I wrote this essay (edited here for space reasons) and had it published in the Los Angeles Times several years ago. In re-reading it now, I couldn’t help but want to share it because it’s so much a part of my creative heart.
This is a story about letting go and letting life happen. About recognizing yourself for the first time even though you look in the mirror every day. About love — and about earrings.
B. and I had been having an earring debate for years. I always wore pearl studs or tiny hoops, mostly because I thought that small, modest earrings allowed me to blend in. While they may not have stood out in a crowd, they didn’t force me to stand out, either.
B., on the other hand, had always been a proponent of my wearing arty, dangling earrings. Nothing outrageous, but long enough to catch the eye, colorful enough to make a statement, and unusual enough to be noticed.
“Just try them once,” he’d implore me. “I know they’d look great on you.”
But for all my “sure, maybe someday” responses, I wasn’t about to put myself out there. After all, we were talking appearance here, and as I approached yet another birthday, the idea of standing out in the crowd was even less appealing than when I’d been younger.
We had decided at the last minute to take off for a long weekend getaway. Actually, B. came up with the idea at the last minute — it then took him about three hours to convince me to be spontaneous (irony intended).
One short drive up the coast later and found us at one of those charming little seaside towns you always read about (but never really make the time to visit).
Its few streets were filled with the requisite cafés, galleries with work by local artisans, a general store, and, wedged between a florist and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a tiny little jewelry shop. In its front window was a display of colorful dangling earrings.
What else could I say when B. nudged my shoulder? Give him a break, my inner voice told me. It won’t hurt to look.
Created from handpainted glass beads mixed with beautiful coral and jade, lapis and crystal, these earrings were not to be ignored. Brilliantly bold or delicate as glimmering snowflakes, they twinkled and seduced at the same time.
B. handed me a pair of carnelian drops, painted with tiny green and violet flowers, threaded on gold wire and topped by antiqued bronze-colored beads. I slipped out my small silver hoops, and, looking in the mirror, put on the new earrings. At first, nothing. Nothing but my feeling uncomfortable and too “out there”.
But then it happened. B. stood behind me and lifted my hair off my shoulders, twisting it up onto the top of my head.
All of a sudden, the earrings glowed and danced, bringing out the color of my eyes, lengthening my neck and giving me a grace and beauty I hadn’t known I’d possessed. When I turned my head, they grazed against my skin, swinging gently back and forth. The entire experience was a physical rush, and I hastily took them out. “They’re not me,” I murmured.
B. said nothing, but brought over another pair. And then another and another. And with each pair I tried, he held up my hair, looked over my shoulder into the mirror, and smiled.
It was then that I realized that he saw something I hadn’t. He saw the woman inside, the woman who loved colors, the woman who yearned to paint and draw. Who danced in front of the mirror when no one was home to see. Who could lose herself in children’s books and wild imaginings. She was wonderfully out of the ordinary and unexpected — and he wanted her to see herself that way.
It was finally clear to me why he had always wanted me to wear dangling earrings — because in letting go and letting myself be noticed for all of whom I was, I would be letting in limitless possibility.
After more than an hour of watching my true self emerge, I decided I was ready to have her meet the world. I chose the first pair of earrings — the cinnamon-colored carnelian drops — and put them on right then and there.
Never to be (proverbially) taken off again.
© 2012 and 2020 Claudia Grossman