When my eldest son realized what he'd done, or, rather, when I told him just what it was in a calm tone but with a critical expression, he instantly got angry about the fact that he would be blamed for an accident, an accident that involved throwing a toy hard against the front door just for kicks, but an action that had unintended results nonetheless. Oh, my son! He should have realized that his mother was the one who had the right to the crying and yelling.
I wanted to cry, but even as I picked up the three large pieces of the broken cross I could not. Still it was the second blow to my romantic sensibilities in a month. The first had come when the beautiful purple ornament that had been a first Christmas gift to Matthew had smashed on the floor behind the TV, spattering the evidence in thin slivers of broken glass against the wall. It had engraved on it, "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!"
I hadn't cried then, either. But I feel very sad about it even now. Still, I had neglected to wrap it carefully and stow it away with the other Christmas ornaments, mostly because it was so large. Now, it's gone and it could have been a fixture on our tree for many years, a reminder of Matthew's and my first Christmas together. Each year as I hung it on a higher branch out of the reach of our little ones, I could have smiled as I reminisced about how I lost this gift before he came for that first Christmas visit, so I had to tell him about how beautiful it was with its gold inscription, and he didn't receive it until almost a year later. I can no longer have that memory ritual each year. It's broken, and no other Christmas ornament can be from the same time in our lives.
The cross, a wedding gift from Matthew's aunt, survives - carefully glued back together, a chunk or two missing. But it is affixed to its proper place by our threshold again, there to witness all our daily hellos and goodbyes, a gatekeeper of sorts. I hope it lives long and prospers.
But its taught me a lesson, this breaking of romantic relics. What goes around comes around, so they say. Now I understand how my mom felt.
When I broke the slender blue-green vase that she and Dad had gotten on their wedding day, I understand why she cried so much and kept asking how? how did this happen? But, most especially, I am close because of the smashed Christmas ball to understanding how she felt the day my brother and I were playing in my sister Vinca's room, rummaging through the closet. We found so many curious relics from Mom and Dad's early years in some boxes there - seashells, identity bracelets, old pamphlets from when Dad ran for State Rep in Idaho. The most boring object, the plainest thing we discovered was a small glass bowl. We carelessly laid it aside in our quest for the interesting, and somehow it broke.
We knew it at least had to be old, so we went to confess, but we were in no way prepared for the emotional response that gripped our mother's face. She sobbed as she took the broken pieces, and then she explained, as I had to do with my own son, that this plain glass bowl had held flowers given to her by our father before they were married. So many years it had been preserved, and we had destroyed this tangible piece of romance in a few careless minutes.
We apologized repeatedly, but our words weren't making a difference. When Mom told us it was okay, that was for our sakes, to make us feel better, less desperate. It didn't alter at all her heartbreak.
It makes me sad to remember that. But I do remember. And now I understand.