I stare at my mother’s crucifix necklace often. I remember her wearing it everyday. The strength and faith it possessed to her. Like a tangible object that held all of her positive super power. The amount of belief she placed within it.
How she would close her eyes and clench it into her palm. As a young child I didn’t realize her desperation. I didn’t recognize her pleas. I only saw her praying without understanding the depth that she sent into that cross.
This cross that hung off her chest, near her heart. That carried her burdens. That possessed her hopes and dreams. And that magically vanished her doubts and fears.
My young mind unable to grasp the need and pressure she felt. An illness she hid from me. Like a ghost that haunted her from childhood. This time that robbed her of her life and everything she knew. Existing within her. Pulsing in her blood, through her veins, under her skin, as now a part of her.
A mysterious, mischievous thing that lingered and threatened it’s unknown return.
She bottled up all these unknowns into this cross that dangled from her neck. Every time she bent down to kiss my forehead. Or tuck me in. As we kneeled and prayed at night. As she cooked over the stove.
How she fiddled it in her fingertips. This direct connection to a power greater than herself locked into this small piece of jewelry.
Although I didn’t understand it, I too had learned to rely on that necklace to make my mother feel whole.
Like it was a shield of spirituality that blocked her from illness and pain. That could remove even the most powerful fear and return her back to the here and now.
I would stare at it from time to time when I would see her eyes disappear somewhere off into a far away place. When I felt her vacate the present and vanish into far away thoughts.
I would stare at her necklace, questioning why it wasn’t working. I would reach out and touch her sometimes, hoping she would come back. She would then look at me and smile, letting me know her return.
Letting me know the necklace once again did its job.
Until she died. And I wondered if the necklace stopped working. Or if her body finally did. Her tissues too fragile and delicate. "Ripping like paper" the doctor said. The medicine that saved her for so many years had taken a toll on the rest of her.
The necklace couldn’t create miracles. It could only hold them.
I took the necklace after she died. I wore it on my first day back to school after her death. Telling myself I would never take it off.
A part of her was inside it. Encapsulating all her dreams and fears. I thought it could hold mine too. Uniting us in some magical, spiritual way. I would be taking a piece of her with me. Carrying her along, dangling from my neck, close to my heart.
My first class was gym. We weren’t allowed to wear jewelry. But I didn’t care. I refused to take it off.
“Take it off, or spend the class alone in the locker room. Followed by detention and a trip to the principal." the gym teacher threatened.
I stormed off to sit in the locker room alone. Where I sat on a bench before my closed locker to let the threat marinate. Seeing the reality, of how immediate who I was changed in her death. Now without her. Was part of me carrying my mother in this necklace, or did part of me die with her?
Was keeping the necklace on, worth losing more of who I was.
The truth… I didn’t know. I only knew I didn’t want to take it off.
The vice principal entered the empty locker room, and stood near the bench I was sitting on. Where I sat with my back to her, clenching the cross in my palm. Contemplating letting more of my mother go, or watching my future deteriorate even more than it already felt it had.
The vice principal’s voice broke my thoughts. She told me to take it off. Reminding me it would be safe locked in my locker. And I could put it back on after class.
I didn't turn around to look at her. Instead, in my mind, I asked the crucifix to help. To please keep my mother in there while I removed it. While I was in class. To let her know I had to leave, but was returning soon.
With tear filled eyes and a reluctant heart, I reached behind my neck and unclasped the metal connector. I felt the cross fall off my chest, away from my heart and into my palm. I put it on the shelf of my locker.
The vice principal said, “Good job. Now get to class.” As my heart sank.
I slowly closed my locker door and spun the lock closed.
I was too scared to put that necklace on again. I was too scared to ever take it off. To lose it. To lose her even more. This object, the only tangible connection I had left of her.
I came home that day and hid it under my mattress.
Months later, our home would be robbed. I would be living with other families. Our lives would be ripped apart. Our situation, our family, forever changed.
Years later, I returned to my childhood room. I lifted the mattress of my childhood bed. There, laying against the box spring was the cross. Still filled with all our hopes and dreams.
I instantly put the necklace on. Feeling it drape off my neck, against my chest, close to my heart. And I instantly felt a connection to my mother.
To this day, I always have it near me as I write.
Inviting her to write with me. To send messages through this necklace that hangs from my neck. Through my chest, into my heart, down my arm, into the ink on the page. To record everything it still holds. Reminding me to shut my mind off. Close my eyes. To sit in my body. Get quiet and listen to the whispers of my mother’s cross.