I have never been one to collect things, mostly because I hate clutter. I love being in open, simple environments that invite relaxation and calmness. I appreciate spaces that are free of things, preferring to focus on mental creativity. That being said, I do have just one weakness when it comes to material items: jewelry.
I didn’t think I was all that bad until after I moved in with Alex. For weeks, he cast horrified glances at my overflowing jewelry box, filled to the brim with bracelets, earrings, rings, necklaces, a chaotic treasure chest of sparkles and dainty pieces of metal and strings of beads. In the mornings, late for work, I would shuffle through the huge, disorganized pile, trying to find a pair of earrings to match my mood, whether it be an extra large hoop kind of day, or maybe a small flower stud kind of day.
I imagine waking to the sound of your girlfriend frantically digging through a box of jewelry at 7:00 AM each day is not entirely ideal and played at least a slight role in his decision to hand-make me a jewelry holder for Christmas. Whatever the motivation, I was delighted that he did.
The jewelry holder is beautiful. He took the time to saw pieces of wood to create an outer frame and included different components for each type of jewelry: a backboard to put my big earrings on, a corkboard for my stud earrings, a bar to display my bracelets, and pretty knobs to hang my necklaces on. He then painted the frame the exact shade of teal/turquoise that I wanted.
We have the finished jewelry holder hanging up in the house now, and when I first saw my jewelry displayed up on the wall, I was suddenly aware of how many stories the pieces represented for me. Seeing the pieces organized beside one another was like seeing many chapters of my life come together all at once.
There is my beaded bracelet, a mosaic of bright colors, that I got when I was in South Africa for Peace Corps six years ago. Its colorful hues remind me of the friendships I made with so many people while I was there. A pair of black, wooden, fan-shaped earrings from Mexico, laced with rainbow threads, that a friend in an Albuquerque hostel left me. They were a thank you present for giving her a ride during her stay, and she left them on my luggage while I was sleeping the morning she left.
A lone lightning bolt earring hangs uselessly on the holder, as its match has a broken hook. Seeing it hang alone is fitting because the college friend who bought the lightning bolts for me gave them to me during our study abroad trip in London years ago. She had previously lost one of my own feather earrings that I lent her for a night out in Camden. She returned to the flat the next morning, very hungover and slightly sheepish, handing me the inexplicably single feather earring as a wordless statement about how her night out had been.
The stories are endless.
There, too, is my grandmother’s metal cuff bracelet which her mother (my great-grandmother) had given me after her daughter passed away when I was young. My great-grandmother referred to the cheap metal bracelet as “costume jewelry,” a term I had not heard before, and which led my childish mind to believe her daughter had been an actress before she died.
My great-grandmother had a jewelry collection of her own, and there were many times she asked me to pull out the box from the drawer where she kept it. She would spend what seemed like forever turning over dozens of brooches and trying on old rings, all of it jewelry which she never wore anymore. I didn’t understand at the time why she seemed to love them so much when she didn’t wear them and kept them put away.
Now I understand. I understand that if you listen carefully enough, you can still hear whispers of adventure coming from each piece. You can feel the dust of New Mexico in your hands when you slide on the snake ring you purchased there. You can still hear the Appalachian Mountain winds blowing through the leaf earrings you bought during a museum visit in North Carolina. And you remember that sometimes our memories are not meant to be kept locked away in a box somewhere but instead are meant to be heard, looked at, held, returned to time and time again.