Written by Kate Diller.
Graphic by Quynhmai Tran.
I never was much for wearing jewelry every day. I wear a watch on my left wrist, over the spot I plan to remember one of you with a tattoo. Some days, I’ll wear a necklace, one from Ryan, or Turkey, or you. There’s a ring I love, made from a ring one of you wore, an emerald where a large cameo once sat. Every so often, I’ll even put the six earrings into the holes in my ears, my favorite set of jewelry, worn so rarely. Two sets of those earrings are the heirlooms I treasure the most; wearing them feels like carrying you with me, grandmothers I barely knew, a feeling intoxicating enough that I’ve planned tattoos as an attempt to immortalize it.
I still remember where I was when I learned that you died. I lost the first of you, the mother of my father, when I was thirteen. I had to look up the date, the exact year. But I cannot shake the moment I knew. I was home alone and my grandfather called, not expecting my parents to still be out. I remember him telling me you had gone a few hours earlier, that he’d called my aunt already. I remember frantically calling my parents the second we hung up, getting voicemail, calling again.
When I lost the second, I was more ready. I was nineteen and I had expected it. My grandfather had gone the month before, and it made sense to me that you would follow. You were a unit in my mind, so closely knit that my plans for your tattoo involve him too; you didn’t want to be apart in life and I want to honor that. Still, hearing my mother say the words made me sit down on the bench along that West Campus street for a moment, before I continued on to wherever I had to be.
I didn’t know either of you well, never had the opportunity with one and missed my chance with the other. That is the feeling that struck me, more than anything. I wish I had been more connected with you, and in a way, wearing your earrings gives me that. Jewelry was something important to you both, you had scads of it, left to the rest of us when you were gone. It helped us, helped me know you, in some ways. It brought us touches of your tastes, laughter at the sizes. I remember laughing with my mom and her sister, as the three of us tried to fit their mother’s belt around our thighs; it was so tiny.
When I wear those earrings, I am reminded of you, of the things I do know. I know I look like you both in some ways. I know my thick hair comes from you, my father’s mother, and its board straightness comes from you, my mother’s mother. I know that I am loud and that you were too, just as my dad is. I know we share a penchant for pessimism, just like my mother. I know you loved lilies and stones, respectively. You crafted flower arrangements to stun anyone who saw them and made pieces of jewelry that we all still wear. I know you both shared those loves with your husbands.
I know there are some worse things I got from you, the risk of addiction and the creeping sadness and anxiety that has plagued me my whole life. But those things remind me you were people. They remind me that you were real. With all that I don’t know, all the pieces of your personalities and characters that I missed, it is sometimes hard to know that. It makes it the most important thing to me, makes it the reason I wear the earrings. I carry you with me, because it reminds me that you were real, and reminds me that there are still ways to know you.