You are underground. Summer has come early this year.
A fetid breeze blows past. You can’t see the train yet, but you feel its pressure pushing down the tunnel.
You reach up to put your book in your bag and prepare for the wild, sweaty press of people you will soon walk into when, all of the sudden…
You feel it before you see it: an absence of weight on your finger. A naked circle of skin where the ring you were just wearing used to be.
And then you hear it: a metallic ringing; a breath held. Then, another light clanking sound. It has fallen and it has bounced.
A friend once told me this story.
Here is what lies in and around the tracks of an NYC subway station: bodies of dirty, standing water that never, ever, ever dry; trash and detritus that could be from one century ago or one minute ago; the occasional waft of urine; large rats that scamper between train arrivals, looking for dropped food or treasure; grime built up over decades. Honestly, the rats are the least-worst thing.
But it was her grandmother’s ring and meant more than anything to her, so she called the MTA and, surprisingly, they sent two men down to the station within the hour. Gruff but kind, in a way that you imagine all NYC subway workers to be, but is rarely the case. And after climbing back out and in, out and in, every time a train came through, nearly two hours later: a miracle. They found it! The ring had bounced into a weird overhang area, and was not only unscathed, but also miraculously dry. (You try ever looking at that ring the same way again if it had bounced into subway water.)
The man wiped it off on his shirt and handed it up to her.
“This ring is good luck now.”
Here’s the thing: People have items they consider good luck that have merited it far less! A teenager getting an A on an impossible test, wearing a specific chain? Good luck for the rest of their life. A job you wanted. A relationship. A friendship. A day that just went really well. Little moments, big moments, sad and special moments: Sentiment and fate are so amorphous, it’s lovely to assign a physical piece of remembrance and significance to these events. A wearable manifestation.
It can be something gifted or inherited, but it can also be a choice. You buy a piece that makes you remember the day. Looking at it reminds you of the person. Touching it makes you feel the thing. Sometimes we wear them all the time and they become part of our skin. Other times we take them out when we need that little push.
Here are some of my totems:
A little 14K tombstone charm, gifted by two lovely friends, and an old coin charm purchased from Gem Gossip
I wear these two pendants together on an old chain that belonged to my aunt. Every piece has a decent weight to it, and together, the heaviness is comforting. The mysterious coin just has a nice presence. The little grave is an interesting vintage tourist piece from an old “Wild West” cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, where outlaws were buried. This particular tombstone charm is a little version of Lester Moore’s grave and has his epitaph engraved: “”Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les No more.” Despite having no personal affiliation with Lester, I love this pendant because it’s weird and charming. Beyond my affinity for jewelry, I also love graveyards—the history, the designs, the stories and the quiet—and this little golden marker is a perfect reminder of the thoughtfulness of my friends, and the stillness I find in a cemetery.
A vintage 14K white- and yellow-gold and diamond ring from Scott Dinsmore Antiques in Provincetown, MA
Every summer when I was a kid, we stayed in a little cottage in Cape Cod. Traversing the back roads, car brushing against full-bloomed blue-purple hydrangea bushes, overgrown from the rain and sea air, we would drive to little beach towns and get homemade ice cream and wander into treasure-filled antique shops. Shirley Temples and sand. Old books and tanned shoulders. My husband and I resumed this tradition a few years ago, and there’s a weird pleasure reliving your childhood through adult eyes. We made several visits to the bustling wonderland that is Provincetown, and I saw this ring in a dark, slight jewel box of a store. I did not buy it then, as I like to torture myself. I thought about it for a full year, often as a way to muddle through whatever else my brain tried to throw at me. “What about this other horrible thing?” it would ask. And I would pull out my phone and open the blurry picture I took of the ring that summer under the shadowy shop lights and remember the weight of it on my finger and the weird way the diamonds looked like a snowman and be soothed by the easy importance of the decision: One day I will get this ring. It’s hard to articulate what I see when I look at it, as is so often the case when you feel something ineffable but monumental: elements of the past, present and future all colliding in the best possible way.
These are just a few special pieces in my collection, but all of my jewelry has some special significance beyond its beauty. Everyone curates their own collections to reflect their dreams, magic and memory. Every piece of jewelry means something to somebody.
What are your totems? What brings you luck, or protection, or just makes you feel good to wear?