She Put Her Unspent Love in a Cardboard Box

When I pulled a string of pearls from the box on the morning of my high school graduation, they made a maraca-like noise. It seemed like a family tradition that when girls graduated from high school, they received a string of pearls. “Well, my string of pearls didn’t arrive,” I replied.

The reason my mother skipped her senior year and bought these pearls after graduating from business school is because she was on a quest for adventure. When I was younger, she wanted me to know that there was more than one way to go through life and that I deserved to be celebrated. As I walked across the football field to receive my diploma, I wore the pearls.

The pink ribbon and the white notecard that read, “Happy 15th!” appeared year after year as if sent from the future by my mother to wish me a happy birthday. “Congratulations on reaching the age of sixteen!” It’s a good thing you got a driver’s licence. “You’re a university student!” “Congratulations on turning 21!” I wish you a happy birthday, sweetheart! Love, Mommy.”

A shared reality, something she had envisioned for us many years ago, came to life each time I opened up the box. As if she were there in the first notes of a familiar song, a fleeting glimpse of her was all that was ever there.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to the excitement of discovering what was inside each new package. With age, it became more like breathing or being a part of a larger community, or even prayer. If her words couldn’t show me the way, at least they gave me peace of mind knowing that someone had already been there.

My father unexpectedly passed away a decade after my mother. She’d been planning her exit for years, but when it came to him, I barely noticed he was gone. The day before his memorial, the box remained silent. There was no letter for this situation..