Half a year after divorcing my husband of 13 years, our relationship is better now than it was in the five years leading up to our split. When he’s out of the country I drive his BMW to keep the engine tip top. I look in on the condominium we once shared to make sure the AC system is still on vacation mode.
The place is a short drive from a small but noisy downtown, a semi-rural suburbia. The deer and bunnies still frolic in the woodlands and meadows that sprawl behind the place. A buccolic Midwestern panorama.
I’ll call my ex Wong, a contraction of his given Chinese name. He never took an American name such as Wendell or Wayne. I always thought Wayne in particular captured his mix of a sharp academic mind and a playful, angular expression. He smoked Lucky Strikes early in his American life long before we met.
I come over to cook and chat when one of his daughters from a previous marriage drives into town for a few days. I love them as much as I do anyone, and their comings and goings remain every bit as comforting to me as blood family.
After all, we still have the years. Our joint experience of family. The dog, who I took with me when I moved out, still feels at home in the old place.
Wong knows I felt grounded by our marriage, tied down to workaday jobs while his career took off and he spent increasingly more time flying off to do his own projects. The way I once had, in another form, as a journalist.
On one recent visit he dangled some options … go to Brisbane with me for a conference next week, come to Singapore when I’m there for eight months next year, let’s do a family Christmas in Beijing. Let’s just hang out.
I demurred on Brisbane for logistical and for emotional reasons. Too early. We may be comfortable with our civility, but we’re not quite on the same page.
“Take your daughter,” I said. “You two will have a great time.”
“Yes, take me!” Angie* echoed. She’s tall and striking, like her father. Being half Chinese and half Anglo, her ethnicity is hard to pin down. Low key and at ease, she’d recently become fired up about studying the healing arts and Chinese medicine.
She got online and started planning their itinerary around Brisbane, which she hoped would involve camping.
Wong winced but kept quiet.
It was not lost on me that Brisbane would be a great place to buy some Australian South Sea cultured pearls. Pinctada Maximus. The biggest honking cultured pearls on the planet.
I might not go on the trip, but I could reap the rewards.
I turned to my trusty GemGuide (a GemWorld publication) to see what retail prices should be for matched sets of near-round studs.
I looked up matched pairs of pearls both for Australian South Seas as well as Tahitians, which generally sell for less.
I was coming up with at least $800.00 retail for the lovely dark Tahitians, and about $1,200 for a pair of Australian South Seas. I based my pricing on 10 to 11mm in diameter. Why mess around with the small stuff.
I initially reasoned that Wong and Angie could bargain at least twenty percent off the asking price due to the fact that they’d be there in the middle of Australian winter. A quick Google check dispelled that fantasy; tourism thrives in the (relatively) cold season as well.
Even if they did manage a discount, it would still be a chunk of change. Totally reasonable in the context of marriage, but inappropriate given our circumstances. I didn’t want the price to lead to expectations, or for Wong to feel used.
So then I backed off on him getting me anything. He countered that it would give him joy to find something.
I gave the matter one last thought and refreshed my memory about mabe pearls.
Mabe, a word derived from Japanese, means pearls that are cultured on the inner walls of the mollusk. Their value isn’t based on roundness and they’re usually flat or near flat on one side.
This means they’re not nearly as expensive as round cultured pearls, and they have an irregular and bold beauty all their own.
I left the type and design of jewelry up to Wong, with his daughter’s supervision. She knows my style.
I’d found the perfect balance. A fun challenge for my ex husband that wouldn’t cost too much, literally or politically.
Free form. Imperfect. A natural beauty shining with lustre and orient that come with the years, layer upon layer.