The brooch she never wore
it had been imbedded in the palm of his hand.
they had to pry his hand open, and remove it.
it was their 20th anniversary, and life had not been overly kind to my mom and dad. a set of circumstances spiraled and set them back, and back then, in the ’60s, you kept secrets along with some memories – some trinkets, a diary – hidden deep in the back of the drawer next to a pack of Kent’s, or Marlboro’s that you didn’t want anyone to know you were smoking.
it was a little after six.
the doorbell rang, and my father opened the door. two men stood with a huge cake box from the local bakery, wishing my father a happy anniversary, and asking where the lady of the house was. my father turned from the front door for maybe, maybe a split second – calling for my mom: a cake from bambi’s – when the two men pushed their way into our home, and pulled two fully loaded guns from the cake box.
pointing one directly at my dad’s face, demanding everything.
my mother was upstairs, getting ready for a dinner party – an anniversary party at a very favorite restaurant with twenty-five friends and relatives – because, well, twenty years was a milestone, a big deal. it was to be celebrated until the wee hours. my mother stepped out from the bedroom, wearing a favorite housecoat and full make-up, and hurried downstairs where she was expecting a celebratory cake and congratulations, not a loaded gun pointed directly at her.
the second man demanding everything. give us everything. off came the jewelry, and the watch, and her wedding band that she couldn’t get off her finger and he, the man, demanded the ring or he would cut her finger off. now. right now. she licked and licked her ring finger – soaking it with her own spit and saliva – until it felt like the skin was coming off along with her diamond wedding band. a simple eternity band.
they led my father and mother upstairs, to their bedroom. that’s where they wreaked havoc. all drawers were pulled out, and everything was scattered on the floor. everything. where? where? there, my father gestured, there – the sock drawer.
socks were unrolled, and cash flew out. antique piggy banks were smashed to bits, and coins spilled everywhere. jewelry boxes were flipped over and all and everything scooped up and tossed into the pillowcases that were ripped from the pillows – one extra soft, one extra hard – from the king size bed – that was really truly two single beds pushed together. wedded together. perfectly and beautifully made, bedspread and all.
one mattress shredded with a box cutter. everything ripped apart. my father stood and watched helpless – mortified and horrified – as my mother’s wrists and ankles were being tied and bound; her mouth silenced with duck tape. or maybe it was masking tape. his heart racing and pounding to the point of breaking and cracking – as he tip-toed – tip toed a few inches backwards – maybe three, four inches – to the bedroom door, where his sports coat hung over the door knob, and as he held his breath, and silently prayed – he prayed for their lives, he prayed to be given more years, he prayed for them to not hurt her sully her dirty her rape her; he prayed like we all pray when we don’t believe in god but we have nowhere else to turn – and he reached deep into the pocket of his sports coat and grabbed it and clinched his fist with every ounce of strength. every single ounce he had in him, and kept his fist clinched for what must have felt like forever.
and then they turned to him, the two men, and it was his turn – his arms and ankles bound, spinning and rotating the tape around his ankles and feet until his toes bled – but he was not gagged, they did not gag him – and from what was told to the police officers later that night – smacked with the butt of the gun at the side of his head – his temple. not pistol whipped, no. no. smacked. the bruise lasted months and months and months.
and then he stumbled to the floor, and they rummaged through everything. everything. every single drawer, closets, medicine cabinets, book shelves; my room, my brother’s room, the hallway linen closet, the bathrooms. removing paintings from the walls, and throwing them on to the wall-to-wall carpet.
the noise, my mother later said, was unbearable. they rummaged and stole and grabbed and tossed everything into a pillowcase and piled the cash in their pockets, and my mother, curled in the corner, kept her eyes closed because she couldn’t bear the sight and sound and loss.
my father was trembling on the ground. his hands clinched. frozen. his knuckles white. pure white. and then the two men left. the front door slamming shut, and they could hear the car revving up. they could hear the car drive away. and then did nothing for what felt like months and months, my mother later told the police.
and then, when all seemed quiet and safe, my father crawled to my mother, on his elbows and knees, and he ripped, yanked, the tape off her mouth with his teeth and he kissed her – long and hard and caught her tears – and she crawled to the phone, and managed to dial O on the rotary phone with the tip of her nose because her determination outweighed her fear, and she could hear the operator, and my mother screamed – howled – into the receiver: help us. help us. help us. help us. help us.
and the police came and barged into the house and they removed the tape from my mom’s ankles and wrists; and my dad’s ankles and calves and arms and he screamed – an angry bitter fuck you fuck you fuck you guttural scream – as the hair from his legs was ripped from his skin, and then they pried his hands open, and there it was. in the left palm. embedded. the diamond brooch. each diamond – round and perfect – that he had saved every single penny for. that he borrowed money for. that he had sold – pawned – his watch and pinky ring for. the diamond brooch he had begged the jeweler, his friend on west 47th street, to give him the best deal imaginable for the girl of his dreams.
the diamond brooch that he designed for her, wanted her to have, to own, because he loved her with every fiber in his being and was willing to die for her.
the diamond brooch that she never wore. never. not once.
she could never bring herself to wear it. she kept it hidden in the back of the drawer, deep in, next to the pack of marlboros, the too small french lingerie, the love notes and love poems he wrote to her while he was in the army, the cachet that smelled like lilac, the samples of perfume like chanel #5, the little bottles of liquor from pan am and TWA, and the one charm – a favorite charm – that had fallen off the charm bracelet that she had planned on wearing that night, along with the diamond brooch that my father had planned on giving her with a handwritten note that read: hey monkey, whatdya say, 100 more? i love you, sammy
she gave me the brooch when i got engaged to ken.
“this is all you need to know about love,” she said, as she placed it in the palm of my hand.
(both men were caught, sentenced to prison. they were related to the house painter – a man who had worked in our neighborhood for over two years. ours was the 3rd house they robbed.)