The Student Podcast Network @ BYU

Episode 02: Blue Pearls and Heterochromia

Natalia Green was just looking for a cool souvenir from her senior trip when she went to Universal Studios, Orlando, but she came home with greater self-acceptance as well thanks to a little blue pearl.

Essay: “Blue Pearls and Heterochromia”

Author: Natalia Green

Blue Pearls and Heterochromia

            The Florida evening is rainy as I follow my dad through the streets of Universal Studios, Orlando. Dad has been to the theme park with Mom before, so he knows his way around. I let my mind wander as we walk, absent mindedly scanning the theme park storefronts as we pass. The air carries screams from nearby roller coasters and the scent of sugar from the vending carts lining the street. Amidst this backdrop of fun and fantasy, my mind, naturally, turns to my greatest (teenage girl cliché) concern. I’d heard the horror stories from my mom about what the intense humidity in Orlando had done to her hair, but, even though my hair is practically a clone of my mom’s, I hadn’t been prepared for just how crazy it would become throughout the damp Orlando day. Despite having been blow dried that morning, my hair is now intensely wavy and frizzy; I try to comb my fingers through it and wince. So much for looking grown-up and sophisticated on my Senior trip.

Even with my ruined hair, excitement courses through me. From the spires of Hogwarts in the distance to the X-men rides, this park is every fantasy I’ve dreamed of brought into reality. Coming here has been a dream of mine ever since my parents went here after spring break a few years ago, toting souvenirs for my three siblings and me, and my mom with a pretty necklace that held a fascinating story.

My dad ducks into one of the many shops on the little street; I break out of my daydreams and lengthen my stride to enter the store with him. I knew what this shop had, and, stepping through the door, my expectations of it seem a little high. Rather than the typical Farr’s Jewelry aesthetic in the middle of an amusement park, the picture I’d formed in my mind, it looks like a typical theme park shop, with themed stuffed animals lining the walls, and overpriced T-shirts and sweatshirts hanging from racks. The only indicator that the store is the place we’re looking for is a glass-fronted counter displaying jewelry towards the front of the shop. My dad leads me to the counter, and I overcome my shyness to tell the sales associate, “I’m here to pick a pearl.” After smiling enthusiastically at me, the girl directs me to a barrel at the side of the counter. With a quick glance at my dad, I make my way to the barrel. Once there, I cautiously pick up a pair of tongs and stare into seemingly countless oysters. Oysters are so plain; you could never guess their contents at first glance. The surfaces of the shells are polished and smooth, but they’re all a dull brown color; I can’t imagine having to crack one open. The thought brings on a sudden fear that I’ll pick a faulty one, take it to the counter for the sales clerk to pry open, and discover no pearl inside once the plain shell is forced open. Then I’ll have to come back and keep skimming the barrel to find one that has what I’m looking for, making a spectacle of myself in the process. I push the morbid paranoia away and scan the many oysters. Finally, I zero in on one near the top of the barrel. I grab it with the tongs and walk back to the counter with the oyster clutched firmly in my hand.

I present my chosen oyster to the sales clerk, and she smiles enthusiastically at me as though she hasn’t done this multiple times today already. In response to the girl’s smile, I smile back at her, feeling my own enthusiasm build, and then I stand next to my dad at the counter, watching and waiting as the sales clerk proceeds to pry the oyster open. After the girl has worked at it for a minute, the oyster pops open. To my surprise, the sales clerk then exclaims, “You got a blue one!”

Surprised, I reply, “A blue one?” Leaning slightly over the glass countertop to stare down into the oyster, I see that, sure enough, boldly sparkling against the white of oyster shell is a perfectly spherical pearl with a blue-gray sheen. I didn’t know that pearls could be blue; I thought they were always white or black. As I discovered that day, besides black and white, pearls can be pink, blue, or even have a greenish tint. In hindsight, finding out about the variations a pearl can have in color shouldn’t have been a shock. After all, I’m living proof of the variations that occur in humans.

Months earlier, standing in the kitchen with my long-suffering aunt, my aunt replied to the disparaging remark I had just made about my eyes with, “I remember when you were born and I came to see you, your mom said: Look at her eyes, isn’t this unique?”

