I Buy Earrings

I buy earrings and think this will be the last time I have to buy earrings because now I have mustard earrings and I didn’t have mustard earrings to go with all the new mustard clothing I bought because mustard is my new favorite color and now that I have mustard earrings I won’t need to ever buy earrings again. It’s been a week. I realize I need red earrings. I have a red shirt and a pair of red pants and a dress with a red belt and no red earrings. I also need the metal hoops with the prickly pears welded into them and the hundred-dollar rainbow earrings beaded by my friend back in California.

But how to explain manic buying to someone who hasn’t manic bought? Or to someone who is not and has never been manic? How to explain that rush as you click through web pages and Etsy stores. How to explain the sight of the fat envelope on the porch, the way those small cardboard boxes feel in your hands, delicate but grainy. How to explain how it is to get mail when you live across the country from your family and there’s a pandemic and you haven’t made many friends in this new place where you’ve just moved with your partner who, let’s be honest, doesn’t really like you that much anyway. And you could stop buying earrings. But it’s riding that edge of stopping but still going that really does it for you. Like the pleasure of being on the cusp of an orgasm. You think you want that release and when you do, sure it’s great (you get earrings!) but really it’s the edge that’s the most exciting. 

My partner does not love or understand my earring habit. He’s right not to love it. I am in grad school and don’t make enough money to support the habit. The earrings go on credit cards. And my debt is growing. My partner doesn’t notice when I wear new earrings. He doesn’t notice the hoops with the prickly pears or the new red clay ones or the mustard ones. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a man failing to notice fashion or if he doesn’t really look at me much. Either way, it prompts me to buy more earrings. Why not? No one notices or cares. 

Earrings have become my signature. I wear big earrings because I have long hair and if I didn’t wear big earrings they would disappear into my hair. I wear earrings when I teach since my students can’t see half my face because of my mask. I used to wear earrings to distinguish myself when I bartended. It’s about personality. Now people gift me earrings. Gold snakes. Clay succulents. Heavy silver lightning bolts. People know I buy earrings, so now they know what to buy me. I have made myself easier to shop for. I have made myself easier to love.

But it wasn’t always earrings. In the past, it’s been Shakespeare and Jane Austen films. In the past, it’s been framing all my photography professionally to create a show I never exhibited. In the past, it’s been collecting Marxist books that I didn’t ever read but someday, I thought, I might just. I didn’t even have my ears pierced until I was sixteen. I only got them pierced because my mother wouldn’t let me get my nose pierced until I pierced my ears. She thought it would deter me. I almost passed out with the ear piercing. I wore tiny studs for a long time. My ears looked alien to me—like they belonged to some other person. But I sort of liked it too. Like my body could surprise me. I remember looking in the mirror for a long time, studying the small black studs in my ears in wonder. It is the same feeling I get any time I get a new tattoo: the surprise of misrecognizing my body. Maybe that’s why I get tattoos. And piercings. Adornments. To change the body. 

Earrings are a coping mechanism. Six months after I started new medication for my brain, I gained thirty pounds. I am a small woman, and thirty pounds is a lot. My face changed shape. My body changed shape. I bought earrings instead of throwing up. I bought earrings instead of starving myself.  Once a therapist asked me why I threw up. I told her because the patriarchy because my brain chemistry. Because because because. She said, No. She said, you threw up because it worked. It helped. You threw up to survive. I buy earrings because it works. I buy earrings because it helps. I buy earrings to survive.       

Allison Field Bell

Allison Field Bell is originally from northern California but has spent most of her adult life in the desert. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Prose at the University of Utah, and she has an MFA in Fiction from New Mexico State University. Her prose appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, West Branch, Epiphany, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, RHINO Poetry, Palette Poetry, The Greensboro Review, Nimrod International Journal, and elsewhere. Find her at allisonfieldbell.com.

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