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By Trisha Hein
it would be my favorite pair of earrings: the dangling crystal skulls I bought as a birthday present, from me to me, at a kitsch-chic little boutique in Mexico City.
Yes, I realize it’s cliché to use literal skulls as a talisman, almost like I’m wafting around with the petrified heads of my enemies adorning my face as a warning to those who might wish to cross me. But really, they mean so much more to me than that.
I was brought up in an extremely religious household. The idea of me wearing skulls of any kind – even as a grown woman – would horrify my mother to this day. I was never allowed any such misadventure as a child, even as a joke.
But I am no longer a child.
My sister-cousin and I have a running joke that I am dead inside. Not in a Gothic way – I’m a little too Millennial Pink™ for Goth at its best – but in the sense that I come alive when most people wither:
I’m naturally nocturnal, too pale to enjoy being outside when it’s sunny, too allergic to foliage to enjoy spring, too fond of clouds and precipitation of all kinds to enjoy summer (not to mention I can’t swim, so water activities are right out), and I’m at my happiest in the snowy winter when everything in nature appears monochrome and dead, because that to me is a blank page. That, to me, is possibility.
I spend time in old cemeteries when I’m feeling weary. I talk to the headstones, I whisper to the humanity behind them; the life behind the deadness. There’s just so much there – so many people, so many stories, so many secrets that we won’t know until we cross the veil ourselves. To me, again: inspiration, possibility.
Also, quite simply, I run warm. My resting body temperature hovers at right around 93.5F, which breaks most people’s thermometers, and I absolutely melt in temperatures above 68. I know. It’s weird.
Anyway, this inside joke was born when my sister-cousin and I were in Mexico City for my birthday last year. It was mid-pandemic, so we had our temperatures taken everywhere we went, and mine was always so low people thought I ought to be dead. I was starkly pale and cold in a place of evident warmth.
And because I’d spent all summer complaining about the INSANE temperature spikes in Las Vegas where my sister-cousin lives, she finally understood why everything felt hotter to me than it did to all the warm bodies around me. She would laugh and tell me that I’m a vampire or some other mysterious kind of undead, and tease me for daywalking when it would take the enticement of stand-a-horseshoe-on-its-head coffee to roust me out of bed during (what I would consider to be) the early mornings.
So, when we stopped at this little boutique in La Condesa, where the wall mural just outside read “Mexico is always a good idea” and the smell of freshly grilled elote right after breakfast encouraged us to work a bit harder for our lunch, the first things my sister-cousin zoomed in on were these skull earrings. She said they were perfect for me, and I laughed them off as a joke.
No, as a reflex. I couldn’t possibly wear skulls.
I picked out a few things, perhaps getting a little carried away. It was my birthday week; I was letting the belt of my budget out another notch. The shop owner’s card reader was on the fritz because of a WiFi glitch, so I offered to run to the ATM on the corner for cash.
My sister-cousin had stepped outside to field an email (I was on vacation, she was not). While we walked to the ATM, she asked me what I had decided to purchase.
I listed the items.
Not the skulls? she asked, in all seriousness.
It was her seriousness that finally jarred me awake from my past, like its own special kind of cowboy coffee.
Well, why not? I’m not my mother’s child. I can wear skulls if I pinche want to, I remember thinking.
Maybe I will, I remember saying.
And by the time we got back to the boutique with the cash, the owner’s card reader was working again, and I added the skulls to my pile.
They remain my favorite things that I’ve ever picked up on any of my travels because they were bought by me, for me, and they now speak of me to observant eyes. They represent my inner deadness, my uniqueness, my freedom from a repressive upbringing, and my enduring agency in a joke I am fond of with someone I hold very dear.
When my mother sees them, she prays for my soul. The piety police are phoned in her mental constabulary. She names me Monstrous, on a slippery slope to Misbegotten from the precipice of Wayward, shamelessly encouraged by a well-honed streak of Stubborn and a hefty sprinkle of Whimsy.
For none of these shall I apologize.
The piety police can talk to the petrified heads of my enemies.
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