An Emerald Necklace

Many necklaces are special.

Sometimes a necklace is not a necklace.

Strung between my longtime work world and the galaxy of Boston hospitals clustered around Fenway Park–the first and last ballpark where my husband Jim saw the home team play–is an Emerald Necklace.

My day began very early, in deep dark, when I drove to Dana Farber’s Cancer Institute.   Along the highway were simmering meadows of black fog.

In Boston I paid a visit to the Institute’s Healing Garden, suspended stories above the city.  It bursts with white and magenta orchids and has a soundtrack of chirping birds.  Running close to one wide window is a lattice of intricate flora which resemble sailors’ knots gone wild–bright, curving tendrils like a hybrid of origami and undersea creatures.

Jim would have studied them closely, thinking about how he might engineer a similarly spectacular display in his own garden.

Very close to Dana Farber is an Emerald Necklace, Frederick Law Olmsted’s string of parks, which stretches from Boston Common to Franklin Park.

Before work and after rushing to a series of appointments, I had a rare opportunity to pause between worlds.   I slipped down to the bank of one of this necklace’s jewels, which sparkled and fluttered with Jim’s greens and blues–and the birds I think of as frequent messengers from him.

By a sturdy rock, a large bird oversaw five smaller ones as they navigated the pond.

On that same path, near those same teaching hospitals, Jim and I had walked hand in hand as newlyweds during the rare occasions I could meet him there while he could take a break as he moved through his medical training.

Young couples strolled with babies.   Much older couples walked more slowly together.  Some were quiet; some talked animatedly.  Some endearingly bickered.

I am not sure why this place affected and overcame me as it did today, as I walked that path alone for both of us.

“Is it special?”

Today, for only the second time, a stranger asked me about my necklace.

I have written about Jim’s wedding band, which I held towards my lips with both hands cupped around it–similar to the way I remember gently, fleetingly confining fireflies  when I was a child–during the rare occasions he removed it from his finger at the hospital.

I am not the only one who has written about the divet where the same gold band left its mark on Jim’s finger.

I also have written about the diamond pendant Jim gave me as the last gift I could hold.  Someone told me it is known as an “infinity” necklace.

I wear them both always.

At first I wore them on separate chains.  I did so as my sons and I completed our sleepless forty-hour odyssey returning to Boston from Kyoto (a trip that featured a particularly unpleasant thirteen-hour layover whose details led one of my brothers to wonder whether our host city, loosely speaking, should have been in contention for a title along with the airport a pilot described thus: “A filthy lobby, sullen-faced employees, no place to sit, and a vague sense of danger all add up to the World’s Worst Airport.”).

We ended up re-entering our home country through Detroit, where I foggily stumbled about, dehydrated and nauseated, looking for water bottles before we boarded the final flight.

At a store counter, the woman next to me looked at me and said, “That’s a beautiful necklace.”

Blearily I touched my right hand first to the pendant and then to the ring and asked, “Which one?”

“Well, both of them. I knew that must be special.” She looked at me kindly, and I gathered she meant the ring.  I thanked her.

(A formerly fearful flier, I always slip a finger inside the ring during takeoffs and landings and other moments of high stress.)

Some months ago I began wearing both the pendant and the ring on the same chain above my heart: infinity and an endless circle.   I suppose I have abandoned nuance.

During today’s bout of evening tasks I stopped at the drug store, where one of the pharmacy assistants smiled at me and asked with genuine feeling how all of us are doing.  And then I dashed to the grocery store and piled my caffeinated trove on the conveyor belt.

The cashier, who was new and in training, chatted as she rang things up.  When she was done, she tilted her head, looked at the necklace and asked,  “Is that special?”

This time I had no confusion about which she meant: many have pendants; few bear wedding bands around their necks.

“Yes, it’s my husband’s ring.”

The word “special” doesn’t begin to do it justice.

A Vale of Valentines

2011 Valentines

This morning I had to stop at a drug store in which all the pharmacists know and likely pity me by sight.

To look at the cheerful carnation pink and red of Valentine’s Day displays is almost as sobering as it was to walk into a stationery store last June and come face-to-face with the Father’s Day cards.  I wheeled around and hastened back out the door as if the cards might swoop down and attack like Alfred Hitchcock fowl–a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, a sedge of bitterns.  (I am quite the fan of “terms of venery.”)

I do realize this “woe-is-me” me is not my most attractive self, but there you have it.

Last Valentine’s Day, Jim handed me a box wrapped in shiny Boston Celtics green.  It matched the boxes I had seen and knew contained necklaces he carefully had chosen as birthday gifts for our two daughters during his last winter with us.

First, I had presented him with humble and transient treasures: a heart-shaped cookie and some soap he had requested.  He gave me a diamond necklace.  We gave each other cards in which we had both included variations on the phrase that we did not know where to begin.  Of course we both meant that we did not know how to end.

He had printed out a picture of the two of us on our last family vacation.  Because he chose it, it will forever be my favorite of us.  It remains propped up against the reading lamp next to where I try to sleep, and usually instead take in a great deal of good literature (and some so-so books).

Jim was frugal only with money.  Perhaps that was an artifact of his family’s reaction to the swift dissipation of the first substantial sum he, the oldest of five children, ever possessed—the amount with which he had been entrusted for both necessities and incidentals during his first year in college.  He was neither a traditionally demonstrative nor a lavishly-spending person.

Since his freshman year, when he blew two entire semesters’ allotted fortune ($500 in 1977 money) on a stereo system (kids: ask your parents), Jim had not spent large sums of money on himself or others–except on the exceedingly rare occasions when he would buy a house, which he excused as more of an investment (even though our timing, market-wise, was notoriously bad).  Our growing family did, after all, require a place to put all of those books, and all of my fabric.

It was a rarity when my husband would spend enough money that it was worth mentioning to me . . . although there was the time I was startled that a man showed up on the doorstep of our new home, asking me for a check because he had “my tractor.”  Jim forgot to mention the purchase.  He had always wanted to be a gentleman farmer in his spare time. Continue reading “A Vale of Valentines”

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