I was going through a box of jewelry the other day when I came across a matching set of pearl earrings and a single pearl drop necklace that I had stashed away years ago. I realized, as I pulled them from their velvet hiding place, that I have had them for 30 years. How could that be? I don’t even think of myself as being 30-years-old.
I ran my fingers along the delicate silver chain of the necklace. I pulled up my hair and fastened the clasp behind my neck. I put on the earrings and looked in the mirror. I turned my head from side to side. The small pinkish pearl orbs were as pretty as the day I first laid eyes on them, even if I was not. They were a gift from my high school sweetheart Bob, with whom I was madly in love and dated for several years. He had worked all winter chopping and selling firewood to buy them for me for my 18th birthday.
It was some years later, after we had both moved on with our lives, that I realized that I was as much in love with Bob’s family as I was with Bob. His mother LaWanda was so good and so kind to me. She was like a mother to me and I enjoyed her company tremendously. For those few years that we dated, I spent a lot of time just hanging out at their house and being a part of their family.
One warm and humid spring morning, Bob broke up with me. And then he got in his truck and drove off. The break up was not unexpected. The anvil falling from the sky had cast its long black shadow upon me long before that spring day. I was not surprised, but I was crushed all the same.
I sat on the front steps of his parent’s house and sobbed until I could no longer distinguish between the throbbing of my head and the throbbing of my heart. Every cell in my body ached and grieved. Deep down I knew it was for the best, but it was a chapter in my life I did not want to close. LaWanda came out of the house and sat down beside me as I wept. She wrapped me up in her arms and cried with me. She told me that I was better off without him. Yes, but would I be better off without her? No, not really and I never was. Bob, I eventually got over. LaWanda, I never did.
Eventually I dried my tears and moved on with my life. Several years later, I moved to Texas taking the pearls with me. Whenever I went home to Illinois for a visit, I always stopped by to see LaWanda. It was always awkward driving up that familiar blacktop driveway, hoping to see Bob and hoping not to see Bob. But then she would invite me into her house and it was like I was 18 again. We’d sit side-by-side on her sofa, drink iced tea and laugh and talk about everything but Bob.
For the next 20 years, I sent her a Christmas card and she sent me one too. She always wrote I hope you are happy, Love LaWanda. One year, the Christmas card I sent was returned. Not At This Address an unfamiliar hand had scrawled across the envelope. I found out later that she had died. No one had told me. My heart broke all over again.
I thought of all of these things as I took the pearls off and put them back to sleep in their velvet bed. I snapped the lid shut as if that somehow provided closure. I pulled the lid up again and took one long last look. I made a wish that someday Sean will give them to a girl who will love me as much as I loved LaWanda.
And then I closed the lid one last time and put them away for another 15 or 20 years.