Tiny Dancer

I arrived in Pasadena Sunday night. My partner and I spent the next 3 days in a blur of boxes and packing tape and bubble wrap, getting everything ready for the movers to pick up Thursday morning.

The sheer amount of stuff we had made me cringe. When we were done packing, we had U-Haul boxes stacked three-high in our bedroom. We also generated a dumpster-full of trash and donated or sold all sorts of things, from kitchen stools to salad plates to shelving units.

We don’t actually have that much stuff. We purchased the smallest storage option (300 cubic feet) that the movers offered and fit the rest (mostly camping gear and clothes) in our sedan for the road trip. But all piled up together, it felt like a lot of stuff and it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t like having and, more importantly, being attached to material goods because they can be lost or taken away from you by accident or circumstance.

That’s why I don’t have any memorabilia from my childhood other than a small photo album that holds a dozen 4x3in pictures from when I was a baby. I think my brother put a bunch of old stuff in a storage unit in Massachusetts because he’s the sentimental one, the one that can’t let go of baby blankets and stuffed animals and memories. I’m the hard-hearted one that doesn’t care about moldy photographs of my great-grandparents.

Except that’s not really true. I don’t have many mementoes, just one shoebox full, but the ones I’ve kept for so long possess a highly concentrated power to break hearts.

The most important to me, by far, is a small ballerina pendant with a retail value of less than nothing. It probably cost $5, packaged with a children’s book about a ballerina, when my brother bought it for me at an elementary school book fair.

In the intervening years (decades actually), I’ve received much more valuable gifts of jewelry and inherited a few family heirlooms: a gold bracelet my maternal grandmother wore every day before she passed away, my paternal grandmother’s pearl-encrusted pin, a locket inscribed with finely scripted prayers for my safety and well-being.

But nothing compares to my tiny dancer because this gift was given without any expectation of being special or important or valuable. Nothing was required of me as the recipient – no “remember her fondly” or “wear it every day” or “don’t lose it.” This gift was given to me because my brother is a big old softy and he loves me. He has always loved me, and I know in my bones he always will. We fought a lot when we were little and we don’t talk as much these days as we should – he’s married and I moved away – but I know, come hell or high water, he will be there for me.

As I sat on my kitchen floor, surrounded by the detritus of my misadventures in packing, holding this necklace in my hand for the first time in years, I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to love someone as much as I love my brother, and to be loved deeply in return.

I emailed my brother a picture of the necklace –

“Remember this? Imma wear it when I get married, if and when that’s a thing.”

He replied –

“Of course I remember… Love you”


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