By Marilyn A. Gelman

I have categories of pearls, maybe some real, maybe some not. There are good fakes and bad fakes, I’ve been told. I can’t tell. Monetary value is not how I order my pearls.

The strands are grouped by how I got them, mostly by who passed them along to me. A bunch from Eleanor rests in a grey flannel bag. I wore them most.

There are double and triple strand chokers in that bag and a long string I would tie in decorative knots. These pearls got attention from the men on the commuter train; Ellie said they might be real. She didn’t know either, nor did she care.

There are white/white pearls in long white corrugated boxes – good custom stuff my mother had around. Somewhere in a plastic bag is a short real strand from a then-husband, so precious to me that I never wore them for fear of losing them.

It was from Eleanor’s collection that I developed style and flair. I wore pearls to work each day, from my jeans job through my wool skirt and velvet blazer, with tights, period, then through my wool suit, silk blouse, and attaché case era. I bought little pearl earrings with my own money, all the sweeter because I didn’t need to wish them as a gift.

I wore pearls to visits to independent medical examiners who denied my disabling injury. I wore pearls as far as the changing rooms in the hospital radiation center. I wore pearls with turtlenecks; I wore pearls with flannel robes. I was strung together by pearls.

The end of my pearl period slipped by without notice. I know I wore them to brain injury advocacy events and speeches, and on the Amtrak train for a trip to speak at a congressional task force meeting. I wore pearls to my son’s funeral. I wore them when I got my driver’s license again.

I know I have not worn the earrings or any pearls since September 2011.  There’s never been time. I wore hospital gowns and a PICC line for months of hospitalization and rehab, three rounds of it in three years. I wore flannel nightgowns and a barrette for my overgrown unruly hair for months of in-home care upon my returns.

Often I thought of my teen years when I was obsessed by crooked stocking seams, and my twenties, when I had the luxury of mascara worries. I watch television commercials and think of the blessing of worrying about dry skin or toe nail fungus.

I suppose these years have hardened me even more than the stages before when I was a commuting single mom or a daughter who could not take time off to care for her dying mother.

Once again, I am inching into the world. But the pearls just don’t fit. I cannot put them on.

Recently a friend (named Pearl, really) sent me a surprise gift of delicate, brilliant diamond earrings. I’m planning to buy a pendant, at a discount of course.


About this writer

  • Marilyn A. Gelman

    Marilyn A. Gelman

    Marilyn A. Gelman has been published in anthologies, newspapers, and both online and print journals, including The New York Times, Modern Romances, and Cup of Comfort books.

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2 Responses to “Pearls”

  1. Anna Riley says:

    The pearl collection must be beautiful. I love pearls, though don’t own them. Glad they took you through so much and stood by you. Enjoy your new diamond journey now! :)

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Marilyn, your pearls represent so much more than jewelry. This was a very moving essay.

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