Jenny Klion | Longreads | February 2018 | 14 minutes (2,134 words)
Twenty years ago, in the parking lot of a Cirque du Soleil show at Santa Monica Beach, I saw in the dust an antique diamond engagement ring. Of course I picked it up, all tiny diamond and huge ring size, but the mystery took hold of me: who was its owner, what was her story, and did she mean to throw away her marital promise ring?
“Look at this!” I said to my new husband James. We’d only recently found each other, were instantly simpatico, and had married at nearly first sight.
“Are you sure you want to mess with that?” he asked. “That’s somebody’s magic, you know, sitting in the dirt.” He was always talking about somebody’s magic, and messing with it.
“I do!” I gleaned, and pocketed the sweet thing.
Six months later, back in New York City, I was lying on the floor in a group hippie singing class, engaged in a visualization exercise about some inner artistic journey. Our instructions were to invent a guide-type helper for ourselves, and at the end, give that guide a gift. So in my mind’s eye, because it was all I could think of, I offered up the antique diamond engagement ring I’d found in the Cirque du Soleil parking lot. I felt very good about myself, filled with generosity and hope.
But when I checked in on the ring proper, which I’d stashed away for safekeeping — there it wasn’t. Well, the ring was in its place, but the diamond was gone. It had disappeared. I had no idea what happened to it.
“Did that imaginary guide-type helper actually take the diamond?” I wondered aloud. Was that possible?
“No,” James scoffed, laughing, pulling me onto his lap. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Hey, you are messing with my magic,” I said, a bit stung, and moved away from him.
It’s what I wanted to believe, anyway. Because since then, I find jewelry, nearly everywhere I go.
I have tens of thousands of pieces: bracelets, bangles, rings, earrings, hoops, studs, cufflinks, feather jewelry, leather jewelry, designer jewelry, including an enormous Chloé horse-and-horseshoe set, spotted on a West Village side street at the intersection of a brownstone stoop and the sidewalk.
“Look at that,” I remarked to myself, and scooped it up like it was a sought-after secret.
I saw in the dust an antique diamond engagement ring. The mystery took hold of me: who was its owner, what was her story, and did she mean to throw away her marital promise ring?
“Ridiculous,” James kept on insisting about my new special powers. But I kept on finding.
Despite his skepticism, I continued to collect necklaces, chains, and pieces of watches. Pendants, pearls, stones, crystals, and beads. An astrology wheel in tin. A Libra balance charm, and so many others, in ceramic, enamel, gold, silver, or plated metals, shaped like animals and numbers, hearts and flowers, Disney characters, military medallions, peace signs, and religious symbols. Plus an oversize flat brass dancing child couple with the names “Eileen and Richard” engraved at the bottom, discovered in a gutter at the corner of East Houston Street and the Bowery.
“Bummer,” I thought, but still picked it up.
“Put that away,” James admonished, downplaying my find, relegating it to the jewelry collection area, from which he kept his distance. Poor Eileen and Richard; I was thinking maybe we could’ve learned a lesson from their eventual fate. Then he pulled me toward him, unsuccessfully. “Look how cool this is!”
With that, he puffed up his chest, showing off the T-shirt gifted to him by his team at the hot HBO show where he worked scouting locations. It said, in bold letters: THE FINDER.
“That is cool,” I admitted. “You are the best finder.”
I mean, besides me, I thought. I was beginning to understand I did not want him to mess with my magic, my growing jewelry collection.
“I found you,” he said, softer.
“No, I found you,” I countered, but now that we’d been together for nearly six years, our routine was getting old. We weren’t seeing beauty in the same things anymore.
When my longtime shrink died, I’d walk by her Upper West Side brownstone at our session time, until I spotted a very sweet three-dimensional turtle pin right outside her door, and that soothed me some. And for weeks after my mom passed away, I was in the zone, an otherworldly zone perhaps, when in rapid succession I found two dolphin charms, a very impressive owl pendant, and three 20-dollar bills.
I find jewelry, nearly everywhere I go. I have tens of thousands of pieces: bracelets, bangles, rings, earrings, hoops, studs, cufflinks, feather jewelry, leather jewelry, designer jewelry…
“Look at all this!” I said to myself. Really I was crying inside, because I missed her so much, and I felt no comfort from James anymore.
At some point I got serious and bought containers to put my treasures in, to sort them, and organize them, because the whole thing was beginning to look like a big mess, like junk, and it wasn’t. This assortment of found jewelry has a lot of meaning to me.
My whole theory about the jewelry finding is this — and I wish I could live my life by these same rules, because they work: if I’m looking for the jewelry, I don’t find it. So no, I don’t walk around with my head down, checking out the gutters.
But if I’m confident about my intuition, and trust that the jewelry will come to me, it always does. At times I’m on more of a roll than others, but my dry spells don’t bother me.
Almost everything I pick up is broken, which is probably why it’s on the ground, with a split clasp, or a lost earring back, or it’s smashed because a car ran over it, or once in a while it’s as though a beaded necklace exploded on the street. Then I’ve got to put down my bags and pick up the pieces, one by one, as swiftly as possible. One time I pulled from my purse a pair of tweezers to retrieve the most beautiful blue beads embedded in a sidewalk outside Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.
“Get up!” James cried, suddenly hovering over me, wearing his prized THE FINDER T-shirt. “What are you doing down there? It’s embarrassing.”
“I thought you thought this was cool.”
