My favorite earrings are these flat little gold stars that, when worn together on the same side, make it look like my earlobe did awesome at school. They’re simple and sweet and I get tons of compliments on them. I love them a lot.
When I took them off a couple of weeks ago and put them on the table amid several Thai takeout containers, I knew it was a bad idea. I actually thought it in the moment, “You know this is a bad idea,” but I did it anyway. Obviously, I’d learned enough from throwing away my retainer (wrapped in a napkin, of course) when I was 13 to recognize the danger, but not quite enough to thwart it.
I asked Erica if she’d seen my little stars when she cleaned up after dinner the night before. “Nope. Did you check the pile?” she asked, indicating the ever-present collection of jewelry and pens and uncompleted NYT crossword puzzles she maintains for me in hopes I’ll eventually clean my shit up.
I checked. They weren’t there. So, I turned to Saint Anthony, as I always do when I lose things. “Listen. I know this one’s totally my fault, but I’d really appreciate some help.” It’s not that I’m religious (and even when I was, I wasn’t Catholic), but the patron of lost things likes me for some reason and has never let me down. However, even as I asked, I had an instinct that this time it wasn’t up to him.
I addressed the ghost of my dead mother. “Mom. Where did you put them?”
Actually, hiding my poorly placed things to teach me a lesson was more my Grandma’s bag. She’d come across a ring I’d left on the kitchen counter or a necklace I’d laid across the arm of the couch, and hide it in her top dresser drawer. Then she’d ask, “Susan, where’s your add-a-bead chain at?” She’d watch me head for the den to get it then let me panic and search underneath cushions for a while before going to her drawer. “I’ve got it right here. How many times have I told you to keep track of your stuff?”
But, Grandma’s spirit hasn’t hung out a lot since she died; Mom’s has. In fact, she was around so much right after her death that I eventually sage-smudged and botánica-candled her out of the house. Besides the fact that she was making our dog crazy, I just didn’t like having her energy around me. We hadn’t exactly ended things on good terms, and I wasn’t sure whether her dying made her any less angry than she’d been while she was alive.
After my Santeria-esque ceremony, I didn’t feel Mom inside the house anymore, but a cardinal started to show up in our yard on a regular basis. He’d come every morning of the warm weather months, when the sun shone directly in our glass doors, and beat himself nearly senseless as he repeatedly head-butted his reflection in the glass until the shadow finally shifted. Naturally, I decided it was a harbinger of Mom’s spirit trying to get back in the house.
For the past four years, I’ve seen that cardinal in our yard almost every day. He started his 2015 warm-weather rap attack at the back door about a month ago, but around the time I lost my earrings, he stopped. He’d still drop by each day, but would only hang out on the gate, still looking in, but never making a move on his reflection. A day or two later, he stopped showing up altogether. And I miss him.
As irritating as he could be when I was trying to sleep in on spring and summer mornings, I’d become accustomed to having my little red alarm clock around. And as ridiculous as it may sound, when he left, it felt like my mom had given up on me once again.
When I got the call that Mom had been put into Hospice care, she and I had been estranged for years. Two days after my 40th birthday, I flew back to Georgia to see her before she died, and when she saw me come in the door, her first reaction was to snarl an angry, “What are you doing here?” Which hurt, but it wasn’t a surprise.
Our estrangement began after my family found my blog where I’d written very openly about Mom’s struggle with prescription drugs, while she was mid-struggle. Obviously, I get it now that it was the worst idea ever to write about her online, but at the time it was my way of coping with Mom’s addiction, and my role in having her forcibly committed to rehab.
When I arrived at Mom’s house in Fitzgerald that day, I’d long since removed the posts from my site, but the damage was done; the whole family had seen it, not to mention all of our friends, and my mom was still humiliated and furious. Which, I get. At that point, the last time we’d spoken was a year earlier when she called after her doctor suggested she get her affairs in order. During the call she told me, “I used to love you so much,” (past tense, I made her clarify), which is a big part of why I didn’t speak to her again until my sister called to say it was my last chance.
We’d both been so hurt and broken by our relationship already, and if she didn’t love me anymore, well … what was the point?
During her last weeks alive, I begged Mom for forgiveness. Sitting beside her hospital bed in the living room, I cried with my head on her stomach. “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I need you to please forgive me. We don’t have much time.”
“You’ll never know how much you hurt me,” was all she said back.
Mom could barely speak anymore by the time we had her admitted to a care facility. As the family started to leave her room that first night, I paused to reassure Mom that the nursing home was only a temporary situation. She glared at me and managed a single word. “Heartbroken.” Half an hour later, we got a call that Mom had been found unresponsive and was rushed to the emergency room. The next morning, she was gone. “Heartbroken,” would be the last thing she ever said to me, or to anyone.
I’ve had a really tough time dealing with things since Mom’s been dead, but then again, I had a pretty tough time dealing with them when she was alive, too.
Feeling her spirit around me has been hard, especially in the beginning when the memories of her anger and sadness were still so fresh in my mind. I’d like to think that our souls work some of that shit out simply by crossing over to the other side, but I just couldn’t imagine Mom’s ghost as anything other than pissed off.
Once she became the cardinal, it got easier. I still imagined Mom as angry, but the consistent visits made me feel like she cared, on some level at least. And thinking that she might love me again, even in the form of a potentially brain damaged bird, helped me cope with the fact that we’d run out of time to work things out in real life.
When my favorite earrings went missing, I logically knew they’d probably been swept up in a flourish of paper napkins and disposable chopsticks, but it felt nice to think it might be Mom’s ghost teaching me a lesson; it was the first time since she died that I wanted her spirit around me. I’d missed her when the bird left, and it gave me peace to know that I still cared, too.
Yesterday morning when I was getting out of bed, I saw an eye pillow that had fallen on the floor behind our mattress. I picked it up to put it back where it belonged and heard something clatter to the floor. It was one of my little star earrings. “Thanks Mom, I knew it was you.”
I searched all around the bed for the other one, but as of yet it hasn’t turned up. And if I know my mother, it won’t until she’s good and damn ready for me to have it. Still, I’ve got the one and that’s enough for now.