The Necklace (and Coffee for Cops)

This week’s post is two-pronged. Before I launch into “The Necklace,” I wanted to add an addendum to last week’s post, “When A Woman Can’t Make Nice.” I remembered this incident shortly after I posted and it seemed too late to add it then. But it is so quintessentially a story of a woman trying ludicrously to make nice that I wanted to share it.

COFFEE FOR COPS

I was in film school in New York City, living in the East Village. For over a month I had had an inexplicable, on-and-off abdominal pain that I was mostly ignoring. Then one evening, in my apartment with my boyfriend, I fainted. He and I quickly realized that if I sat upright or stood, I would pass out. I had never fainted in my life before and found it unbelievable, even comical. As I lay on the bed, experimenting with consciousness, my boyfriend called for an ambulance. It is the practice in New York to send the cops first to confirm that an ambulance is necessary.

Two burly NYPD officers entered my one-room apartment. From my perspective in bed they seemed larger than life, filling the tiny space with their machismo. “Is she on drugs?” they asked my boyfriend. I hated thinking of how they might see me, as an overdosing drug fiend, and I tried to lift myself as far as I could without fainting to show them I was no addict. “Can I get you coffee?” I said.

Clearly, this question was absurd. a) New York cops don’t need any help getting coffee and b) I was completely incapable of rising to fix them coffee or anything else. I knew that, so why was I offering? At the time, unbeknownst to me, I was hemorrhaging from a ruptured ovary due to an ectopic pregnancy I knew nothing about. But I did know I couldn’t stand up, and I still felt it was up to me to grease the social interactions and make them feel at ease. i.e. When a woman can’t make nice, she still tries.

Enough said on that topic.

THE NECKLACE

Yesterday was publication day for my latest novel, Unleashed. I planned to celebrate it with a Zoom book launch at which four writer-friends would read from my work. I was pawing through my jewelry, planning what I would wear, when I came across a necklace I made years ago during a period when I had taken up beading. This necklace was composed of beads brought together in a lace-like pattern. It took hours to make due to the tiny size of the beads. I made three of those necklaces and gave one to my mother and one to a friend, keeping one for myself.

My mother appreciated the necklace and wore it often. One day she was on a train and struck up a conversation with her seatmate, a young Ukrainian woman. This was my mother’s perennial style. She was interested in people, particularly people from other backgrounds, and she reached out to them easily. She and the Ukrainian woman talked for a long time. At some point the Ukrainian woman admired my mother’s necklace, the one I had made. My mother took it off and gave it to the woman.

When I learned this I was gob-smacked, hurt. Didn’t my mother understand how long it had taken to make that necklace? Didn’t she value it? I had given it to her, so why had she given it to some random stranger?

It is said that a rush of dopamine — or is it serotonin? — accompanies acts of giving. Giving to others makes us feel a mood boost, good about ourselves. It took me a while to make peace with my mother’s act, but when I did, I began to picture her and that Ukrainian woman parting ways, both of them filled with good will, enriched by the encounter, and leaving each other with a good story to tell. I admire my mother now, for giving the necklace away. I love her for it. I’m sure she connected strongly with this woman, and understood that, in that small gesture, she was helping to strengthen the bonds among us all.

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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.