My mother only ever owned one item of jewelry. A necklace. A teardrop-shaped translucent gem that dangled from a shiny wire.
I loathe it with my entire soul and my entire existence.
She never, ever spoke of it, choosing not to hear when anyone asked about it. I contemplated it sometimes during my free time, when I lay awake at night with my music and my books spread in front of me.
Someone important to my mother gave it to her. Someone she would ruin herself for. A person who was almost as priceless as that damned necklace.
My mother would always stroke the jewel hanging from the chain, purse her lips, drag her eyes down. It was her reaction to any question that involved her thinking back to her past. I have memorized her motions with the necklace just as I have memorized the sound of her footsteps going up and down the stairs. Over and over.
The one and only time the necklace went missing, my mother didn’t search for it.
I watched her stumble into her bedroom, shut the entrance quietly, so quietly, and collapse onto her bed, all through the crack in my door.
She didn’t come out for three days.
When she did, her eyes were colder than before. Her face was hollow, gaunt. I wondered if the only reason she had come out was because I had slipped the necklace back into her room, underneath her wooden door. If she would have stayed in there forever if I didn’t return it.
I had kept it in a navy blue box on top of my dresser. I wanted to see what would happen if she lost it. Never again would I be so stupid.
Once, when my mother still had an ounce of feeling left, she took me to the mall. I think it was for her sake more than mine. She needed to feel like she was doing something. Like she was caring for me. I was eleven years old and I could still smile without effort. I had wondered if this was her version of starting over.
She had even brought me to the food court, and we sat at the wobbly black table, an expensive, salty pretzel in front of me. I ignored the cheese dip. It always made me gag.
My mom had worn perfume that day, a French one, that smelled of flowers and coconut and hand sanitizer. When I thought of her, I thought of that scent.
The fire alarms went off as soon as I had gotten up to throw away my food. I watched my mother run over to me, grab my hand, and run with me toward the exit, through the moving mass of people working simultaneously to escape. I felt like I was viewing it from someone else's eyes.
We were on the other side of the street when I looked down at our entwined fingers. When I met my mother’s eyes, she glanced at me and let her hand fall to her side.
For a minute, it didn’t even sting that she did, that she looked so disgusted. It was rare for her to even hold a real conversation with me, besides asking how my grades were. Then I saw where her other hand was.
She was cradling her pendant in her palm, her knuckles turning white around it. The chain left a red ring around her nape from how strongly she was clinging to it. I shoved away from her just as tears began to fill my eyes. But I didn’t cry. I just floated in the puddle of my anger.
She held that necklace harder than she could hold me.
I think that another reason why she wears the necklace all the time is that it covers up one of her other mysteries. A tattoo, placed right in the center of her collarbone, in the spot where the necklace hangs. A skinny, red flower with petals that only turn outward near the end.
It’s so out of character for my mother to have a tattoo that the first time my step-sister saw it she laughed out loud. My mother had worn things with high necklines ever since. She cared about her reputation too much.
When I turned eighteen, I went to college, using money from her overflowing bank account to pay for things, and I never looked back. I made friends there, good, true friends, ones like I had never had before. I barely thought of my mother or that necklace. The only time I remembered her is when I smelled something close to the scent of her perfume.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer when I turned twenty-six, and she died when I was only a year older than that. I cried. I cried too much for a person who never cared for me a day in her life.
The one time I visited her in the hospital, she had cupped my cheek in her pale, skinny palm and told me that I was her treasure. In the moment, I simply said, “I know.” She had smiled, satisfied. When I walked home, my hands were clenched into fists and I was furious with her. I was most certainly not her treasure. If anything was, it would be the stupid necklace, not me. She just wanted closure before she inevitably died. She wanted to end things nicely. I hated her for it.
The day of her funeral, she lay in the casket wearing a puffy red dress, sprayed in her signature perfume, that tattoo on full display. The necklace was the centerpiece of it all, floating in the middle of her collarbone above her heart. Even though I wanted to be in possession of the necklace, to hold it for a second time and again try to figure out what the big deal was, I couldn’t steal it from her. She would never be in peace if she didn’t have it with her when she was buried.
The funeral was small, and only people who felt like they were close with my mother stood out in the cold November air with me. A tall woman wearing a flouncy, swishing black gown stood on a podium and gave a horrible, unoriginal speech about my mother that sounded nothing like her. I stood there as people came up to me, offering their condolences, patting me on the shoulder awkwardly and telling me what a great woman my mother was.
"So sorry for your loss."
"I remember when we shared a dorm. What a great woman she was."
"You look exactly like her."
I could tell they were trying to remember my name.
It started raining just as the funeral ended, and through the thick scent of wet pavement and freshly mowed lawns, I could smell that fragrance with the flowers and the coconuts and the hand sanitizer. The rain carried it to my nose, the drops from the sky blending in with the ones falling from my eyes.
And when I went back to my old house to stay one last night, the navy blue box on my dresser that once held the pendant was still there. I picked it up slowly, reflecting on my childhood. With my mother gone, I felt incomplete. I still didn’t know what the necklace had meant for her, and to me it felt like when I had one line from a song stuck in my head and I didn’t know where it was from. It would stay there forever until I found its origin.
I stood there until the stars were in full view. I lay on my childhood sheets, gray and stained with lipstick and tears. I could almost hear the familiar sound of my mother’s footsteps going up and down the stairs, one at a time, in a slow, steady rhythm.
Maybe it was okay that I never figured it out. Maybe she never gave me the answer for a reason. I just have to trust her.
Slowly, a sense of closure drifted over me.
And that night, I dreamed of the necklace.