For some time now I’ve been wanting to write an essay about losing my mom’s diamond ring soon after she died. I’d been the keeper of the “Kusel Diamond.” I was the person who was supposed to have kept it safe.
Only, I didn’t.
The more I thought about what went down the more I figured it would make for a pretty good story. But I wasn’t sure how to tell it. As I so often do, I asked my writer friend Margot (who has a creepy new YA thriller coming out this summer) for her advice. “Hey, I am trying to come up with an angle about how to write about my mom’s diamond getting stolen,” I wrote her. “Like I don’t want to just write about what happened.”
Margot suggested I think about why its disappearance was significant to me.
So, with her prompt loitering in the back of my head, I sat down to write my dark and curious tale. Here’s how the essay started out:
On Tuesday morning I was sitting at my desk casually reading the news when I panicked. It suddenly occurred to me that it was already midway through April, and I hadn’t yet gotten an email confirming that my safe deposit box had been automatically renewed for another year.
“They wouldn’t just cancel it and toss the stuff, would they?” I asked my husband, imagining some low-level bank clerk haphazardly tossing my mother’s jewelry into a plastic trash bin.
“Call them,” he said. “Or, better yet, why don’t you actually leave the house and walk up to the bank and talk to someone in person.” His snarky remark went un-replied-to. I knew he thought I’d become far too covanoid (adjective, [kohv-uh-noid] 1. of, like, or experiencing paranoia about catching Covid), and had a hard time going out in public. I didn’t love being a shut-in, but yeah, I’d become one.
I called them.
Turned out my renewal wasn’t supposed to happen until May. I thanked the guy, sat back, and exhaled my relief. The few remaining pieces of my mother’s treasures were still snug as a bug in a rug in a slim metal box behind a thick iron door.
Sort of like the way I felt not going outside.
But then I flashed on the one thing that was missing from that box. The BIG ring. The ring I wrote about in an earlier blog post. The ring that my father wished he could steal back from his ex-wife, even if it meant cutting off her finger.
The ring that was going to be mine when she died.
Anyone who’s been tagging along with me for the last few years (thank you, friends and followers) knows that my mother suffered from dementia. When I moved her into a memory care facility she insisted on taking her jewelry with her. Mind you, all the pieces she wore at the time were B-list baubles. A diamond “F” for Florine. A simple gold chain she wore around her neck. A few shiny rings purchased at TJ Maxx or Marshalls. The valuable stuff—the jewelry I’d surreptitiously absconded with before I moved her from California to Florida—was here in Vermont. Just up the street from where I live. In that safe deposit box. Number 169.
By the time she died from Covid-induced pneumonia in a $6000/month memory care center that didn’t have enough oxygen on hand, every single piece of jewelry she moved in with had somehow “disappeared.”
She passed, much to my shock and sadness, totally unadorned.
At this point in the essay Margot’s prompt once again poked me on the shoulder. I was supposed to be talking about why the disappearance of my mother’s ring was significant and I’d only gotten as far as talking about her death and then, while remembering how all her costume jewelry got stolen in what was supposed to be a safe and nurturing environment, I got so worked up I had to stop writing and go for a walk.
With all that was happening in the world, and in my personal life, I honestly no longer cared that much about the ring. I didn’t care that my mother wanted it to be kept in the family; handed down from me to my daughter and then to her daughter, ad infinitum. That it was supposed to be forever known as the KUSEL DIAMOND. I knew I would never wear it. I knew Loy would never wear it.
My older brother suggested we slice it up into three separate diamond rings so that each of us could have “a piece of mom.”
I just wanted the money. Money I could use to travel to Australia or Patagonia, places I’d been bucket-listing for years.
When I saw this ad in the local paper
I acted on it. I phoned the store, told the owner what I had in my possession and made an appointment for the following week. When I showed up I was a bit put off that he wasn’t wearing a mask. Mind you, this was the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was in full throttle. I immediately disliked him.
Regardless. I was already there and he was deep into ooh-ing and aah-ing over my personal treasures, complimenting their exquisiteness, speculating over their value. After he compiled a list of all Mom’s watches and rings and pins and bracelets, he told me how much he’d pay me to buy them outright. When he got to the 8-carat diamond, he asked me what I thought it was worth.
“I’m pretty sure my father said he paid $60,000 for it, but that was back in 1970. It’s got to be worth even more than that now,” I said, sounding like the desperate, adventure-deprived shut-in that I was.
He peered at me with pity in his eyes, as if I were but a silly child who thought money really did grow on old rings. “I doubt that very much,” he said with too much self-satisfaction. Then he asked one of his “experts” from the back room to come take a look. Said expert donned an eye magnifier, mumbled something, then looked up. “It’s got a lot of occlusions.”
The owner nodded knowingly. “I’ll give you $27,000 for it.”
I felt as if I’d been slapped. “What? No way.” I looked at the ring. Surely something that big and that shiny had to be worth more than $9000 a kid.
Sensing my cynicism, the man suggested that if I wanted to ascertain the ring’s true value, I should get it certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “If you want to do that, it’ll cost you $1250. I’ll send it out tomorrow. You’ll get it back in about a week.”
“Okay,” I said, wanting to get out of the shop as quickly as possible. “Go for it.”
A week after I paid $1250 to the mask-less man to overnight the Kusel Diamond to the GIA in New York City, I received a phone call. Sounding as if he’d just stepped on a 6-inch cactus quill, the man in the jewelry store informed me that the diamond had been lost in transit.
Before I could faint from the shock, I collected myself and hit RECORD on my phone.
“What do you mean lost?”
He told me that the ring never arrived at the GIA and the address on the package had been changed. I had a few million more questions to ask, but at that point I was so distressed and angry I said I had to go and hung up.
