I left J two days before my twenty-sixth birthday. Later, I learned he bought a plot of land deep in wooded West Virginia. He’d admired the property for a long time, and he’d thought it the perfect place to build a home. It will have a big, wrap-around front porch, he’d said, nodding knowingly. He must have imagined me—cradling a book and reclining on a porch swing, a glass of lemonade sweating at my side. Perhaps he thought I’d feed white-tailed deer sugar cubes from the palm of my hand. But did he really think I could be happy there, forty-five minutes from the nearest grocery store or Wal Mart, miles from the curving Appalachian highway? Even then, he had to have known that I preferred warm places and paved roads.
Opals are soft, fragile stones. They are unlucky in engagement rings, cracking easily. I have been warned: only adorn your body in opals if you were born in the month of October. Otherwise, you will invite a curse. Who’s to say how long it might last—ten years or a century.
Is it easier to build than it is to destroy? It took a year and a half for me to end things with J, but only a week for Amish men from Ohio to raise the shell of his new house in the woods.
Please just take them, J had begged me when I left. The opal earrings, his birthday gift to me, taunted me from his coffee table. Snug in their black velveteen box. Opals are fabled to lose their shine once their owner dies. And wasn’t this a death? Did those opals dull as I pulled down his gravel drive, the neighbors’ dogs chasing and snapping as I drove away?
What I left behind:
· A pan of pasta Bolognese in the freezer. Did he toss it out, or allow it to freezer-burn, shoved behind venison tenderloins and microwavable burritos? Or, did he reheat it, serving it to his next lover, passing it off as his own work?
· My bobby pins, embedded in his floorboards—twisted, bent.
· Lavender soap.
· A bottle of wine we’d bought at a vineyard in South Carolina, when we were on vacation a few months earlier. I’d refused to let him touch me on that trip until the final night, and then I’d gotten drunk and gritted my teeth and climbed on top of him. My eyes wrenched shut, I listened to the ocean waves breaking so I wouldn’t have to hear J whisper my name. After it was over, I knew it was the last time. We’d said we’d save the bottle of wine for a special occasion, our next anniversary, maybe. But I’d never cared for muscadine grapes.
My handprints, smudging his stainless-steel fridge, announcing that I had touched every thing in every room, carelessly.
Even if J had bought me emeralds or ropes of pearls, I wouldn’t have moved into the house in the woods.
Even if he had presented me with a ruby, my birth-stone, which would have been better luck.
Even if he had knelt at my feet with a thin gold band or an asscher-cut diamond for my left hand.
In his new Amish-made house, J will find blessed few traces of me. The deer, there, are so tame he can shoot them from his front porch.
I read somewhere that opals are useless at charming a selfish person. But here, the opals seem inconsequential—selfish people are not likely to be charmed by anything, even if they admire beautiful things. I know I could have taken the opals when I left, like he’d asked. And at the time, I’d thought it selfless, generous that I’d left them behind. But really, I’d made the burden his instead of mine. I could have accepted those milky earrings, my lobes stretching with their weight. I could have been gored by their posts until I bled again and again and again. I could have welcomed their curse until the opals finally crumbled and only a fine iridescent dust remained.
About the Author: Kat Saunders lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where she is an editor in scholarly publishing. She received her MFA from West Virginia University. Her essays have been published or are forthcoming in Cleaver, Entropy, and Into the Void.