The Earring

Son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley looks under vanity with flashlight

I heard the clink of the earring on the tile before I even realized I had dropped it.

I looked down at the blank floor. “Damn!” I said (under my breath because I’m trying to swear less frequently in front of my kids).

I bent down and tried to look under the bathroom vanity. Clearly, the earring had fallen down into the crack under it. I couldn’t see much, so I went into the boys’ room to get a flashlight. Austin was reading a book. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I dropped my diamond earring somewhere in the bathroom,” I said. “I need your flashlight to try and find it.”

He came back into the bathroom with me. I bent down and used the flashlight to try and see under the vanity. I felt Austin’s head next to mine. “It’s really dirty under there,” he said, matter-of-factly.

We went and got the vacuum, and then spent 30 minutes cleaning out the dirt and then fishing through the vacuum canister for an earring. No luck. Austin then tried using various play swords and long sticks he found around the house, which got us even more debris from under the vanity, but still no earring. After almost an hour, I gave up.

Austin was still worried. “But….that’s a special earring,” he said, “you wear it every day.”

Austin didn’t know anything about the earrings, actually, but he’s seen me in them almost every day of his life. I got them from Shawn when Austin was just three years old, and I wore them religiously almost every day. They are (were?) just two little studs, but they were a gift from my husband to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

At the time, I had three kids under 5-and-a-half. I was gearing up to go back to work after my (unpaid) maternity leave and I was overwhelmed by everything. Shawn was heading up a company downtown and his hours meant I often found myself alone at bedtime. Our lives felt stretched to the max.

That year for our anniversary, we decided to act as though we were in our 20s and spent a night out on the town going from bar to bar, laughing and talking and doing all the things you think you’ll often do in marriage but sometimes just don’t have time for. At the end of the night, he gave me the earrings and I cried.

I’m not sure why I cried, really. Maybe I’d had too much to drink, or maybe I was just excited about such an extravagant gift. But really, I think the reason I cried was because I was overwhelmed with life and that night reconnected the two of us. We felt like such a unit in that moment.

Sometimes I’d wear more decorative earrings, taking out my studs and setting them gently in a box. But mostly, I just wore those diamond studs.
They made me feel beautiful, even on the many days when I knew I wasn’t. I wore them as I cleaned up kid puke and made chicken nuggets and graded papers. I wore them when Shawn was in the hospital and I wore them to his funeral. I wore them every day during those early days of grief and I wore them on many first dates. They were just a part of what I put on every day.

So what does it mean that this pair of earrings is no longer a pair? There’s probably a lot I could do with a solo-earring metaphor in this blog post.

But I won’t. Because – as I told Austin – the earring is just a thing. It’s a sentimental object, but it doesn’t represent my love with Shawn. Losing it doesn’t take away from that night where we bar-hopped to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It doesn’t take away from our marriage and the way we persevered through the frustrations that come with three very young kids and two demanding jobs. It doesn’t take away from the love we shared.

Eventually, Claire joined Austin and me in the bathroom, and I told her about the earring. “It’s gone,” I said, simply. She was sad for me, because she knows the story of how I got them, but then a smile crossed her face. “You told me yesterday that it is time to change that earring,” she said, pointing at the helix piercing I’d gotten in early January on my upper left ear, “and since there’s only one hole, you can put the leftover earring in there.”

Yes, there’s probably even more metaphor I could work with here – something about taking the love I once had and keeping it with me in a different way – but I’ll just say this instead: I did what Claire suggested. And it looks different.

But it also looks pretty good.

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