I glanced up at Maria, sitting on the wooden kitchen chair at our island and staring at me with kind, green eyes. Suddenly angry at the world in general, for no particular reason besides a genetic oops, I averted my eyes and sneered, “Unique isn’t exactly a word a girl wants to be described by.” I stared at the smooth, hardwood kitchen floor after I said it, trying to avoid my aunt’s piercing green gaze, and hide the fact that, silly as it may be, I was almost in tears over the subject.

My eye color had been a sensitive topic for years, something that made me try not to stare too closely at pictures of myself or focus on my right iris whenever I was putting on mascara.  My mom had pretty, solid green eyes; my sister had beautiful dark blue eyes, and the genetic lottery had given me a right eye that had two large, non-symmetrical splotches of brown in the iris, startlingly different against the blue-gray color of the rest of the iris. The definition for the condition is heterochromia. Another definition is a mutation.

I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when I’d learned that heterochromia was a mutation, or when I’d come to understand the negative connotations that went with the word. Aversion to the condition didn’t occur when I was little; I have a clear memory of an instant at a family reunion that shows that. My cousin Avery had just been born and I was busy cooing over the novelty that was the new baby when my mom called to me from a few tables over. Tearing myself away from the baby, I skipped over to where she was talking with a dark-haired man whom she introduced as her cousin. To my surprise, he bent down so he was on my eye level and stared into my eyes. Understanding came to me when I examined his eyes and saw two brown splotches, even larger than mine, standing out against the bright blue. Excitement coursed through me with the discovery that heterochromia ran in the family, resulting in my gasping as though Christmas had come early. The group of family surrounding us laughed at my enthusiasm, and I was suddenly very pleased about my heterochromia eyes. After a while, I went back to playing with my new baby cousin, occasionally searching the crowd to see if I could find the cousin who had singled me out.

Eventually, heterochromia became less of a subject of wonder for me and more of a source of discomfort. The mutation flashed out at me in pictures or in the mirror, and I would wish that genetics had given me a different pair of eyes, a normal pair of eyes, whenever the flaw appeared. Seeing the brown spots in my iris made me think: strange, wrong, unnatural. I’d always turn quickly from the mirror when I saw it or exit off the camera app on my phone when it flashed up at me from a picture.

“Blue pearls are rare,” the cashier tells me, as she indicates the way my pearl’s sheen matches part of the illuminated inside shell of the oyster. I admire the pearl, noting the way it catches the light, how it seems to be simultaneously gray and blue, and the perfect spherical shape of it. Blue is my favorite color, I think. I’m tempted for a moment to voice the thought aloud, but I keep it to myself. Instead, I simply admire the process of creating a necklace as the sales associate attaches the pearl to a bail and slips it on a delicate silver chain. As I watch, I realize that the pearl is the perfect color to compliment my heterochromia eyes. For a minute I stare at the necklace and think of what the sales clerk said about blue pearls being rarer than white pearls. The blue pearl is beautiful: different, weird…and maybe just a little unique. At the thought, I smile a little. Soon, the pearl is safely stowed in a small silk pouch and the sales associate hands it to me. “Let it set for twenty-four hours before you wear it,” the girl warns me; I smile and thank her. The trip to the store has been so much more already than just a trip to yet another theme park store for a pretty souvenir. For a moment, I can picture wearing the blue pearl for the rest of my life, remembering this moment and the subtle lessons contained in the precious stone whenever I brush my fingers across the smooth surface. With this dream of the future in mind, I walk into the cool night with my dad beside me, the bag with my unique blue pearl in hand.

Months later, I hand the BYU Store sales associate my student ID card, and then my debit card to finish the transaction so I can go home and welcome the weekend by munching on chocolate cinnamon bears. The sales clerk and I stand in meaningless silence as my card is authorized, and then the girl tells me, “I just need you to sign this receipt,” putting the slip of paper and a pen on the counter in front of me. I lean over the counter to sign my name, and the blue pearl that seems inseparable from me now slips forward and dangles just above the counter for a moment. I dot the i and then straighten, laying the pen down next to the receipt, smiling at the girl as I look her in the eye. The girl takes the receipt, and as I prepare to walk away, she says, “That’s a beautiful necklace,” referring to the blue pearl on its silver chain around my neck.

For a moment I stare at the girl, thinking about the pearl on its silver chain that hangs around my neck. The girl is right; the necklace is beautiful, and for so many more reasons than the price or shine of the precious stone that rests against my collar bone. I smile at the girl and say, “Thank you.”