Happy Birthday Emmy-Do-Do

When I was a baby I was given a bracelet made of 24 karat gold, it was so small it only fit my wrist until I was 7 or 8. I think I was given it at my christening, but I don’t know for sure. I just know I was given it long before I could remember.  But the story of the gift was told to me when I was old enough to recall it vaguely. The bracelet, and the story, sat in my mother’s jewelry box for years until I was old enough to be trusted with them. Then they sat in the top corner of my jewelry box, which my mother painted with little pink flowers. The box smelled like her hands. My mother told me it was real gold, it was precious. It had been a gift too extravagant to give a child.  It came from some rich “aunt” who died before the bracelet grew too small for my wrist. I have big wrists, and big arms, I inherited them from my father. I was too young to know I had big wrists. Young enough not to notice that my body was sometimes bigger than others, and I always felt beautiful then. When I wore the bracelet I felt gorgeous.

24k gold is soft. Pure things can be, I was still a relatively pure thing, relatively unseen. There were no security guards on my street and I could venture into the woods or the parking lot whenever I pleased, unsupervised.

My older sister had a car, it was her first precious thing. Her first taste of freedom. The car was always full of secrets, of treasure. Of backpack pockets stashing away stale candy. Of half-empty packs of cigarettes, and lighters I would throw away. Full of pristine stickers from bands I didn’t know: I just knew they were stickers and I stuck them on everything. The cup holders were always sticky with spilled puddles of beverages: over-sugared coffee and over-caffeinated soda. The seats were upholstered with fuzzy gray fabric and the car didn’t have an alarm. My sister often kept the passenger side door unlocked. On hot days I would sneak into her car, alone, and hug the fabric of the passenger’s seat which smelled like cigarettes and my sister when she was happy. I didn’t know then that my sister had a girlfriend, I just knew that the particular perfume of my-sister-when-she-was-happy lived on the passenger side of the car, which was often unlocked, and I knew that I might find candy in there.

So one day I tried to get into the car but both doors were locked. I took the gold bracelet and tried to pick the lock with it. I don’t remember where I learned the concept of picking locks, but I bent the bracelet into a disaster while jamming it into the car door, and then I tried to pry it back into place with my teeth. Then I cried and looked at the mangled precious thing I had ruined. The excessive gift I had been entrusted with.

24k gold is soft, it bends even under the bite of baby teeth. My father taught me this. We were watching an old movie about pirates or sailors: long-haired men with loose white shirts who gathered over pewter mugs of golden ale in wooden bars. The man in the film was biting down on a gold coin and I, with my budding one-day-pastry-chef little brain, asked if they were checking if the coin was made of chocolate. My father laughed and told me the man was checking if the coin was real gold, which is soft as a nibble. For my birthday, I asked for gold coins. I was given a box of chocolate coins and it was the only time in my life I was disappointed by something being made of chocolate.

But I stood in front of the locked car door and all I remembered was that locks could be picked and gold could be bent.
I forgot that bent things don’t always bend back.
I forgot that sometimes my sister got very upset when I invaded her space.
I didn’t understand that the perfume on the passenger seat was still a secret, just like the cigarettes.

I didn’t manage to break into the car, and I didn’t talk about the bent bracelet. I cried, and the day smelled like a bouquet of various hot plastics: the rubber at the bottom of the car window, the tar on the cracks in the cement, the sunburnt windshield wipers begging for rain.

The day tasted like licking from my thieving fingers the earthy patina of pollen and dust which settles on an unwashed car, and like the first time my young body ever sweated from nerves alone.  It tasted like biting into 24 karat gold.

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