by Ingi House

My mother told me that we come from a long line of bleeders. I remember her saying this as she called from the hospital where my sister was being pumped full of coagulating chemicals, alum and iron and ferric chloride. White, sterile towels were pressed down on her to stop the blood from flowing out as her daughter ripped her open, screaming into the world. My mother stated that she had bled on the floor of the maternity ward too when she had me. I whispered “I’m sorry,” as I twisted one of my pearl earrings. “I wanted you, I made you,” she said.

You see pearls around the neck of many a fashionable lady. They suggest taste and wealth, but as jewelry goes, are largely affordable. The pearls, natural and volatile, pick up oils from the skin and seem almost alive as they lie upon the breathing flesh of a woman’s body.

They are also coffins that, like their owner, will one day turn back into dust.

This is what I’m named after.

Natural pearls are created by a parasite or other irritant invading the body of an oyster. The oyster recognizes the invader and coats it in nacre over and over again. The parasite eventually dies, leaving the beautiful coffin, a pearl, behind.

Cultivated pearls are created by placing a small bead along with a piece of mantle from a sacrificed oyster, inside the reproductive tract of another oyster. The operation is traumatic and it takes several weeks for the invaded organism to heal as it coats the irritant with nacre. Both natural and cultivated pearls are harvested by breaking open the oyster and stealing its treasure, rewarding the finder while killing the maker.

I wear pearl earrings because they remind me of myself. That I was once nothing more than a parasite, subsisting off my mother’s life. I try to shake the guilty feelings of having caused her grief, of pain, of potential loss of life. She tells me she chose to become a vessel but it doesn’t lessen my remorse. Twirling the studs in my ears, I know I owe it to her to become something more than what I am. To make my life worth the cost.

Unlike the ladies who lunch, consuming everything in their wake, dinners and diamonds and pearls that ring around their neck, unaware that they are wearing coffins. They don’t know the price of the beauty that adorns them, never giving, always taking, never knowing the value of a dollar, the value of a life. They don’t know that blood is sometimes colorless and that death is sometimes pretty.

I want to wear pearls because I feel part of myself slip away, a death, and I’m not sure what’s dying. I want reassurance that perhaps this death could turn into something beautiful. I want a connection to life. To reassure myself that I could perhaps capture what is changing in the coffin of my mind. Coat it in memories. Preserve it and wear it till my own body gives out and I give birth to something beyond myself. I feel loss as easily as I feel the reflecting spheres of white that warm to my touch. I twist them about in some physical manifestation of the turning of my mind.

I observe conversations and connections, coating them in my own form of nacre over and over again, trying to make the parasite beautiful.

I do not mind wearing death, as long as I understand it, or will understand it. Perhaps that’s what draws me to pearls. I don’t want colored clumps of corundum, the bright red rubies like oxygen rich blood spilling out from gaping wounds carved deep into the heart of Earth, reminding me of my mother’s sacrifice the night I was born, as she tried to offer up more than just soiled rags. Stones, offered up like precious children, only to be regulated and priced so that rich men in suits can buy chipped off pieces, cutting them, grinding them, and twisting them into something better, into jewels with inflated value that they sell to unsuspecting buyers. I want something that was alive, that was made in an ugly, misshapen thing that reminds me of my own body, not something that was torn and twisted into something more palatable for general society. The inside of these shells would be thrown away, if they did not promise riches. I hope there is something in me that will enable me to turn growth and change and pain into something beautiful too.

Perhaps that is why I wear pearls today, little coffins in my ears, daily reminders of the cost of life. A mother giving birth to a daughter, a welcome parasite leaching off the fertile land, growing and taking till finally tearing through, covered in a layer of bloody nacre. The daughter sloughing off the mother, the pearl no longer needing the shell of the oyster.

Image: Pearls by KK_Photographics via Flickr