To celebrate the upcoming release of my romantic comedy, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia—I am running this 75 Days of Phobia series. Thanks to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” In this case, the something that wigs out rebellious writer Barbara MacRae could be the basis of a really awesome horror movie that would wig out my previous guest, Kate Cuthbert.
I’m not afraid of very many things. I loathe mosquitoes, and I have what some (well, alright, most) would consider a rather acute fear of germs and disease, good common sense! I just don’t have the bandwidth for superstitions. If there’s a ladder in my way, the only way I’m going to walk around it is if there’s someone on top of it who is coughing. The only time I’ve ever thrown salt was during a dinnertime argument, but that’s someone else’s fear story to tell. I have sevens and thirteens tattooed on my skin, I open umbrellas indoors and I leave hats on the bed all the time. I’m not more advanced or more logical than those who have irrational, superstitious fears. I’m just too lazy and obstinate to follow any rules I don’t absolutely have to.
I do, however, have one very peculiar dislike. No, it’s not a dislike. I’ll say it. It’s a fear. A totally irrational, completely superstitious fear. And apparently it’s so rare that it doesn’t even have a name, at least not one that I could find. So knock yourself out on this one, folks: I’m terrified of antique jewelry.
When I was very young, probably 5 or 6, my mother read me a story about a princess, or maybe it was a virginal milkmaid, I don’t remember. The details about her are gone. But she somehow came into a possession of a beautiful ring, and the moment she put it on, it began to change her. The ring had belonged to an evil sorceress, and it was imbued with all the horrors of her personality, and anyone who wore it would be infected with those horrors. (Yes, my mother had interesting ideas about what constituted age-appropriate children’s literature.) I will forever recall my mother’s cackling sorceress voice as she read, “the ring is on your finger! The evil is now in your soul!”. Yup. The math I learned as a kid? Gone. Piano? Forget about it. Church? She couldn’t make that stick, and I promise you, she REALLY tried with that one. But the ring that carried its former owner’s evil? Stuck like glue.
So how bad is it, my antique-gemmaphobia, my jocalepriscusphobia? I desperately want to tell you that it’s just a personal thing, that while I wouldn’t wear vintage jewelry myself, neither would I recoil in terror from my friends when they show me the gorgeous bracelet they got at some chi-chi antique shop, or the stunning necklace that they picked up for a song at the flea market in Paris. I believe in upcycling! I believe in the re-use of previously owned objects! I believe in personal choice and free will! If my friends want to eat crickets or soak up evil, that should be their business. But I can’t. I just can’t. If you show me that 1920’s Viennese bracelet and start telling me about the crazy gypsy lady who sold it to you, my hands will sweat, my stomach will hurt, and something is going to come up very quickly that will force me to put some distance between us. It’s not personal, really! I just can’t handle the waves of fetid vileness invisibly emanating from that lovely art nouveau piece. So sorry.
The semi-rational (and actually writing it down is pretty certain to blow this excuse right out of the water) explanation that my brain has devised over the years to cope with this phobia is that jewelry is a highly emotional object. Unlike, say, pants, which are just pants, jewelry is something that is given in love, worn with pride, earned through sweat, hidden in fear, stolen in jealousy, pawned in anger. The object itself inspires huge emotions, and I just can’t get past the feeling that long after the person is gone, those emotions live on, caught in the metal and stones like a shadow or a faint smell of cloying perfume. And pawn shop jewelry – oh man, that is the worst. Pawn shops are the place where my relatively inconsequential little phobia grows long spindly legs that twist and twine their way into the other objects in the store, not just in the jewelry anymore, but right into the TVs and the radios and the bowling balls. Reeking of sadness and pain, they sit, marinating in the haze of unhappiness that infects the entire shop, right down to the industrial carpeting and the bars on the windows. Nothing comes into a pawn shop in happiness, and nothing leaves it without baggage. I would wear a cigar band before I’d even touch a pawn shop wedding ring.
Fortunately, this isn’t a phobia that costs me a lot to carry. As fears go, it’s far from crippling. There’s plenty of brand new jewelry out there, and I have no trouble finding it. I have to admit, though, since I’m going for full, neurotic confession here: Lately, I’ve been worrying just a little about the source of my silver. How would I know if my new bracelet came from the melting down of someone else’s old one? Can evil survive smelting? Does pain, left clinging to an object, delve stubbornly into the metal itself, or does it vaporize when the form of the object dissolves? I do not know, because it’s illogical and imaginary and made up, and yet, on nights when I can’t fall asleep, and the hours tick by, and my head goes to scary places, sometimes there is that sorceress voice in the back of my brain, cackling and hissing through my mother’s mouth. And as I methodically twist my rings, and my bracelets, I wonder. Where exactly did this silver come from, and what has it put into my soul?
Surly and rebellious, Barbara MacRae hated school until she registered at De Anza College in Cupertino, and now she loves, LOVES school because she discovered she didn’t actually hate learning, she just hated being a teenager. She loves writing essays, which means this guest post worked for her because, as her husband, Karl, once pointed out, “you didn’t write about the book Huckleberry Finn, you wrote about how the book made you feel” (she got an A+ on the essay anyway). She’s notorious in the English department at De Anza for her inability to write her name in less than 1,000 words. Barbara lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.
Unsurprisingly, she did not write this at an antique writing desk.