dashboard not saying a word and at one point I said, "Could you stop somewhere? I just really need to pee." And when I got back in the car he was raving about how splendidly brave I was. This was a relationship without a future, obviously, but there was room in it for a lot of genuine affection. During the "romance" period of this relationship he had gone off to England and come back with this gold necklace, as a surprise, and some tubes of paint that I had asked him to bring me. But a few weeks later we had the first breakup, on a rainy day, he was the one who was backing out, and during this awful quarrel we had about it I took the necklace off and gave it to him. He tried to get me to keep it but I took it from him and threw it away, just tossed into the grass.

A couple days later I ran into him and he was feeling sorry for himself, complaining that he was lonely. And we started going out again. But by this point, my hurt feelings were quite recovered. So he was courting me again, and was very susceptible to jealousy, which was inconvenient because of the sort of work that I was doing, which involved meeting people (including men) and for some of what I was doing it looked a lot like dates. He would make the most ludicrous scenes. After one particularly awful one he went off to England again for his vacation, I had told him not to even bother to write, just to fuck off out of my life, it was all really too insane. I got an email from him about two weeks later.

"Dear Kia" it said. "You are right I was an asshole I think I'm going to buy a mussel."

I didn't know what the hell he meant. What, to keep it for a pet? Why? So he explained tht he was talking about the thing you put on a dog, a muzzle, not the shellfish.

The thing that made me like him so much was that he was totally a stand up guy. If he said he was going to do a thing, he did it. He got along with the locals, he wasn't condescending to them at all, and one of the things that was so fun about hanging out with him was that he was so at ease with them, as they were with him -- which was not always the case with expats. He was punctual, had a sort of mad pride in being able to do for himself and look out for others. He was the sort of person who "had your back." And when he had done wrong he owned up to it, handsomely. In this respect, in addition to the ordinary little gallantries and foolishness, he was truly gallant. He had this wonderful sense of occasion. Once after one of hiis drunken escapades he invited me to dinner at his house and he had made some sort of sandwiches with English muffins and ham and cheese, and he had cut the slices of cheese into little hearts. He'd show up if I was working late at night with a complete Chinese dinner and candles. He was not always good, but he knew what good was and when he failed of goodness there was a certain point where the only thing he could do to go forward was to fess up, and he did. Without quibbling or any kind of haggling and some equally mad gesture of reconciliation that was meant to show you the person he was trying to be.

Whatever the latest craziness with him, there persisted this genuine feeling of mateyness between us that made life so much fun. We were never at a loss for words, which is strange considering the differences in culture and education. He was so good at living in the moment and at generously leaving you room to live in it too. And he knew how to share space with a woman in public places. Not to be crowding her or leaving her to the predators. Just this mateyness, is the nicest word for it. So despite all our quarrels -- once I even put my foot in his backside and kicked him out of my house -- we were totally quits. Along the way in the mad course of this friendship he presented me again with the necklace I had thrown into the grass and I wore it. I still do, and aside from the fact that it is pretty it reminds me of him, and I like to remember him.

Well, just about a year ago today I ended the relationship that took me to Sebastopol. It ended like one of those car wrecks in the movies, the car bouncing down the hill in slow motion before bursting into flames. For weeks after I moved out any communication with the ex would send me into rage so powerful that it gave me stomachaches. It would take me hours to calm down after I got an email from him. Those post-breakup communications induced in me a revulsion so violent, because I just saw bottomless dishonesty in them, I could not trust a single word he said. And the revulsion was really insurmountable. The indignation and disgust would just come roaring ashore and swamp me totally. One thing would have surmounted it -- a straightforward admission of the truth. This he was utterly incapable of. So instead I learned, for the first time in my life, to talk myself down. I had to say to myself, like a mantra, "You cannot afford to think about this."

Anyway I had to write him last week to find out if some papers had gone to his house. They had, and he sent them along. He also asked if I could tell him the name of an album of Cuban music that I was very fond of and used to play all the time when we were together. I looked up the album on Amazon and saw that it was unavailable. So I burned him a copy and sent it on to him with no note. Meanwhile the package from him arrived. It contained some CDs that I had forgotten at his house, the papers I was hoping for, a box with some jewelry and a note.

The jewelry was a pair of earrings he had bought me at the Gravenstein Fair in Sebastopol. Just cheap little glass beads but I really liked them. The other was a necklace and earrings made of amber from the Black Sea. The amber washes up on the beaches there, and it is different colors from white to amber, sometimes clear, sometimes opaque and milky. It is beautful stuff. He was traveling to Latvia a lot while we were living together. I had left the jewelry in a box at his house, quite deliberately, fond though I was of it. Because to me jewelry is something I wear, it carries intent with it. And for me, it was like these things were poisoned with the same stuff that had made me so bloody angry. In the note he suggested that if I didn't want them I could give them to one of my cousins. But of course if I think something is unfit for me to wear for these reasons, I am not going to pass along that bad juju to any of my cousins. Or indeed to anyone I have any respect or care for.

So I suppose I must send them back to him with an explanation that the same reasons that made me leave them behind are the same reasons why I cannot give them away.

Or I can tell myself (or you can try to persuade me) that attaching all this baggage to some jewelry is totally ridiculous. But of such ridiculous stuff is my whole life made.

Now I suppose that I ought to admit that he is not a person of total ill will. I think he has tried to be kind. But the sense of his dishonesty is so predominant with me it's like I don't want anything from him that has any likelihood of being tainted with it. And maybe I'm not being fair to him. But he is a person it was impossible to be fair to. There are people like that. And the effect on me is such that a year after I left that box of jewelry on the bathroom counter, when I found it in the box this weekend it was as if I opened the box and found a snake in there. This has of course nothing to do with the monetary value or even the esthetic value. These are beautiful things that I used to enjoy wearing. My feelings about them have nothing to do with them as objects.

Am I thinking about this the wrong way? I don't know if I've explained it very well.


At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe wait a year. Or I guess in this case another year. Leave them alone and come back to all of it with that distance, and its perspective.
It's frustrating trying to get an accurate set of descriptors for this piece. But if there were 10 more pages I would have read them all before writing this.


At 12:46 PM, Blogger L7 said...

Any explanation would be wasted on him, and might mean a response, and who wants to hear what he has to say?

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous leigh said...

Am I thinking about this the wrong way? I don't know if I've explained it very well.

You have explained it perfectly. I think sending the jewlery back starts up a renewed conversation with him, and it seems like you don't want to do that. It is your stuff, left, what would he do with it when it is returned? Is the intent to have him deal with the gifts, to understand that you deliberately left them behind and it felt intrusive to have them sent back? How about ritually discarding the stuff?

The description of the English guy is vivid and wonderful.


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