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It may come as no surprise that photographer/writer Rebecca Barray submitted her own photographs for this story, but it MAY surprise you that she used the angel ornament I made her as inspiration for this touching story. Read on and please leave a comment...
I walked through the doors into the snow. Tiny flakes floated around me, touching my hands and face though I didn’t feel it. I wandered, lost in the flurry of white. It’s a good thing I already had my coat on, or I would’ve left without it.
I walked for what could have been seconds or days, but was probably hours. I walked until a flash of red caught my eye. A handmade Christmas ornament sparkled as it was laid upon a pile of fake snow in a consignment shop window. It was exactly the kind of thing Beth would’ve…
I stepped into the shabby little shop as the elderly keeper returned to a counter covered in string and ribbon. Everything there was used or handmade. Stacks of clothes, toys, tools, costume jewelry, and all the junk you could imagine filled the room.
“Hello,” the old woman greeted me. “Go ahead and pick up the angel on your way back. I just finished it. It’s a dollar, six cents.” She pushed a couple buttons on a register; a bell sounded before I could reply.
“I don’t know if I want it. It just caught my eye.” I still withdrew a couple dollars from my pocket and retrieved the ornament from the display.
“I know, dear. I’m sorry for your loss.” She picked up the money from the counter and made change.
“Thank you. Just keep it.” I left the store, the angel warm in my cold hand. For the first time, I looked around, unsure of where I was in the city. How long had I walked in the snow? It was really coming down. I flagged a cab and told the driver my address. The conglomeration of string and ribbon sat in my palm. There wasn’t much to it. The small body was made from white string. A fuzzy red halo encircled the head. Stiff red ribbon tied into a bow comprised the wings and a silver snowflake covered the hands. The glitter sparkled in the light from passing vehicles.
At my front door, I stood in the snow, undecided. I didn’t want to face the empty house but I didn’t want to stay in the cold either. I pulled out my keys, unlocked the door, and went inside. It seemed different than this morning, somehow. I kicked off my shoes and dropped my coat. I didn’t bother turning the lights on; the blinking lights from the decorations were enough to navigate the living room. I couldn’t go farther than the couch, anyway. I stared at the angel in my hand.
Suddenly, I was angry. No, furious. What was the point of the last three years? What had we been working and saving for? I crushed the ornament in my fist and threw it across the room. It crashed, knocking something to the floor, but I didn’t care. I fell back on the couch and hot tears blurred the colored light show on the ceiling.
Beth and I sat down on the ski lift and it bounced. It started up the incline, pausing every few feet. I stared at Beth, drinking in every detail, memorizing every freckle. The depth of her eyes held secrets I’ll never learn.
“Oh, come on, Jeremy. Don’t look at me like that.” I committed to memory the melody of her voice. She looked into my eyes, and sighed. “I know it’s not what either of us wanted or expected. It’s just life; nothing lasts forever.” She looked away, “But I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do? Some way to change it, fix it? There’s gotta be something, Beth. Please…” I knew I was grasping. What’s done is done; you can’t change the past.
Her hand rose to my cheek; her thumb brushed away a tear. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
“I know,” I covered her soft hand with my rougher one, and felt tears slip through. “I know.”
“We’re almost to the top. I have to go soon.” Her brown eyes showed me how much she wanted to stay.
“I don’t think I can live without you, Beth. I don’t know how.” The tears flowed freely now. “I’ve built my whole life around us. Now, I’ve got nothing left.”
“Oh, Jeremy,” she sighed. “Don’t say that.” She closed her eyes and grimaced in pain. “That’s exactly why I came. I had to remind you of how strong you are before I could leave. Because you are the man I love and respect, you will get through this. My life was so much fuller and happier with you in it. So many lives are better for having you in them. Don’t be sad that our time is over; be happy that we got to share as much as we did.” She glanced up as the end of the lift drew near. “And look forward to the happy times you’ll share with others in the future.”
I looked at her for the last time, trying to burn the image into my brain. I pulled her close for one last embrace; her hair tickled my nose. “I love you so much, Beth. Thank you for saying goodbye.”
“I love you, Jeremy. I have to go now, but I’ll always be with you.” Her grip on me loosened, but I refused to let go. The lift stopped, but I didn’t move to get up. Beth was pulled out of my arms suddenly and I lost my balance. I fell out of the seat, tumbling off the edge of the mountain, into the abyss.
I rolled off the couch and hit the floor, tears wet on my face. I looked around the room at all the reminders of the happiness Beth and I shared. The lights on the tree blinked. A silver sparkle drew my attention to the middle. There, front and center and in pristine condition, was the angel ornament I had wadded up last night and thrown across the room.