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#scintilla13: charmed, I'm sure

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I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 15 prompts, Tell the story of how you got the thing you are going to keep forever. Include an image in your post, if you can.We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.

My favorite charm: the one commemorating her engagement to my dad.

My favorite charm: the one commemorating her engagement to my dad.

When I told my mom I was getting married, I hadn’t seen her for a few years, though we spoke on the phone frequently. “It’s no big deal,” I said. “Just a tiny wedding, just a couple of people. You don’t have to come if you don’t want.” It broke my heart to say that, but from her sigh of relief I knew I’d said the right thing.

“I wish I could. But I’m happy for you.”

My grandparents had both had serious recent health issues. I wanted her with me, of course, but they needed her. I didn’t know at the time that she was already quite sick herself and felt unable to leave home even for a weekend. I asked if I could borrow her charm bracelet to wear for the day, and made arrangements for Michelle to pick it up on her way to the occasion.

I had always loved it, ever since I was a little girl and first jingled it under her watchful eye. It was made up of around 25 charms, mostly from her teens and early twenties. I have always had a fascination for who my mother was outside of her role as a parent, and the bracelet dangled and jangled with the noise of her history. Her first job out of high school, as a secretary in an office down in the city. Her sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays. Road trips with friends to Virginia, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, New York. Her graduation, her nomination as Girl of the Month, January 1969. Her engagement and wedding. Obscure charms with dates engraved and no clue as to what they might mean—their significance secret. And now I was going to have a part of her to keep with me on the day I would make the most serious promises ever. It mattered. I walked into the art gallery where Myron was waiting for me, and when he noticed it on my wrist, he immediately tuned out the celebrant and brushed it with his fingertips. I still don’t know if he knew everything he agreed to when he said “I do.”

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When she said afterward that I could keep the bracelet, I was moved and grateful. I kept it safe and examined the charms again from time to time, especially when I missed her. I brought it with me when she went into the hospital for the last time, and I wore it through all the grief rituals in the days after she died. The cousin who gave her this bridesmaid charm came to the funeral home, and I showed it to her—Remember this? She kept it. It was a moment I won’t forget. Thirty-five years vanished for her and then rushed back again. All because of a piece of metal the size of a quarter. 

They say after someone dies, all you have left are your memories, and to an extent that’s true. And obviously, you do get to keep personal effects and grant them meaning. I love that part of what remains of my mother are these mysteries, the question of whether my scamp of a father proposed on April Fool’s Day on purpose, how it felt on July 1 when she started her job at H.K. Porter, who she was with when she visited the San Jacinto Monument. These are conversations I put off, thinking I had time. Now some holes in her history, even just a few of them, have shape. I know what I’m missing.