She put her unspent love in a cardboard box


On the morning of my high school graduation, a strand of pearls made a sound like a maraca as I pulled them out of the box. Her note read, “There seemed to be a tradition in my family that when girls graduated from high school they were given a pearl necklace. Well my pearl necklace never arrived.

That’s because my mom, going on an adventure, skipped her senior year and bought herself these pearls after graduating from business school. She wanted me to know that there was more than one way to go around the world and that I deserved to be celebrated. I wore the beads this afternoon as I walked across the football field to receive my diploma.

Year after year, my mother has traveled through time to meet me, always in the form of a small package with a pink ribbon and a small white card: “Happy 15th!” “Happy 16!” “Congratulations on your driver’s license!” “You are a student! “Happy 21st!” “Happy Birthday darling! Love, your mom.

Every time I opened the box, I could, in the shortest time, inhabit a shared reality, something she had envisioned for us many years ago. It was like a half-remembered perfume, the first notes of a familiar song, each time, a little glimpse of her.

When I was a child, opening the next package was like a treasure hunt. As I got older it started to feel like something much more basic, like air or community, something like prayer. His messages met me like landmarks in a dark forest; if his words couldn’t lead the way, at least they offered the comfort of knowing someone had been here before.

A decade after losing my mother, my father suddenly followed suit. She had spent years preparing for his release, but with him I blinked and he was gone. On the morning of its memorial, the box stared at me silently. There was no letter for it.

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