The day after that call, the co-owner of the store (whom I never met), phoned me up and offered me $30,000 in compensation, “even though it’s not worth more than $15k.”
When I apprised him of the fact that his colleague only days ago offered me $27,000, he postulated that it was because in their store they’d be able to sell it “for the bling factor. Someone who doesn’t care about the GIA certification,” he said. I came right out and asked him what the store would have tried to sell it for. He said $35,000, to which I replied, “Then you should pay me $35,000,” to which he agreed.
Up to this point in time, no apologies had been tendered.
With both my hackles and suspicions raised, I let my brothers know the scoop. The younger one, a business owner who uses FedEx services on a daily basis, said he’d get one of “his guys” to look into it. Meanwhile, I fumed. I raged. I paced. I waited for more information to stream in.
A day later my brother’s guy sent us details of the FedEx tracking sheet:
Thursday , 9/03/2020
NEW YORK, NY
NEW YORK, NY
At local FedEx facility
NEW YORK, NY
At local FedEx facility
Arrived at FedEx location
Departed FedEx location
Wednesday , 9/02/2020
Arrived at FedEx location
Delivery option requested
Hold at FedEx OnSite request received – Check back later for shipment status
Left FedEx origin facility
As well as sharing his observations:
Never went on a delivery truck. Someone put through a hold at FedEx onsite at 10:50PM the day it was shipped. I assume it was done online. Not sure how they gamed the system. My understanding is that in FedEx Delivery Manager, only residential packages can be directed to be held at FedEx on-site locations. Not packages going to commercial locations. This certainly points to an inside job.
Furious, I was ready to drive to the store and hold the jeweler at gunpoint until he confessed his guilt. But that would have meant leaving the house, so instead I called him. He was, he claimed, completely innocent and as dumbfounded as I was. He, too, had done a thorough investigation and this is what he believed transpired:
Although he shipped the ring to the correct address (53 West 46th Street, Unit 500), it somehow got delivered to 530 Fifth Ave (which is a Walgreens two blocks away), where someone signed for it as “K GIA,” the intended recipient.
“Here’s the scam, Lisa,” he said. “Someone figured out that in that New York zip code, they carry GIA packages. They must have figured out that that driver had a GIA package and they pretended they were GIA. I heard from FedEx they carried New York State IDs. Two men approached the truck and they took the packages from the driver in front of 530 5th Avenue, which is a Walgreens.”
“Come again?” I could make neither heads nor tails out of this scenario. “Why did the driver go to the wrong address?”
“Sounds like it was a new driver, untrained, and he got approached by some guys who said do you have any GIA packages? Due to Covid we’re not really open. We’re picking up the GIA packages. Here’s our badge.”
“But it said it was signed for by the receptionist at the front desk of the GIA. Who did that signing?”
“I’m not sure. But their driver gave it to someone else. I get nervous with your questions.”
He gets nervous? I was still so confused, but no amount of prodding could clear it up. What it all came down to was this: the Kusel Diamond was gone.
He continued: “This is very upsetting for me as well….this is the first time in fifteen years I’ve actually lost a package…I can make it whole by paying what I put on the receipt and that’s going to be a hardship for me. The reality is that stone is worth less than $60,000…but I put $60,000 because that was the declared value when you came in. But it’s not worth that….it’s a fifteen to $20,000 stone…however, I don’t want any problems. I want to protect my reputation, but I will pay what was on the receipt.”
A hardship for him? That made no sense. “Won’t FedEx also pay you the $60,000 back?” I asked, knowing full well they would.
The answer to that question was answered through his lawyer, who by now, was drawing up the terms of the payment:
There is no FedEx claim. We elected to get coverage from our insurance company. We are covered for $70K for this loss and will pay you out $61,250 ($60K which Lisa declared as the value + $1250 GIA cert fee).
So, um, no hardship. For him, that is.
For me, it became a psychological and familial hornet’s nest. Neither brother wanted to settle. They wanted to SUE FedEx, the store, the jeweler, and anyone who had ever said a bad word about our mother. They didn’t think the $60,000 offer was enough. They consulted lawyers. Assuming it’d already been sold down some shady back alley, they scoured the internet auction sites, searching for the diamond (okay, so I was guilty of doing this, too).
I got tired of feeling angry. I accepted the terms, which included, among other things, signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). I was not allowed to ever defame the proprietor or his business by writing about him. I was not allowed to mention his name. Ever.
I drove to the store, grabbed the check (which was made out to my husband because the trust was in his name),
wired my brothers $20,000 each, and moved on.
V. (Where I return to the ever-illusive prompt)
Except, I haven’t. Not entirely. It’s been almost two years since the crime took place and I’ve yet to find peace. Maybe because I don’t entirely understand how what they say happened actually happened. (What kind of driver would EVER just hand over a package to two guys claiming to be who they obviously weren’t? And who CHANGED the form the night it was shipped?)
I feel as if, somehow, when the bad people stole the ring, they also stole a piece of my mother. I know, I know: I’d planned to sell it anyway, but having it appropriated without my permission, by nefarious (and possibly sleazy insider) means, has left an ugly stain on the memory of my mother wearing that ring at my brothers’ bar mitzvahs, my graduations, my wedding—all those special occasions that called for her to drive to the bank. There, she would open her safe deposit box, slip the ring onto her finger, then twist the diamond to the inside of her hand so as to conceal it from would-be robbers.
She’d keep it like that, the sharp tips of the marquis pressing into the soft fleshy parts of her ring finger and left palm, through the entire car ride or plane trip to wherever it was she was traveling; hiding it; keeping it safe; until the moment of the big event; when she would turn it upright for all the world to see.
When she would, at last, let it catch the light.