María must outgrow the legacy of one mother to fully claim her true inheritance from another.
It had always been there, hanging from her left earlobe. Oversized when she was undersized; something she grew into as it grew into her.
It had belonged to Lourdes. That shadowy imago in whose belly she had incubated. As a hatchling, only days old, she was given away.
María smiles to think of it. The significance. It means that at some time, no matter how brief, they were alone, she and Lourdes.
How was it done — bravely, she supposes — having her own child, she knows she could have never pressed that cold metal against a tiny ear, as delicate and perfect as the inner whorls of a seashell. Did she cry out in anger and pain, foreshadowing what she would feel when older, trying to understand the why? She was the ward of nuns when only a few hours old. The earring survived her two days with the Catholics.
A prayer, then, and a talisman, lucky beyond belief.
María’s new mamá understood that a child of inheritance was not a possession. She still carried memories of yearning for a father that had disappeared from her life. She left that odd, ungainly silver hoop alone, the only tangible connection to the child’s mother. It was not for her to decide, not hers as María was hers.
The earring survived María’s childhood despite Mamá’s ruling that María was not allowed to formally pierce her ears until she reached the far-off frontier of thirteen. María wore her down, sliding paperclips into place on the soft lobes in the second grade; Mamá was so afraid that she might give herself tetanus that she relented.
But that first earring kept its pride of place in María’s left ear, a distinction unto itself. Surely the other earring was in Lourdes’ earlobe, hitching a ride in her life as María’s earring did in hers. Accidental path-crossing could have occurred; recognition would be assured as long as she wore the earring at all times. Joyous exclamations would, of course, pour from Lourdes’ lips and she would take María into her arms.
The nuns had suggested to Mamá that María favored her mother. This was guidance of the most helpful kind — a BOLO of sorts — María merely needed to find a woman who looked like her wearing the matching earring.
Philosophy but not enough wisdom came with adolescence. Adoptive, biological, natural. All useless words to the heart. María had always known which woman was her mother, a truth that was comforting but inconvenient, an itch that could never be reached, an incompleted task, a dream deferred. She carried the lines of the Heyliger poem in her head:
Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own,
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.
Some questions weigh more than others. The poem couldn’t fill the Lourdes-shaped hole in María’s life.
The earring survived a ruptured appendix. María refused to allow its removal for emergency surgery because of the unshakeable feeling that her luck could run out if it did not stay with her, that the universe would somehow fall out of rhythm if the earring were separated from her. The spell, and the link, to Lourdes could be broken. Without the magic it carried, and in the irrational fog of preoperative morphine, María believed she might cease to exist. The kind nurse did not comment, merely folded it gently into a square of paper tape that he attached to her earlobe, as reverently as it deserved.
The earring survived her adult inquiries about Lourdes. Unsurprising to María, the planet was both too big and too small for descriptions of childhood want to prevail. Failure was likely, as the earring was of a common sort, and María was sanguine about the vagueness of her own appearance in the identification of another.
When Mamá lay dying, María wondered how she would survive without her. Mamá had always hoped, as María hoped, that she would find answers to her questions. Undoubtedly, Mamá understood that life doesn’t always provide them. Love understands. María held on to the analogy; if she was Lourdes’ hatchling, she was indeed Mamá’s fledgling.
Cuarenta y tres años, doscientos cinquenta y seis dias, e cinco horas, the earring survived the entirety of their time together.
María removed it, calmly, without ceremony, because she knew she no longer needed it. Mamá may not have given her life, but she had made room for María in hers, to fill a María-shaped hole. María found a place to belong, and it was a place that was easy to find, because Mamá was easy to find. María had found herself, whole and complete, still without all of the answers. She needed the space the earring had occupied.
For Mamá had left María her earrings. All of them.