Gems and Geodes

In a week I probably won’t remember the name of this tipsy 23-year-old hitting on me in a bar, the one who tells me that I’m really pretty, the one at whom I laugh, but still, I can remember my dead husband’s phone number, the number of the other man too, though no longer do either reside in my phone’s list of contacts. And I can remember the last things that I said to that first one, and to the last, the things too he didn’t say to me. I can even recall the shape of sky on certain days, but I learn no longer new numbers from memory, don’t even try, wonder if this is some kind of sign of a thing I am incapable of, some kind of human connection I’m no longer built for, some soft place in me I got tired of wounding and so tried instead to make hard.

Hard, like the bowl of my son’s rocks on the table in the upstairs hall, all of them in different colors and shapes. Of the ones I love best, none of them are smooth. Unpolished, rough, and imperfect; each one of them unique. I love the bowl of rough stones on the upstairs table more than the flat paintings on the wall with their familiar scenes, more than the clothes in the closet or any pair of my shoes. I love the feel of them in my hands, the sharp points and their uneven, unpredictable edges, the flat planes of some, the others’ occasional ridges and bumps. I would not love them as much if they were easy, round—what a tumbler does is a kind of wearing away, a kind of taking, and haven’t I, over the years, too much experience with being asked to be softer, with being told I was too difficult to hold, too different to keep, never gem, not precious, not worthy of care.

In the journals from my early teen years, there is a girl who longed to be understood and often worried that she wasn’t. In the journals of the last few years, there is a woman who thought she was and learned that understanding someone didn’t mean valuing them, learned that only those who really know you know best how to hurt.

Maybe, like my son’s rocks on the table or like that man’s leaving taught me, I am never to be gem. But maybe I might instead be geode. You see the best part of a geode only when it’s broken, only when it splits to its center. You do not polish the hard outer shell of it, cut and shape its sides in some perfect geometric fashion.  On the outside, a geode appears ordinary, even plain. But maybe broken, like that 23-old-year old told me, there is still some part of me that’s beautiful. Like that geode, the way, that when halved, its heart exposed, it shines.

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