I just read that Princess Diana would have turned 50 today. My sister Mary was a big fan of Diana’s. I wrote this piece seven years ago on what would have been my dear sister’s 50th.
I didn’t have a potato, a cork, an ice cube, or a needle. Or any red wine or pot, for that matter. I knew about the needle and the ice—I remember my girlfriends, or their mothers, using those tools to pierce each other’s ears. My husband reminded me about the potato, and my friend Christine recalled getting through the puncturing rite with the controlled substances.
I’ve done it now, too. The piercing, that is. Not tongue, brow, nipple, or navel, but my ears. After 47 years and countless gifts of pierced earrings given by unsuspecting friends and family who never knew my ears were hole-less, I’m no longer the only female on the earth who does not have pierced ears. I skipped this girlhood ritual. I can’t explain exactly why—perhaps in my yearning to be like everyone else, I pretended I didn’t want to be like everyone else.
LaToya performed the surgery for me at Claire’s Accessories, after instructing me to sign my name in multiple places on a pink sheet of paper that warns me about redness, swelling, and infection, and makes me swear, in writing, that I won’t sue. I’m a bit nostalgic for the home rituals of 30 years ago—there was no threat of lawsuits then, even in the event of a not-quite-sharp needle, or a potato with an eye or two.
Instrument in hand, LaToya does the job quickly, expertly, and almost painlessly. My 8-year-old son, who has accompanied me because he says he “likes gore” has chosen the studs for me from the card LaToya offers—little cubic zirconia. I favored the garnets or the peridots, but went along with his selection. I check my look in the mirror LaToya hands me, a bit startled by the change the little glittering flecks make in my face.
I have another pair to put in. Diamonds. Big, honking diamonds, taken from a ring belonging to a grandmother I never knew but whose red hair, now fading and threaded with gray, I inherited. My parents had them made into these studs for my sister Mary’s 25th birthday in 1979. Today would have been her 50th birthday.
Mary wore these on special occasions, and lent them to many of her friends to wear on their wedding day, their size and sparkle adding to the importance and joy of the ritual. I’d like to think that each of those marriages endured, but I don’t keep in touch with all of her friends. She also pawned them occasionally when she was short of cash, or when she wanted to splurge on something impractical, like a weekend of partying inPuerto Rico. Pawning something was euphemistically known as “taking it to the uncle’s” in my family, an expression whose origin I don’t know. Mary always paid the pricey interest and got the studs back just in time.
The diamonds have sat, hidden, in my safe deposit box for 16 years since my sister’s death from cancer at age 33. I never thought of wearing them—they made me too sad, and I didn’t even have pierced ears anyway. On the few occasions when I’d grovel through the safe deposit box for a birth certificate, passport, or deed, I’d look at the earrings and feel like my heart was growing a bruise. Sometimes I’d think of them as a small, secret safety net—something I could sell in an emergency and use the cash to leave everything behind.
But as Mary’s 50th birthday approached, I considered the party we might have had for her, imagining it as an elegant gathering— brunch at Tavern on the Green perhaps, or an even more extravagant celebration, a trip to Paris and dinner at le Grand Colbert where she would preside at the table wearing her big diamonds . As it is every year around her birthday or the anniversary of her death my heart was heavy, especially so this year, because our mother is gone now, too.
I went to Mass this morning, along with all the elderly people who are regulars on a weekday. The priest was late. When he finally shuffled in 20 minutes behind, with rumpled hair and a froggy voice, I could almost hear my sister, who had a sharp wit, offering some sly remark about that. When intentions are asked for, I pray that she and our mother are safely at rest, experiencing peace and joy, and able to watch out for those of us still drifting along here on earth.
I decided to pierce my ears in celebration of her 50th and wear the diamonds, as if some little glint from their facets might telegraph a message that would float heavenward, letting her know how much she is still missed and loved.