- Pearls of Wisdomby Spiritual Echo
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Sometines a chld can't be taught, but must learn on her own
Pearls of Wisdom by Spiritual Echo
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Artwork by supergold at

"Just pick up the pieces."

I looked up at my mother's face contorted in pain. What had I done? Moments ago, I wanted to hurt her, and now that I had, I was deeply ashamed.

As usual, we'd been arguing. Nothing I ever did was worthy of Her Royal Majesty's approval. Everything I did was wrong. Mostly I agreed with her, but I wouldn't give HER the satisfaction of knowing she was right, that I had self-doubt, was terrified of my own decisions and maybe, I just wanted her to act like she loved me.

She slapped me, right across my face. My mother had never laid a hand on me in my life. No swats or spankings: I was in shock. Humiliated and angry, I began to reach for her. Would I have hit her back? Oh God, I hope not, but as I got closer, her opera-length pearls, the strand she wore every day as long as I could remember dangled in my face. I was furious and grabbed them without thinking. The necklace broke. The beads begin to spill on the ground, bouncing like Mexican jumping beans and rolling in every direction.

I still held a piece of string, a dozen pearls clasped in my hand. I heard the stifled sob, a sharp intake of breath and I knew I'd done something unforgivable. The pearls were my mother's most cherished possession. She put them on each morning, no matter what she was wearing, and put them in a velvet box each night when she went to bed. I looked up at my mother's face, my anger gone. Tears were sliding down her cheeks, her eyes glazed and I...I was speechless.

"Pick up the pieces." The voice belonged to the mother I knew, stern and demanding, but her face...she looked like a vulnerable little girl--the image I saw in the mirror. She looked like me. I recognized her. I saw me.

I'm sorry, I tried to say, but she turned and walked away.

I sat by her bedside in the hospital, knowing I had a matter of hours or days to make my peace with my mother. We'd negotiated a truce after that incident, but I still harbored a seed of resentment. My brothers had an easy relationship with our mother, navigating family functions like professional surfers riding a wave. I walked on eggshells.

"You know Mama always loved you best," Brandon teased at our Christmas dinner a few short months ago.

"That's not true," I said to my baby brother, knowing I was a sucker for his infectious charm. He could get away with anything as long as he smiled. "You were everybody's favorite."

Memories washed over me as I watched my mama sleep. I tried to remember what we'd fought about the day I broke her pearls. It shouldn't have been hard. It was the day I made a decision that would change everything. I chose to do things the hard way.

I'd told her I wasn't going to college, planning to take a year off. She wasn't impressed, but we hadn't cranked up the volume just yet. It was when I told her I was planning on following Jimmy across country, spouted my make-believe fantasies about a happily ever after--Jimmy's band making it big while I wrote poetry and lyrics--yeah that's when things got testy.

"If you want to write, take courses in journalism and creative writing."

"Jesus, Mother, poetry can't be taught. It's like echoes of the soul. I have to write about life--experience to open road, the freedom to express myself."

I wish I could remember, lie to myself about how the rest of the conversation went leading up to the 'slap'. But, I was a kid, just seventeen at the time, and I had the grace of an elephant and a mouth that would make Howard Stern blush. She told me Jimmy couldn't sing worth shit--another first. I'd never heard my mother swear before. I was careful to pack that moment into my suitcase of resentments.

Of course, I retaliated by telling her she was nothing more than a housewife, wasting her life in the suburbs, doing menial labor inside and outside the house--because--she didn't have dreams like I did.

That's when she slapped me. Damn! I remember it hurt. My left ear went numb, and then it came back to life with the jingle of percussion instruments ringing in my ears.

Mama's eye fluttered and I could see her trying to focus. I never knew if she was aware of her surroundings. For the amount of morphine she received for pain, sober thinking and clear speech was not expected.

"My pearls..." Her voice was barely over a whisper. She clasped at her neck, expecting to find the long-ago worry beads she stroked when she retreated into deep thought.

"It's okay, Mama . You're in the hospital."

"I want you to have them."

Still a rebel, I couldn't resist, figuring she was out of it anyway. "Why? So I can remember what a spoiled brat I was? That's mean. I tried to restring them a dozen times and you always said no. I'm sorry, okay? Stop punishing me."

A familiar, but long lost tear escaped; my mother's love, word by word, syllable by syllable freed me from my self-imposed prison. There was nothing complicated about the words I never heard, the message I refused to hear, but in the end, her struggles, all of them, even to the last word made her my eternal hero.

"Your father said, 'pearls bring tears' when he gave me this strand as a wedding day present. I remember laughing, thinking it was a joke.

"We laughed together...for awhile, and..."

Mama's breathing was shallow. I doubted she'd survive much longer. Kyle, my older brother returned to the hospital room with Brandon, bringing me a coffee and a donut, but I couldn't drink or eat anything. My mother was dying. I watched her lips as if it was the most important thing in the world to finish the story, but she never did.

A few days after the funeral, Brandon came to see me and dropped the velvet box in my hand.

"I'm here to tell you the rest of the story. Are you up for it?"

"I told you;  you've just given me proof. What the hell, a message from the grave? You were Ma's favorite. Lay it on me."

And did he ever. It was right there in plain sight, and I missed it. My father, a gambler, gave my mother the pearls on her wedding day, then stole them, pawned them each time he ran up a debt. But, Mama didn't want to alert her children, expose their father's flaws, especially to the little girl who adored him, and so, she wore cheap strands of pearls, wearing them every day, celebrating them as a badge of honor, a testament to her marriage vows.

"For better or worse," Brandon said. "But, each time she retrieved the pearls from the pawn shop, mama replaced one or two of those pearls with her fake Woolworth beads. She was determined to pay for our tuition for college with those pearls."

"I paid my own way, Brandon."

"Yes, you surely did, Missy, and Mama was mighty proud of you. I hope you know, sister, Papa left and never looked back, and Mama still thought she got the better part of the deal. She asked me to make sure I told you that it was never a hardship to love any of us, and there ain't no sacrifice in wearing fake pearls. She told me to tell you the trick is in knowing the difference."

"Are they real?" I asked Brandon before he left.

"You can always have them appraised. There's no way to know. She saved you from Jimmy, didn't she? She called him fake pearls. Do you regret going to college?"

Mothers and daughters: A peace descended over me and washed away the guilt. Maybe it even chipped away at my arrogance. My mother loved me--loved us all. Maybe she slapped herself, had regrets, but I'll never know--not for sure. Eventually, I suppose, all the pieces will fit together, but at the time, I didn't know. I wasn't paying attention.

Writing Prompt
Write a story that starts with: "Just pick up the pieces..."
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