In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a few “essentials” I never travel without, but there was one very personal item (yes, even more personal than the nose hair trimmer) that I didn’t mention—a delicate sliver of a silver charm.
On one side, it bears my name. (“Amy,” that is. “Laughinghouse,” as you might imagine, would be a bit unwieldy). The other side is embossed with three hieroglyphics which supposedly signify my name’s meaning. It’s elegant, unusual, and most importantly to me, a gift from my sister, Kimberly.
Kim passed away on June 10, 2009, but wearing that pendant, hooked around my neck on a slender chain, I felt that she was there, seeing the world with me.
I could imagine her wicked cackle of a laugh, the expressive arc of her eyebrows, which communicated her thoughts like semaphores, and the hilarious stories that she could have woven from even the most commonplace event.
So when I happened to notice the chain dangling, unhooked and bereft of its charm while wandering around the tangled maze of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic quarter one day, I felt the weight of a loss much greater than the actual mass of that feather-light talisman.
We didn’t travel much as kids. Back in those days, flights were too expensive for a middle-class family of four. Our mom and dad were only able to take us as far as four wheels could carry us (bearing in mind that the wheel was a relatively new and miraculous invention at the time). That meant long drives to the beach and yearly jaunts to visit my grandparents 14 hours away, sometimes with three highly vocal Siamese cats in tow.
Their yowling, however, was nothing compared to the arguments that erupted from the back seat. “Kim’s on MY side of the car!” “Amy’s touching me!” How my father resisted the urge to direct our powder blue station wagon right off a cliff, I’ll never know, although it probably had a lot to do with the geographical dearth of cliffs on America’s Eastern seaboard.
I think it was the limited scope of our adventures that birthed the travel bug in both my sister and me. We knew there was a big world beyond Panama City (Florida, that is), and we wanted to see it.
Kim only had the opportunity to travel overseas once—to Paris, doggedly hauling my infant niece in a baby carriage up and down the stairs of Metro stations—but she and her husband, along with my niece and nephew, logged hundreds of thousands of miles crisscrossing US highways. They thought nothing of driving 12 hours each way for a weekend at Mardi Gras, and they once rented an RV to explore the wilds of Alaska. Our last trip all together as a family was to the Big Island of Hawaii for Christmas—which was also my sister’s birthday.
Every time I fastened that oblong ornament around my neck, I knew there was some small risk I might lose it. But what was the alternative? Leave it lying in a box, sequestered like a lonely relic? No. I think Kim would have loved to go many of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit (though she might have raised those dark eyebrows at a few), and I was determined to bring her with me however I could.
I wandered the streets of Barcelona that afternoon, eyes glued to the pavement, my heart leaping at the sight of every silver gum wrapper. Still, I knew it would be a miracle if I found the charm.
I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean there might not be a happy ending to this story after all.
Maybe that adventurous part of Kim’s spirit, which the pendant symbolized in my mind, was as inexorably attracted by the energy and warmth of Barcelona as I am. Maybe, as I loitered in a lively old square, where laughter and chatter wafted from the buzzing cafes, she slipped quietly away, dropping her kid sister’s hand to explore for a while on her own.
I imagine that charm glinting in the blazing sunshine on an old cobblestone steeped in history and trodden by centuries of footsteps, soaking up the heat and the atmosphere. Someone, I’m certain, will notice it eventually. They’ll pick it up, and I hope they will wear it, too, as they wander around faraway cities, clamber up mountainsides and whiz over oceans.
I’ve accepted that I’ll never hold it again. But just as my sister sometimes comes back to me in my dreams, so, too, has a form of this memento.
The Christmas after I lost the pendant, marking yet another of Kim’s birthdays without her, I opened a small white box from my mother. There, glinting on a bed of snowy cotton, was an almost identical pendant. This one is perhaps doubly precious, because it was a gift from my sister to our mother, engraved with my mother’s name—and she was entrusting it to me.
Now when I travel, I wear this necklace for both of them.
Am I afraid I might lose it? Absolutely. But at least if I do, I’ve realized that I don’t need a symbol over my heart to carry the people I cherish with me, wherever I go.