Lessons in Accessorizing: A Childhood Traumedy

Milford Creek Lane was a straight, flat stretch of middle-class Georgian suburbia. The blue ranch house I called home sat about a quarter mile from the stop sign at the end of the street. During the school year, I walked that route twice a day to catch the bus in the morning and return home in the afternoon.

One morning in early winter, my breath clung to the frigid air in front of me as I walked—the grass still turgid and shimmering with overnight frost. I wore a navy wool coat and scratchy black gloves. On top of the gloves, I wore my newest prized position: a real, grown-up ring.

I had told my mother I wanted a real ring, and for reasons I’ll never understand, she allowed me this indulgence. She took me to Uptons department store where I peered in to the jewelry case on my tip toes. I picked out a small gold ring with a marquise amethyst and the tiniest of diamonds lacing over it.

The next day, I was so eager to show off my new ring, I couldn’t bear to cover it with a glove. So my eight-year-old genius decided to wear the ring on top.

When I arrived at the stop sign that morning, my fellow bus riders gathered in a loose mosh pit on the sidewalk. Older children and troubled children and stranger children all intimidated me, so I kept to myself.

I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and felt a wad of cloth. Pulling it out, I recognized my other pair of gloves. Not only did this set better match my coat, it also had sparkles woven in the fabric, giving it all the softness of a Brillo Pad.

Without a moment of hesitation, I peeled off my black gloves and put on the newfound haute couture pair instead.

I sat in my fourth-grade desk at school for no more than 10 minutes that day before the revelation occurred: my fingers were bare. The ring was gone.

Dread rose in my chest as my child-brain backtracked through the morning and realized the ring had popped off at the bus stop when I switched the gloves.

It could be anywhere now. It could have rolled into the sewer. It could be caught up in the blades of a lawnmower—yes, even in the winter! It could have been carried off in the talons of an eagle, swallowed by a jewelry-eating dog, found and kept by a vicious neighbor with excellent taste in rings.

My mother would never buy me another ring again. She might never buy me anything at all! I’d probably never have another valuable possession for the rest of my life. I hadn’t deserved the ring, and now I’d lost it in my first 24 hours of ownership. The thought of having to tell my mom what I’d done twisted my stomach in knots. Laying my head on the cool faux-wood of my desk, I tried not to cry or panic or simply bust through the school exit and sprint all the way home to look for it.

My nerves turned to nausea as the day ached on. Every bump and turn and squealing first-grader on the excruciating bus ride home forced my stomach farther up into my throat. As the yellow behemoth rounded the last turn to get to our stop, my entire body tensed.

By requirement only, I waited until the screeching brakes came to a complete halt before bolting to the front. I arrived at the door as it opened casually via accordion fold with its customary whoosh of air.

Darting out, I launched for the spot where I was standing when I switched gloves. I flung myself on the ground—aware of how strange I might look yet not caring in the least—and smooshed my hands frantically into the grass hoping to feel the hard metal against my soft palms.

Nothing. Nothing but cold dirt.

And then, amid my panic and dismay and guilt and terror and disappointment, I saw a glint of gold hope among the sullen green. I crawled over on my hands and knees.

There it was. Unscathed. Unaware of the anguish I’d endured over the past six hours. Bathing in the sunshine, just waiting for me to come home.

Even though I haven’t worn rings over my gloves since, I still don’t trust myself with valuable jewelry.

File Aug 06, 9 37 23 AM

if at first you don’t succeed

I could tell you about the first time I was ever with a boy. He was 16 and I was 16 and we were foolishly, horribly, obliviously in love.

Or maybe only I was. After all, it’s hard to tell with 16-year-old boys.

But I’ll spare you that story as it’s anticlimactic (in more ways than one).

Life only gives us so many firsts. And often, those firsts don’t live up to our seen-it-on-YouTube, Instagram-filtered, hashtag-ridden expectations.

Which is why I never forget the ones that did.

Like the day I got my driver’s license. It was an unbearably sweaty Georgia-summer day. My dad and I drove to the DMV in dirt-road Villa Rica to avoid waiting in line at the more suburban locations near our home. And despite blowing past a stop sign toward the end of the test course, I managed to pass.

The first time I drove that cherry red ’96 Mustang with no adult riding shotgun, it felt like I’d just been born. It felt like freedom. I cruised through the fifteen minute route to my first lifeguarding gig—windows down, radio blaring Third Eye Blind—believing I was a brand new human being.

Or there’s the day I landed in Paris for the first time. The City of Light came with so many expectations. It was a movie for which the trailer was so good—too good—and you knew you’d only be left disappointed.

But I was not disappointed.

I turned 21 in France—eating fresh baked baguettes and cheeses with names I couldn’t pronounce and drinking cheap wine and gawking, wide-mouthed, starry-eyed, at the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Le Paris did not let me down.

Of course, there are the other kinds of firsts too: the first time I totaled a car (that same Mustang from sweet sixteen). The first time I flew alone (and managed, beyond all possibility, to actually board the wrong plane). The first time my heart was blown to bits (by the same boy from my aforementioned not-so-memorable first time).

Some of these were comical. Some devastating. Some embarrassingly legendary.

But all my first-timer mistakes were worth making. I learned something about me or life or choices or consequences. Definitely something about consequences.

So when it was time to drive again, I knew to make sure my foot was actually on the brake before turning into a parking space. When it was time to fly again, I knew to check that the plane at the gate was going to my intended destination. When it was time to love again, I made sure two hearts were ready—not just my own.

And it turns out that sometimes the second time is even better than the first.