I am not one to hold on to things superfluously. I donate bags of clothes; I pass on books after I read them; I toss sneakers when they’ve seen enough miles; I save only the most special cards and notes. I don’t collect broken hearts to mount like hunter’s prizes on my walls. I sleep soundly – the deep, luxurious sleep of those who have no ghosts lingering along the edges of their consciousness when the velvet curtain of night descends. I am not haunted by regrets, by the demons of the unrequited.
But I save every piece of jewelry he ever gave me. And I wear them all.
He was always a good gift giver. Thoughtful, really. He wasn’t religious, but the first thing he ever gave me was a beautiful silver Tiffany’s cross, speaking to my strong faith. I loved that cross. I still love that cross. I will never stop loving that cross.
And it has nothing to do with him, even though it has everything to do with him. He isn’t a part of my life anymore, aside from the memories and flashes of silver and diamond in my jewelry box that remind me of our green youth – but he will always be a part of my story, because he is my past.
The past is your life. The past is your story. What you loved once was real, and affects who you are today, and is a part of your journey to becoming the best version of yourself. So when I wear that cross, I’m not missing him, even if I think about him when I put it on.
It’s more of a remembrance of a time; of a younger version of myself, a girl with eager eyes and so very far to go in discovering how to tackle this great big world alone. And he is a part of helping me do that; he was a stepping stone, with his shoulders that carried the weight of the world and his eyes that always gave his bleeding heart away. I’m thankful for what I learned about myself from knowing him, from having our stories intertwined at that point in my life when I knew nothing about love and all its imposters and holograms, and for all the soul- searching and me-finding it impelled me to do throughout my tender twenties.
If I had never met the boy who gave me that cross, I might not be the same me I am today.
I might have never learned to see myself as someone who falls in or out of love and lives to tell the tale; who can wrestle through the chaos of caring so deeply for someone and knowing they can still hurt you, and you them; who can fight through all hours of the night and still choose forgiveness in the morning; who can navigate a world of tears and live through a heartbreak and still look back and call it good, call it growing pains.
Someone who can say she has been in a love that might not have been her very best or truest love, but it was so very hers – her first taste – and it set the foundation for everything she would ever know of that glittery, dazzling, heart-wrenchingly beautiful and tragic world that she had now entered into and from which she could never fully return: through the looking glass and beyond the wardrobe and over the rainbow and second-star- to-the- right-and- straight-on- til-morning.
Because that dark-eyed boy with the poet’s mouth and cynic’s smile once knelt before her and offered her a footstep to the sky in his open palms, she learned to become a girl who did things like take wild chances and discover that while not every jump will have a flight plan, you discover what you’re truly made of when you close your eyes and trust the wind all the same.
So I never once thought about getting rid of the jewelry. A few years ago, my mother asked me if I wanted her to wear the pair of diamond hoop earrings he’d given me and get me a new pair instead. She liked those – they’re quite lovely, indeed – and she figured I might want a pair that wasn’t associated with thoughts of him. But I didn’t want a new pair. I love those earrings – just like I love that cross – for what they are: beautiful, classic pieces I am proud to own, talismans from my younger days that remind me of a time that is not now but was still ever- so-precious and important in my life.
They remind me that I am a constant work in progress, so long as I choose to be a girl who longs to progress; that I am always growing into a more complete version of myself and tucking all of my former, younger selves beneath my skin, adding to them like quilts upon a bed, cherishing the warmth and pattern and details in each one and learning to verbalize my desires and discontents along the way.
I was a different her, once, and although I am a better her now, I like to remember the other hers. I like to think of all of the girls I have been; how I laughed and cried and chose and grew through those stages, and how they shaped the girl who laughs and cries and chooses and grows today.
I look back and I like her, the me who first clasped that cross around my neck, who clicked those earrings into my ears. I like her, but I do not pine for her; I do not wish to be her again. I like who I am today infinitely more; I am immeasurably more proud of my now life, of my now choices. I recognize her starring role in this journey, though; how she dipped her toes in the unfamiliar and tried her hand at love when it seemed such a foreign thing, such an insurmountable beast, and how she wrestled with herself enough to know what to leave behind and what to take with her on her journey toward the sun.
He didn’t make the “Take” list. He was meant to stay behind, frozen into a slot in time – a series of moments that might have led her to another life but that instead became a collection of short stories from her past. The cross, however, and the earrings – they made the cut. They were hers. Not because she needed them to remember him by; not because every time she put them on, she’d think of his face.
She took them with her because they were beautiful, and she liked them; because they were gifts from another life, and represented how even though some loves were never built to last, they served the purpose that we needed at that time. Because they reminded her that once upon a time, she was a young girl who had never before said yes to skysailing, and a boy had taken a chance on her guarded heart and taught her that every once in a while, falling backward into the sky was the same thing as believing you could fly. I loved him, once, in the best way I thought I knew how at the time. I don’t regret him.
I’m glad he happened. But he was never meant to be mine, and so I let him go. I had to let him go. But he taught me well; he helped me love more completely, sifting through the reasons for choosing someone, understanding the difference between wanting someone so badly and yet knowing they aren’t your North Star.
He was a part of my story, but he is not my ending. He is the boy who helped me test my wings, but not the one for whom my heart will ultimately soar.
So I keep his jewelry. There’s no rule that says I can’t. It belongs to me, because someone once saw them through shining eyes and thought of my smile. He won’t be the last boy I ever love, and his gifts won’t be the last I string around my neck – but they made me happy, once. HE made me happy, once. And I’m choosing to fill my life with those things that remind me of all the good and beautiful that’s out there in the world just waiting to be discovered and chosen and wrapped up with bows to give to those we love, when we love them. Because in that moment, that’s the best we can ever hope to do.
One day, someone will love me better than he did: more selflessly, less devastatingly, nearly effortlessly. And when he gives me things in tiny boxes, I will gladly wear those, too: one piece at a time, glittering memories strung together like stones on a wire, mapping the ever- unfolding journey of my little heart.
Because this is my silver story; this is my golden life. And I choose to remember it all.