All of this seems trite now: the doctor-husband who had an affair with his nurse, the email mistake that made me aware of it. The only thing that was unusual, perhaps, was the speed of my clarity—it took me just three days to know I would end my marriage of 30 years. It was strange, then, that for more than a year, I couldn’t decide what to do with a silver necklace from Turkey, the last gift my husband had given me.
The only time I wore the necklace was to my niece’s wedding a month before my husband and I separated. The next time I was about to put it on—to wear to my friends’ anniversary party a couple of weeks after he moved out—I was blindsided by the truth: This gift was not meant for me.
“I’m an idiot,” I told the friend who came to pick me up.
“You are not,” she insisted, following me up to my bedroom. “There’s nothing idiotic about trusting your husband.”
“But he never actually gave this to me,” I said, holding out the necklace to her and explaining how I had found it in his suitcase in Istanbul on our last vacation together. My husband was feeling ill, so I packed for him and there, in the suitcase pocket where he kept his medicine, I found the beautiful silver necklace with tiny green stones and diamond chips. Not my style, but still: beautiful.
“He told me he’d snuck out to buy me something special to remember this trip. And I, of course, believed him.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” she said. “Even now, I guess you still can’t know for sure.”
“There’s a lot I still can’t know for sure,” I said, sitting down on my bed. “I do know I can’t wear this thing, though, and I know I don’t want to go to this party. Do I have to go celebrate someone’s marriage?”
“Yes,” she said. “But you don’t have to wear the necklace.”
“What am I going to do with it?” I asked.
“Sell it,” she said, handing it back to me. “It’s probably worth some money, don’t you think?”
I held the stones up to the light, pretending that I knew what I was looking at. “Maybe,” I said. “Maybe a few hundred dollars.”
“Get yourself something really beautiful—a thank-god-he’s-gone gift,” she declared in that tone people use when they’re trying to cheer up a heartsick child.
Even though I didn’t need anyone’s advice when I decided to end my marriage, figuring out what to do with this piece of jewelry felt impossible on my own. For weeks I took every visiting friend up to my bedroom, opened the small box it was in, and asked her opinion.
“Keep it,” one said. “Time passes and feelings change and soon it will just be a necklace.” She clasped it around my neck. “One that looks fabulous on you.”
“Throw it in the ocean,” another advised. “The Golden Gate Bridge at sundown—I’ll go with you.”
“Maybe you still need tangible proof of his betrayal,” yet another emailed. “A shiny reminder that you made the right decision. I’m sure you’ll know when you’re ready to let go of it.”
“I will?” I wrote back.
My friend Lesley looked at the necklace and nearly blushed, she loved it so much. “Exquisite,” she said, latching it around her own neck, and for a moment I considered telling her to keep it—she’d been so kind and generous to me and someone should enjoy it. “Don’t part with this one, honey,” she said, placing it back on my dresser.
On three occasions in the year following my divorce, I tried to wear the necklace, and three times I took it off.
Twice, I took it to jewelers. The first one said he’d give me $125, the second said she’d take it on consignment.
I never took it to the Golden Gate Bridge.
When my niece told me she had a great picture of the two of us from her wedding, I dreaded seeing it. But for my birthday that year, she and her husband gave me a framed copy of the photo. In it, my niece and I are looking at each other and cracking up—neither of us remembers what was so funny then, but it’s marvelous how the photographer caught us in the middle of that joyful moment. There’s something charming, too, in the contrast of wearing formal clothing and laughing that hard: The bride has on a strapless white gown and dangling earrings, and I’m in a low-cut black silk top—neither of us is wearing a necklace. Neither of us is wearing a necklace?
“Photoshop,” my new nephew said.
“How about that?” I said, staring at myself, necklace-free, looking very, very happy.
And about a week later, I finally figured out what I wanted to do. It was January 20, 2009, the day Barack Obama was being sworn into office, and it was also Lesley’s birthday, so her party was a celebration in front of the television at 9 in the morning. I awoke early—by 7 o’clock I was up and dressed, wrapping the necklace in light blue tissue paper, curling the ends of white ribbon with the tip of a scissors.
When I arrived at Lesley’s house, I asked her to come into her study for a moment, away from her other guests, so I could give her my gift in private. “Are you sure?” she asked without even unwrapping it. “I can just hold it for you, you know, and if you ever want it back . . .”
But by then I had taken her hand and walked her back to the living room where, relieved and hopeful, I joined the party.
Wendy Lichtman’s personal essays have appeared in many national magazines and newspapers. A resident of Berkeley, she is the author of several novels for young adults, most recently Secrets, Lies and Algebra and The Writing on the Wall. Contact her at wendylichtman.com.
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