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Kathy Bradley

Out of sight, out of mind?

I had an opal necklace. It was a gift — a small stone set in gold on a narrow gold chain. I wore it every day. I would unconsciously finger it while I was on the phone or watching television. When I looked in the mirror it reminded me of lots of things, including the fact that opals are supposed to be good luck for those born in October, but bad luck for anyone else. I was, fortunately, born in October.
    One morning I stopped for gas on the way to work and when I got to the office realized that my necklace was gone. I’d had it when I left home and it wasn’t in the car. It had to have fallen off at the gas station. I went back — anxious, almost panic-stricken — to scour the parking lot.
    I found the chain, but the opal was gone.
    Sadness wrapped itself around me like a blanket on a hot day. I wanted to push it away, kick it off. The necklace was, after all, only a thing. The opal was not expensive, what jewelers call a semi-precious stone. It could be replaced.
    Except that it couldn’t. I wanted that opal, the one that came on the chain, the one that came in the green box that I had opened so excitedly. I wanted the opal that had absorbed my touch for years, that had moved up and down with my breath, that had vibrated with my laughter, rattled with my tears.
    A friend at work had a metal detector and he volunteered to go to the gas station and run it over the parking lot, between the pumps, around the trash cans. He didn’t find my opal, but he came back with a theory: The clasp on the chain had loosened, the opal had slid off and, when the next car pulled up, had gotten stuck in the tire tread and rolled away.
    As theories go, it wasn’t all that plausible, but it did give me a visual image to consider — my opal stuck in the tire of a shiny new mini-van taking a family to Disney World. Or maybe it had been picked up by a red convertible full of sorority girls on their way to the beach or a diesel-belching 4x4 pick-up truck hauling seed corn. Imagining my opal on various road trip adventures was helpful for, oh, about 15 seconds. And then the sadness returned.
    The realization that there was absolutely nothing I could do to effectuate the return of my opal was, while not intellectually challenging, emotionally impossible. Things shouldn’t get lost. I shouldn’t lose things. Things should know better.
    It took a few weeks, but eventually the spot at the bottom of my throat where the opal used to nest began feeling less naked. I stopped reaching up to tug it across the chain like an acrobat on a zip-line. I didn’t startle myself anymore when I looked in the mirror and didn’t see it.
    Then one day I didn’t think about it at all. And that day became a month and a year and several years. And the lesson is supposed to be that things are just things and a person can always get over losing a thing.
    Except that that is not true. Because just this week, for some totally inexplicable reason, I thought about my opal necklace. And I remembered its milky whiteness and the threads of pale aqua that wound through it like a creek. I remembered the iridescence that made it, like a soap bubble, reflect pink, then gold depending on the angle with which the sunlight hit it. And I remembered how secure I’d felt every single time I reached up to touch it, how it symbolized for me something that had nothing to do with being lucky or nicely accessorized.
    And I figured out that the lesson was really this: Things are never just things and a person never gets over losing something that was more than just a thing.
    There’s a place at the bottom of my throat, that little V-shaped place where my collarbone dips down, and it is empty. Always will be. Because that which belongs there is lost.

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