When Ma was stuck for dough, I reminded her of some rather fantastic jewelry that could be liquidated to meet her expenses. She was quick to correct me that no such thing existed, just the pieces that she had explicitly described in her will as inheritances.
Mine, for example, includes an emerald pendant that I still remember selecting from the case at Grebitus and instructing my father to purchase for her. When I remember, I can feel the muscles in my calves pull as I stand on tip toe trying to see over the top of the counter.
Come to find out, I had a good eye when it came to emeralds. Twenty years later my Ma was working at a local jewelers to even out the number of employment quarters required by Social Security for benefits. Her feet were getting bad but she was not complaining to anyone about it. The stone, she kept repeating, had exceptional clarity. Ma, I said. I am not the secret wizard who brought amazingly high quality jewelry into your life. I was a child. It was a fluke.
She would shake her head as if I was missing the point.
Would you call it a coincidence?
No, she wouldn’t.
I don’t wear jewelry. I wear a plain silver bracelet that Mo got me in Virgina when we were both 15. She had it engraved with my initials. My father repeatedly thinks he gave it to me, and I wince a bit and let him think he did. One year, he admitted that he hadn’t given it to me and I thought the long years of indulgence were over. It’s quite alright, I said. I think you can tell how much it means to me and I appreciate your noticing. Wednesday he appeared to think he had given it to me again. Christ almighty. I let him think it.
Against this backdrop of antijewelry and my parents’ mysterious view of my jewelry karma, I went to Z and I asked him: if your parent wants you to have an heirloom, but the liquidation of the heirloom would bring them great material security, is it better to liquidate it or to let the parent die a pauper, with heirloom intact? Z did not know, but he had a leaning toward the honoring of the (albeit ridiculous) request on the grounds that, well, it’s a parent. And parents care about crap like that.
I grumbled through Optima checks used for Creditlines clocked against Visa bills that this was not being scientific. Why keep a balance of that magnitude aloft at that altitude when we could just put the emerald up for grabs? A woman up at Orr Hot Springs asked me what was wrong and I said it’s my freakin back. Back, yes, she said matter of factly: financial problems. Not mine, I said, Ma’s. She manipulated my internal organs and rocked me gently, vocalizing unintelligibly for 90 minutes. I walked back to my room with little wincing steps. Gimme some Advil, I said, upon entering. Lots.
I went to a lawyer. I went to a priest. I went to an investment counselor and I went to a local bar. I went to a rabbi, but not before I put the question to the internet ask a rabbi. Most of the questions for the internet rabbi had more to do with proper preparation of dishes. Everyone wants to know. No mention of what to do when a parent wants to leave something of themselves, something quite material, when all the people they are leaving want is love, endless love, love that does not end, love from a mother who does not question our worthiness.
Ma, I said, coming clean, don’t you realize I don’t want an emerald, I just want you to know you got your point across: that I feel loved. Hello! Success! Someone actually knows you love them! It’s such a rare thing.
Rare as this emerald, Ma said. It’s a stone of exceptional quality.
What does it mean, asked a friend, to respect a parent? Are you respecting them enough to know better when it comes to liquidating emeralds against the rising cost of long term care? Or are you respecting them enough to know they have a fear of disappearing, and a will to symbolize their existence with precious stones? How could my mother have missed the message of our supreme nothingness? Our oneness? Our everywhere nowhereness?
Dunno. I held off. I would spit that she would die and I’d liquidate my inheritance as I saw fit, with no intervention of sentimentality.
At the kitchen table at my sister’s house, she was about to cry as I told her what I’m telling you. Why don’t you wear it? she asked with great kindness and real curiosity. I waved her off and continued with the details of my journey, which, I noted to her son, was quite long and led me nowhere. He laughed out loud.
But now I see myself wearing it and quickly push the image out of my mind. Too dainty. Huge liability. If I lost it I’d have to cave in my own head with a stone, one of less exceptional quality. I’m not old enough young enough skinny enough beautiful enough to set it off. I can’t be sure if it was found on me that it would provoke the erotic deification that it flatly deserves. I’m afraid it would look, what, well, out of context on me, right down to my workaday smell. A woman wearing this emerald has to smell absolutely out of this world, just as Ma did. I’m even wondering if the emerald, in a bizarre act of sentience, would know everything I had said about it. And, finally, with great crushing sickness, could I ever unmuck my psyche about assisting my father in pleasing my mother with what must have been an outrageous and compensatory gesture in the wake of odious treatment?
I don’t want the emerald, I want the argument. I want my Ma to nod at my well reasoned points, touch my arm, and stand her ground. I want to have her around to fight for. With. At. Beside.
Come back, Ma. Come back.
You left something.