Lost Treasures

Rings slip through my fingers; necklaces flee my neck.

“This used to be your grandmother’s,” said my mom as she handed me the small piece of heirloom jewelry, a heart-shaped gold locket with a tiny round crystal in the center. I ran my fingers over its etched surface, opening the locket to view the snug space inside.

“Can I wear it?” I asked eagerly, already envisioning how it would look with my favorite silk shirt and imagining the envious stares from the other seventh-graders who had to get their jewelry from Claire’s. I imagined what kind of photo I would put in it — I wished for a boyfriend, just so I could put a tiny, heart-shaped image of him in my locket.

“Yes, you can borrow it,” my mother said hesitantly. “But you must be careful with it.”

I grinned and promised her I would, confident I would never lose something so beautiful. I promptly latched the short gold chain around my neck. I loved it, immediately and completely.

I wore that locket non-stop in seventh grade. In my school picture, it’s just visible under the collar of the blue-green shirt I was wearing. I remember trotting up and down the stairs of the middle school on my way to class and feeling the locket bounce at my throat, a gentle pulse reassuring me that my special jewelry was still there.

And I remember, distinctly, striding down the stairs to Mr. Bear’s art class and realizing in one heart-stopping moment that I couldn’t feel the necklace bobbing against my collarbone anymore. I lurched to a stop on the stairs, looking around frantically, and rushed back the way I had come, pushing against the tide of students headed to the first floor. In the few minutes I had before the bell rang and I was officially late to class, I scoured the stairwell and hurried back to my locker to survey the floor. Empty handed, I went to art class feeling sick to my stomach.

I’d like to think that I checked the school’s lost-and-found and asked all of my friends to keep an eye out for the necklace, but I don’t really recall anything after my initial panicked search. I know that I didn’t tell my mother, and she must not have been that concerned about my stewardship of her necklace, because it took her a long time to ask where it was.

And by then, she’d already let me borrow another piece of her late mother’s jewelry: A thin silver cross dangling from a delicate chain. It’s another necklace that I wore with the enduring dedication of a 12-year-old girl with a favorite thing. I still have a photograph of me in puffy khaki shorts and a green T-shirt, my hair all afuzz in an awkward frizz halo, with that beautiful silver cross as an incongruous accessory.

The last time I saw the silver cross, I had taken it off for gym class and tucked it into the top shelf of my unofficial locker in the changing room. In a hurry after class, I changed back into my school clothes and left for the next period without remembering to retrieve my necklace. I wish I had used my spare combination lock to bolt that locker closed, because when I returned to the locker room after school, there was only the familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I remember enlisting my best friend to help me go through every empty locker in that room, hoping in vain that I had just misplaced the jewelry. But I was pretty sure it had been stolen, and I kicked myself for another loss.

To my mother’s credit, she was gentle with me for losing two of her treasured pieces of jewelry. One could argue, however, that they couldn’t have been that treasured if she was willing to let her adolescent daughter wear them. Maybe she just thought I was more responsible than I was.

Also to my mother’s credit, she didn’t let me borrow her jewelry after that.

A dozen or so years later, I am still losing lovely jewelry at an embarrassing rate. I forget to put stoppers on the backs of my dangling earrings, and I look in the mirror at the end of the day to see just one accessorized earlobe. I usually follow these discoveries with a frantic clawing through my cluttered car and a hands-and-knees inspection of my room’s carpet, almost always to no avail.

Sometimes I just take off a piece of jewelry, my mind full of other things, and I forget where I placed it. I’ve gotten a little better at training myself to automatically put the jewelry in one of the four or five different trays I have for that purpose, but there’s still the odd bracelet that I discover in a bag I haven’t used in half a year.

I still yearn to find my favorite bangle bracelet in some forgotten corner, but I lost it more than two years ago and have given up hope. It was a simple band of silver, one that can be found in droves at any gift shop in England, where I bought it when I was 18. I wore it almost every day thereafter for six years, until I returned home from the mall one evening and saw, sadly, that it was no longer on my wrist. That was a hard blow.

Recently, after losing the other half of two different pairs of earrings that I bought for $25 a set from the same pretty gift shop, I vowed not to buy anything from that store again. It must be the vibe of the shop, I reasoned, that makes these earrings un-retainable. Not my absent-mindedness.

This is not to say I lose every piece of jewelry I lay my cursed little fingers on. I love jewelry, and I love receiving it as a gift. I haven’t lost the beautiful turquoise earrings or delicate amber pendant that my fiancé, Tristan, picked out for me.

I have, however, lost a ring he gave me.

No, not that one. I think we can deduce from the examples above that I will never, ever take off my engagement ring for any extended period of time. I am pleased to say that if I remove it for even a moment — to spread lotion on my pathetically dry winter hands, for example — an alarm immediately goes off in my brain, screaming, “Where is your ring, Jill??!!”

So, no worries there.

The ring I’m talking about was a surprise gift for my 24th birthday. When Tristan handed me the present, I didn’t immediately recognize the striking piece: A dramatic hunk of amber centered on a thick, hand-forged silver band. As I slipped it onto the index finger of my left hand, Tristan reminded me that I’d been admiring it a local vintage shop the one and only time we’d gone in there together. I was impressed that he had observed — and remembered — my fascination.

I loved that ring. I didn’t wear it all the time — it was too demanding a piece to accompany my everyday outfits. No, I saved it for the days when I wore a complementary color scheme, for the days when my other jewelry could take a backseat to my beautiful antique ring.

Last May, I wore it to work. I didn’t wear it home. Once again, my reaction was delayed and I realized with an uneasy start that I didn’t know when I had last seen it. Tristan looked for it at his apartment, under desks and beds and in drawers. I did my hands-and-knees search around my desk at work and, just in case, in my bedroom at home.

This was before Tristan and I got engaged, but we’d talked about it. He joked about wondering if it was safe to invest in an engagement ring. I pouted.

A few months later, I found another amber ring that was similar enough to my missing piece that I bought it. It’s not as big, not as striking. I still wish I had the original back. But at least this one makes me think of Tristan’s thoughtfulness — and it’s a pretty good reminder about hanging onto the rest of my jewelry, too.

Article © 2008 by Jill Coste