In December of 2010, I found a suspicious freckle on the skin of my universe.
It was misshapen, like a broken heart; growing, like the labyrinth of depression where I lost myself. It was cancerous, contagious, conscious in its own cruelty. It became a rapidly-expanding black hole and everything I thought I knew began to be erased.
I grew up overnight, the sort of growing up that washes away important knowledge– what faerie dust looks like, where to find the best invisible treasure. How to fly.
In a panic, I clung to a tiny star, a cornerstone mentality of my childhood: the idea that every universe has within it the power to heal itself.
And on that star, I met the Man with a Purple Tie.
He pointed out another star– a light, glowing around the seemingly-solid idea that we make our own reality– and we traveled there. We walked from light to light, following spark and sparkle, even when it was tempered with imperfection.
You can enjoy a flaw if you realize every diamond has one. You can appreciate the journey if you realize that all the pressures might be part of a larger plan.
Over time, my black hole morphed into a freckle– a tiny inclusion in a galaxy of a thousand refracting lights. Every star, a thought. Every thought, a step towards possibility. Every possibility, another reality ready to be lived.
The Man in the Purple Tie charged forward and I scrambled behind– still eyeing the blankness of my universe where destruction once reared its ugly head.
What if we fall? I thought, not bothering to speak the worry into existence, because I knew what he would say.
What if we fly?
How do you fill out an application when you can’t talk about the last five years of your life? When every one of your references knows that your last boss just accused you of stealing tens of thousands of dollars? What do I write on these papers?
I mumbled into the El Torito table, pushing aside the dozen of applications and Craigslist job printouts with my face. I watched X exchange a look of worry with Dave. They were seated on the same side of the booth, the two most problem-solving beings I’ve ever met, already exhausted from answering those questions a hundred times before.
“What’s the real problem, Rara?” Dave asked.
“I don’t want to work.” I mumbled into the table. “My boss could be mean. My job could be purposeless. My work could be demeaning.”
“Preachin’ to the choir,” the waiter interrupted, as he set down a bowl of nachos.
Tears filled my eyes.
X moved over to sit next to me, shoulder to shoulder, and Dave reached his hand out to grab onto mine. They held a moment of sacred silence for nostalgic mourning– as if seeing an elderly Wendy pocket a thimble, while Peter Pan watches from a window once able to open.
Everyone grows up sometime.
It’s so easy to forget we can fly.
In the early morning, on a whim, I responded to the most enthusiastic job ad I’d ever seen. Job of a Lifetime, it proclaimed– and I was curious, so I called. I was wearing a bathrobe. My house was in disrepair because we were selling everything to pay for the possibility of future legal proceedings. I hadn’t showered in days, but the voices on the other side of the phone didn’t know all that– and I was invited to come by the next morning.
“Dress sharp, bring four outstanding references and be prepared for us to test your skills,” they said. I had a good feeling about it all, even though I had no idea what the job actually entailed. I had read the websites thoroughly, but none of the pieces really fit. An author, who was adopted, started a jewelry store that runs a contest for kids?
I left the house out of curiosity more than anything else. Dave was just happy I showered.
Outside the jewelry store, early for my appointment, I met a homeless man named Jay. We spoke and I told him I hadn’t worked in 22 days, halting over the number as I realized it’d been that long. He wished me rainbow luck– a special brand of luck his mother taught him to value.
The sky was foggy and grey, darkening by the minute, and I thought that the only good thing about the day was that it just might create a rainbow for Jay.
The jewelry store opened and the Man in a Purple Tie stepped out and held the door for me. He dramatically took in a deep breath of smog-infested air and proclaimed, Today is a beautiful day. I watched his facial expressions for a minute before realizing that he wasn’t joking.
I greeted him and started to walk inside, but Jay waved. I turned to wave back, and the Man in a Purple Tie waved, too. I wondered how many jewelers in Newport Beach would be so happy to greet a homeless man outside their door at 10am in the morning. The thoughts brought my eyes back to the sky, and I gazed up at its swirly darkness.
He was right. It was beautiful.
The Man in the Purple Tie introduced himself. He was Diamond Mike Watson and, impressively enough, his story might just have been longer than mine.
I started working with him two days later.
On my first day, he unlocked the door and told me, Today is going to be a great day. It was something I heard daily for the next three years, and the oddest thing about it was…
He was always right.
On the advice of people in dark ties– the sort of people who would have never waved to Jay– I didn’t tell Diamond Mike or his wife, Carmen, a single thing about the case or the five years leading up to it.
