|For a very long time now, I have been going to bed early. Sleep does not come for hours, but I am tucked away, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets. The stars float by, the world turns but I do not have to see it. I do not have to see the alarm clock, set for the early morning, so I won’t be late in the office, that stale place.
I do not have to see the Christmas Earrings.
My aunt was an artist. She was full of laughter and mischief. She was a childish person, her sense of humor was unpolished and rough.
Her grave now overlooks the Danube, in the middle of the rocky hills of Upper Austria. The marble has a blood red imprint of her name in it, facing west. Every evening the shadows creep up the walls, but they do not touch her name. The sun is gone before they do. Only the marble is devoured by the shadows, but her name survives. It floats above a rocky ground, that slopes steeply towards the river. Her mother is buried there with her, whose ashes have been spread across gardens and houses she made a better place.
My aunt's life was spent travelling; for months she would vanish to Kazakhstan, India, the Americas.
She wore a bright red coat, with a thick black fur collar. It shone out like a beacon through the winter night, when she walked up the pathway to her father’s house to celebrate with us. A celebration she enhanced.
On one such winter night, when she came in from the dark, her face thin and her head bare, she took me to the side and whispered to me, as if to share a great secret. In the darkness her tired eyes gleamed.
‘You are one of us, you know? This family is full of it… these people who have pictures in their hearts, who have music in their hearts. And stories. We’ve always been that way, this family.
‘How do you like my new earrings?, she said. ‘ I got them for the baldness.’ And there it was again, her laugh. She looked at me expectantly, as if we were in a play and I had forgotten my lines. I could not speak.
I pondered these words, as I looked around the table that night. There was an artist, a singer, a chef and a musician. In the corner hung a photograph of their mother, their grandmother, who had been a gardener. All of us were gathered around this small table, while outside the winter storms raged away.
I have only known my aunt as an adult, in her 40s and 50s but her eyes sparkled like a child’s all the same, the next joke, the next prank the next adventure already formed in her head.
Every Christmas from then on, she wore special Christmas Earrings. I remember them well, though the memory of her face is beginning to fade now. I glance at them every day as they gather dust, displayed prominently on my make-up table. A reminder. Of what, I do not know.
Of her, perhaps. Of her child-like eyes.
I dare not wear them, something holds me back. They are a token of her individuality, her love for funny little things, the peculiar parts of her personality that only few knew about.
She was an artist. Her art never went far; only a handful of galleries ever showed her work. She had a network of seemingly thousands of friends, strangers from far-away places and lost souls, close to home. Where actual art and quality is concerned, her talent and precision with a brush may be debated, but she was an artist, inside and out. She made something of it.
During her travels, she saw people for what they were and painted their hearts. She always saw more good in them than they actually possessed and took a piece of it with her. She made something of it.
Her relationships never lasted long. Her husbands left her and she left them, she could not be held down by the weight of a marriage. Her first husband was a musician, a type she stayed with for most of her life. The two children that came out of that relationship were both unique. She gave them more than they expected or needed from a mother. But she gave them something. She used motherhood to enhance the world. She made something of it.
Her art expressed all the red and black and yellow and green of her character. It was hers in so many ways. It never went far, but her paintings and colours portray her to the world in a way nothing else can. Her art was her own. She made something of it.
Cancer took her, in the end.
For a very long time now, I have been going to bed early, to be able to ignore the world and the call of the Christmas Earrings.
And for a very long time, I have been wanting to be a writer.
There is so much beauty in words, when they are allowed to flow freely, like a river towards a great ocean; waves crashing upon the shores of the mind, teasing it, striking it, but soothing it all the same. There is such magic in a story. It takes you away, smothers you with its power and liberates your very soul.
I am in awe when I read, in awe of the stories others can tell, how they touch me so deeply and change me so permanently. I am in awe of the words they can chose, how they display my heart's content and rip it out, to tear it up in front of my waking eyes.
I wrap myself in my cocoon of blankets, as I am inspired and my heart grows bigger and bigger until it explodes. Into hurt, into pain, as the realization sets in: That I cannot do the same, no matter how hard I try. No matter how much I want it. Not matter how much the words try to fight their way out. I cannot let them. Something holds me back.
I cannot travel the world, I do not have a red coat that shines out through a stormy night. I cannot fight the shadows on the marble when they creep up and devour me for I close my eyes to not have to see them. I am not an artist.
But suddenly, the decision is made. I am not an artist, no. I am to be a writer.
I have accepted this, now, as something that will never go away. Whatever was holding me disappears, and I have accepted this urge as a part of me I can no longer push aside, wrapped in my cocoon of blankets, avoiding the stars and the world. And the Christmas Earrings. They are a reminder, I know now.
To make something of it.
I may never go far, but I am a writer, inside and out. I will not go to bed early but will stay up late. I will watch the stars float in front of my mind's eye and run through the fields of my imagination. I will paint the world in red and black and yellow and green. And make something of it.
Perhaps my aunt did the same. Perhaps that is how she kept the child-like sparkle in her eye. So, I will make something of it, too. Even if it's not significant. It will be mine.
Like those Christmas Earrings. And the red and black and yellow and green pictures of a character.