I learned adornment from my mother. Long before Black girl magic was coined a phrase, she showed me the ways of enchanted women. She wore her nails at a length not suitable for Corporate America. They were multicolored and eye catching. The clacking of her gold bangles announced her arrival before she entered a room, and she had stretch marks that paraded as embroidered flesh.
To be cliche, she fought Lupus with the strength of a heavy weight. My usage of past tense affirms that it was a fight she did not win. Her belongings were divided among a slew of aunts, most related by affection and sheer proximity. They laid claim over what belonged to her. My grandmother was thoughtful enough to set a few things aside. At 9, I couldn’t be accountable for understanding that I was receiving the remnants of a person who had perished. I did not yet know the expense of sentimental value.
But at twelve, I received her gold bangles. We will call this moment: the manifestation of my glow up. I felt equal parts B-girl bad and royal. I came from humble beginnings, but wearing my mother’s jewelry made me feel worth something. My father would later indulge my growing appreciation of material things. After serving his second bid in prison, he’d finally be tasked with raising one of his children. He made no qualms about spoiling me and steadily noted the importance of “looking good as a unit.”
My senior year of high school, someone broke into our house. I am sure this was done in response to a personal vendetta. My father’s hustle didn’t put him in the business of making long term friends, so our house was riddled with bullets. Our dog, a brendall pittbull, appropriately named Gotti, was shot and stabbed. It must be noted that he lived through this ordeal and further earned the right to his name. Nonetheless, my mother’s bangles were stolen from the house.
I cannot put into words the anger I harbored toward my father. His lifestyle already meant I had grown accustomed to his absence, but now I was also robbed of a connection to my mother. I had not yet grown into the understanding that they were only things. That my connection to her was entirely intrinsic and not at all reliant on my wearing something that she had worn before passing.
Last week, my husband thought he misplaced a necklace he wears daily. It’s a cartouche necklace that belonged to his deceased mother. He told me just before it was time to read our daughter a bedtime story and later admitted that he debated whether or not he should tell me. As members of the dead mother’s club, we try not to trigger each other’s “mommy moments.” That’s the term we use to identify when our hearts long (more significantly than usual) for our mothers. He didn’t want me to feel responsible for creating the remedy to his sadness.
It’s also a well known fact that I am a crier. So after he admitted being unable to find her necklace, I instantly remembered the anxiety caused by misplacing my mother’s things. I can recall being in high school when one of her bangles unclasped itself and left my wrist feeling a wee bit lighter than usual. I spent the rest of the school day with my eyes glued to the ground. I had no time for small talk during lunch. I was on the hunt for a piece of me that had gone missing. My close friends knew this was not to be taken lightly. There eyes were also glued to the ground. Someone unaware of the emotional cocktail I’d been sipping, jokingly pushed me as I was retracing my steps. The unwarranted human contact instantly released a flood of tears. To this day, I cannot be touched when I am attempting to hold it together.
I say all this to say, my husband lost his mother’s necklace, and I cried. Not because I was triggered into reliving my own mommy moment, but because I remember the weight of losing something that belonged to her. How it plagued me for weeks, if not months. I also remember growing older and no longer being so thrown off by misplacing her things. Disappointed, surely. Ruined, not in the least. It has almost been 20 years since my mother passed. However, my husband lost his mother all of 4 years ago, and I found myself wanting to rush his grieving process. I was fully aware that I couldn’t say, “It’s all good. It’s just a necklace.” In the moment, when you’ve lost something that represents a connection you’re still fighting desperately to maintain, brushing it off isn’t a feasible response.
It is not enough to say you’re still your mother’s son. I am still my mother’s daughter. All of that counts for nothing when you want something tangible to hold onto. Granted, the truth is no less the truth. My husband is still his mother’s son. I am still my mother’s daughter. The proof of that is bone deep and not so easily misplaced.
Brandi Chantalle lives in Maryland with her husband, Chris, their daughter, Zora, and her granny, Bernice. Follow this mama’s journey at @brandichantalle