In the moments of free time we savored between the work we all loved, I became family, but kept that secret tight. They knew Dave, and he knew them. He helped with some work projects, videoing and photographing when needed. We’d go to their house for the family’s annual International Dinner. One Christmas, Carmen engraved one variation of my name – “Radha” – onto a keychain, and I looped it onto the ring with my work keys.
Three and a half years after that first day, I walked into the store to return my keys and quit in person.
A warrant had been filed for my arrest and I had decided to turn myself in to sign a plea deal. I knew I was going to be gone a very long time and the Watson family deserved to know why.
Carmen opened the door and started to tear up. She didn’t know what was happening yet, but she could feel my tension. They kept the store closed as they listened to me recount a story that started all the way in January of 2005, and ended with my well-worn bundle of keys being pushed across the table.
There were tears and hugs all around. I could see Diamond Mike trying to create a thousand possibilities but I hadn’t left him enough time. “We have to trust her still,” Carmen soothed him, “She does the right things, so this must be the right thing.”
The words were for Mike but it soothed me, too.
Hours later, I turned myself in. As I was handcuffed by a police van, the officer noticed at me staring at the sky. “You alright?” he asked.
I replied with a nod, “It’s just that today is such a beautiful day.”
He looked at my face to see if I was being sarcastic, but of course I wasn’t. I guess he didn’t know I had spent three years learning how to see the sparkle in every imperfect sky.
I spent over a year incarcerated. From a bunk at the Central California Women’s Facility– California’s largest women’s prison– I wrote to the Watson family.
The girls in my room thought writing to my boss was the worst idea in the world, but I was sure Carmen would be worried, and Diamond Mike would be fascinated by all the things I had learned.
I was right.
They wrote back regularly, sending stamps with every letter so I could keep in touch with my entire world. In each letter, Diamond Mike would say my desk was waiting for me. The little spark of hope was enough. As we often say in the store: if there’s any light, no room is truly dark.
They employed Dave while I was away, until he could begin to find his own way. He came to see them just a couple weeks before he died.
At the funeral, Diamond Mike’s suit pressed against my prison blues. I sobbed against his shoulder and he pulled me close. When he stood up to read, I knew he hadn’t planned anything at all, just by the way he walked. He said he wanted to read some of his wife’s words, and I smiled. Carmen isn’t a wordsmith in the traditional sense, but she has a magical way of cutting directly to the most important thought.
Remember the good times, he read, and so I did. I even laughed as he revived a list of memories. The sound cut through my grief. For a moment, I was able to remember the Dave who was, rather than the Dave who was no longer.
Diamond Mike was one of the first people I visited when I came home. Carmen was out that day, but I was able to see the new store for the first time. The place they moved when I was away. It looked exactly like the bigger, better store we had dreamed and researched so many times. It still felt like home.
I started working at Gallery of Diamonds a month later, worrying that I had forgotten how to be a part of this journey.
I was worried I had forgotten how to walk on stars.
But on my desk were my keys, exactly as I left them over a year before.
As I rattled them in my hands, I remembered all the things that are so easy to forget– what faerie dust looks like, where to find the best invisible treasure, how to dream.
“I am okay, but I don’t have a dream anymore,” I confessed to Diamond Mike, during one of our long rambling conversations about the universe, realities, and everything else.
“I will help you find a few,” he said confidently, “The only problem will be finding one big enough.”
What if I fall again? I wondered as I tentatively put my foot forward, following spark and sparkle. A light formed around a solid idea, and I stepped into a star.
I held the memory like a thimble. My journey is lined with stars, and imperfections. You can see both, if you look.
You can enjoy a flaw if you realize every diamond has one. You can appreciate being coal if you realize that all the pressures pressed into you are part of a larger possibility.
You can step fearlessly into the dark if you remember that you are your own light.
And you can stop worrying about falling,
if you remember you can fly.
I asked Mike if he’d mind if I wrote about him, or what I do at his store, and he said, “No, of course not. I’m proud of the dreams you and Dave helped us build here.”
So to Diamond Mike and Carmen Watson, their beautiful daughters, and all the brilliant minds I’ve been lucky enough to find through them–
You can say hi to Diamond Mike over at Facebook – http://facebook.com/diamondmikewatson or read his blog at diamondwatson.com or just stop by the store, anytime. GalleryOfDiamonds.com Stop by somewhere and send him some rawr love.