“I only said that because I thought that’s what you wanted me to say.”
God, he was annoying! We did not seem to be on the same track, and my jewelry finding skills were calling me.
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I determined that I would not discriminate; I treat the dirty plastic bead with the same reverence as the platinum aquamarine-and-diamond bracelet I picked up outside a New York Fashion Week event — the only difference being the bracelet I refer to as a major find. I might go months without a major find, but then I trip over a silver chain lying like a snake on the sidewalk, and there it is! A major find; not major major, but still major.
In fact, that bracelet was the only piece I ever put up a sign for, right at the finding spot, because I felt bad that someone had lost it, or dropped it, or the clasp had broken…but alas, no response. That was also the one item I hawked, which I kind of regret. Not deeply, but I’m certain it was worth more than the $600 I took in. On a pride note, that was my most major find ever, and I would have liked to have shown it off!
For a while I reconfigured the jewelry and sold it via consignment at a hipster store on East 9th Street and Second Avenue. I called my collection “Lost and Found Jewelry,” and it looked great on my friends and models. Most of the pieces flew off the shelves, but in the end I decided the jewelry had more value to me than the $35 or so I’d received from each sale.
Sometimes my eyes deceive me; I once unfortunately mistook a large dead cockroach for a flashy opalescent jewel — aaaak! — and have many times reached for what was not a glass bead, but a half-eaten sourball. So now if I’m unsure, I kick the thing around for a bit, just in case, which is how I discovered that astrology wheel made of tin.
Sometimes my eyes deceive me; I once unfortunately mistook a large dead cockroach for a flashy opalescent jewel — aaaak! — and have many times reached for what was not a glass bead, but a half-eaten sourball.
I always thank the jewelry gods when I find something, pretty much the only god I pray to. That may sound weird, and some people do think it’s strange that I have this affinity, and this collection, or that I’m known to stop and stoop down, usually awkwardly, when I find something. James in particular never appreciated this move, though he found a number of pieces himself, some of them nearly major.
“I came across some stuff for your collection,” he said one day, unloading his pocket contents onto the dresser. “And I’m returning these.”
It was his set of brass-colored keys, our apartment keys. This was nothing he’d found, but something we’d lost: the potency of our marriage. “I think you know we are done,” he conceded.
“What about the whole ‘other people’s magic’ thing?” I asked. “Am I officially being messed with here?”
James and I went to group couples counseling to deal with the ongoing clash of our egos, but it turned out you had to be willing to help your partner heal their childhood wounds, and in doing so, yours would be mended as well. That effort lasted a few months, but ultimately we agreed that our magic didn’t mesh.
Because here’s another jewelry-gathering tip: you have to be willing to find it, and then lose it again.
I’ve even buried a few of these treasures; I won’t say where exactly, but one is under a tree near my favorite hiding spot at my late mother’s house in Connecticut, though the gardener has probably picked it up by now, as it was a fairly shallow dig. Another is on Jane Street in the West Village, in the garden behind the funky bachelorette pad where I lived for many years. And the third one was not so much buried, as left behind, on a park bench near the West 86th Street entrance to Central Park.
It was a blizzard-driven February 14th when I wrapped up in a pretty little pouch my own engagement ring, with three tiny diamonds, all still intact, the one James gave me to celebrate our union, the one I still held on to. It was the six-year anniversary of our divorce. We’d been apart as long as we’d been together. What was I waiting for?
I drafted a note, and slipped it in the bag: “I hope you have better luck in your marriage than I did,” it said. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
I trudged through tears and the windy snow until I found a park bench that seemed just right, especially since it bore a plaque with the words: “Paramount Pictures. ‘I Was Made To Love Her.’”
Whenever I’m feeling lost in the world, or even missing James, I look at my found jewelry and see hope, tens of thousands of times over.
I hesitated suddenly, checking out the father, son, and dog team playing nearby, and the homeless man wandering about, worried about the destiny of my ring. I realized, though, that it was not those people I was brooding over, or even the ring, but me. Just as freely as I was able to find and amass the gems, I wanted to be able to let them go, leave behind the past, and gather up a new set of good fortunes. Because the point of lost and found jewelry is that you don’t always have control over what you find and what you lose. It’s all a gift anyway. It’s all about what you open your eyes to.
I can do that, I thought. I’m good at that.
My own engagement ring needed a new life — as did I — so I dropped it off, lightened my load, and assumed whoever picked it up got as much meaning from the find as I did from the loss. The snow was falling so fast that day, that by the time I turned around to leave, the ring had disappeared beneath the flurries.
Whenever I’m feeling lost in the world, or even missing James, I look at my found jewelry and see hope, tens of thousands of times over. I’m not bothered by the broken or discarded; in fact, I can relate, maybe overly so. I polish away the dirt and grime, or pass it under warm running water, or scrub it gently with a brush, and ultimately I reveal the gem. And another. And another. Sometimes I study a piece under my jewelers’ loupe and see that it’s real gold, but most of it’s not. My collection is a private conversation I feel privileged to be a part of, especially when I find things like a pin that says, “I Keep It Realer Than You.” My favorite of that variety might be the flattened rusty red one, with the white lettering, that reminds me: “I Am Loved.”
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Jenny Klion‘s work has appeared in Ploughshares, Vice‘s Tonic, Prevention, the Hairpin, Purple Clover, among others, and is upcoming in the Rumpus and more.
Editor: Sari Botton