Diamonds–I’ve always loved them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just that kind of girl — I used to be a gold girl, too. When I was a young girl, I wore “s” chains and gold studs, eventually graduating to tiny gold hoops and then dangly chain loops. I always thought that diamonds were for the rich — models, and moguls and movie stars. As a teenager, whenever I saw someone wearing diamonds, I automatically assumed that she was somehow self-assured; something I thought I lacked back then.
My own diamond collection started rather abruptly — and tragically. My first pair of studs came to me at sixteen, when my mother died of pancreatic cancer, which was my first life-altering moment. Before she died, she took her diamond wedding band apart and had two pairs of earrings made — for me and for my Aunt Sylvia. I remember thinking that I would wear them every day, for the rest of my life.
I always looked at my ears in the mirror — a daily reminder of my mother before I headed out to school. Although they weren’t big, my diamonds carried great weight for me. They made me feel special, and maybe just a little smug, because no one else in my small town school wore anything like them. I would never have bought anything so extravagant for myself because they were entirely too sexy and smart for a 16-year-old. Nonetheless, I got used to them pretty quickly.
So, I wore my diamonds when I got my driver’s license, to all my homecoming dances and, of course, the senior prom. I made sure I left them home when I had gym class, because I didn’t want to lose them. I also wore them for my high school graduation and felt very proud. I knew my mother’s spirit was with me when I wore my shimmering stones.
Those sparkly studs sustained me through four years in college, with my oversized Benetton sweaters, skin-tight leggings and high-top Reebok sneakers. The girls in the dorm wore diamonds, too, but theirs were bigger than mine. I wore my diamonds while pledging my sorority, during all of my exams and on many dates. That was a time when the bigger and brighter your geometric costume jewelry earrings, the more of a fashionista you were, so I decided to get my ears pierced with a second hole and wear my studs there, one in each ear.
I wore my diamonds while pledging my sorority, during all of my exams and on many dates. As I finished my senior year and graduated, my diamonds continued to reflect back at me whenever I gazed in the mirror. While staring at the big, frizzy, platinum hair that surrounded them, I became rather perplexed. I didn’t look like Madonna or Paula Abdul or some nameless runway model, but there was something there that seemed to be trying to surface; something that struck me for the first time. Was there actually some sort of depth behind that crazy mane of huge 80’s hair and sparkly diamonds? I started to realize that I had outgrown the big, chunky, junky jewelry and just wanted the diamonds. Not the ones in my ears, either — I wanted the diamonds. Would this new empowerment take control of my life? Who knew? Maybe I was actually maturing — or maybe my earlobes just couldn’t take the weight of the fake stuff anymore.
As a newly minted editorial assistant in the world of health publishing, I decided that my jewelry had to match my outfits. Sure, I would wear my diamonds here and there for important meetings or conferences, but, as I moved from job to job, pearls, chandelier earrings and gold hoops began to take me over.
I soon realized that publishing wasn’t my passion, and that I needed to be personally fulfilled. I decided to go to graduate school and get a masters degree in special education. At first I had wanted to be an art therapist, but my father and some other people in the field talked me out of it. Several art therapists advised me to go into special education or counseling and then bring my art into the classroom that way.
As I finally began to settle into my niche teaching children with special needs, I continued to search for jewelry that suited my personality, and my personal style. Was my fashion sense skewed, was I just trying to act cool and confident or was I just thinking too much? My jewelry style kept changing, much the same way my jobs did during my early teaching career. The diamonds, though, they remained the same.
Seventeen years in education and an abundant collection of earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings later, I began to find some contentment in my professional life. I started wearing my diamond earrings again, occasionally.
In 2004, my life changed once more. My father became seriously ill with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. I jumped into caretaker mode yet again, learning the importance of bravery, living for the moment and just making it through another day. In fact, I took this lesson from both of my parents, and it has stayed with me.
While speaking with my father’s doctors, visiting him in the hospital, making health and financial decisions daily I found myself wearing my mother’s diamonds. Maybe it was to keep her close — to me, to my father — or maybe it was a sign of things to come. There was no time then to be searching for trinkets or charms. My diamonds — my mother’s diamonds — gave me the confidence and courage to cope with my father’s failing health and, ultimately, his death.
Little did I know my biggest challenge lay ahead. Nine-and-a-half weeks after my father passed away, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The visions that went through my mind after my diagnosis were of my mother enduring chemotherapy, her losing her hair and, eventually, me losing her. The images tumbled through my mind, but one equation stuck: chemotherapy + wig = thousands of dollars, or I could continue to rely on the strength that had always gotten me through: diamonds + guts = reinvention.
My diamonds stayed in my ears, and eventually that grew into a nice, small collection of more earrings, and rings, and bracelets and necklaces. Why wear a wig – something fake and temporary — when I could wear diamonds; something that has, and will, stay with me for the rest of my life?
Now, wearing diamonds is my daily custom — like washing my face or brushing my teeth. When people admire my jewelry they almost always say, “Your earrings and necklace are so beautiful, they look so good on you,” and I always think to myself, “You have no idea what these babies mean.”
Some might see my diamonds as an extravagance, like it may have seemed in that small town school, in that far away time. Or maybe wearing diamonds every day is a simple, mindful act of valor and courage that defines me as a strong, independent, cancer-free woman who just will not quit.