The missing piece

Danielle Deraleau, Featured Columnist

     When my mom first showed me the window, it just about took my breath away. So many colors arranged in a way that created a beautiful picture that sparkled with light. Everything about it was amazing, from the detailed white flowers to the butterflies that hovered in the sky. Lilies and pomegranates adorned the window as well, shimmering in the sun. But the thing that really drew my eye in, the thing that was impossible to miss, was the phoenix in the center.

     It was awe inspiring, created out of hundreds of pieces of gold, red, orange, yellow and white stained glass. It rose up from the base of the window, stretching its wings above its head and tilting its face towards the sky.

     My mom, as if sensing my speechlessness, put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s dedicated in memory of your grandfather.”

     To put it simply, my grandfather was an amazing person. A classic story of growing up with nothing and then creating something. He was in the Navy, then met my grandmother, and then opened his own business. My favorite memories of my grandfather are the ones I kept from my childhood. It’s strange; I can’t remember a lot of things from when I was little no matter how hard I think. But memories of him come easily to me.

     In my favorite one I’m sitting in his lap, leaning back comfortably as my short toddler legs rest on his knees. He’s holding one of my favorite books in his hands: one from the Barbie series, with smaller words and a lot of pictures. In this particular story, Barbie is at a horse show. Her cousin’s horse takes off unexpectedly, and Barbie has to save the day. My grandfather turns pages, carefully reading to me in a husky voice and following the words with his finger across the page. “She grabbed for the reigns, but she missed…”

     I can still hear those words as clearly as if he was speaking them to me now.

     My memories are great. But I wish I could still be making more of them.

     It’s difficult to live without him. Whenever a puzzle is missing a piece, you can never truly replace it and complete the picture again. There will always be a void that you’re aware of; something that’s not there that should be. And though you’ll never be able to fix it, you can fill it in a little as best you can.   

     For us, we got that window. It is one of the many stained glass creations in our church. Whenever we go to church as a family we sit in front of it, completing the group.

     The phoenix became iconic to all of us in a way. We have a special place for it in our hearts. When my mom collected a bunch of old jewelry and decided to recycle it, what she came up with was brilliant. Some jeweler friends of hers took out the stones and made it into a mosaic phoenix necklace. I was incredibly jealous, but happy for her to have that little special and meaningful token to remember her father by.

     Then, my brother and I got ours. On the day of my brother’s confirmation, my mother gave each of us our own necklace. It’s simple, a silver chain, with a round pendant. On it a phoenix is artfully etched, individual feathers carefully created. Mine is short so it can be seen, and my brother’s is long so he can wear it in his shirt.

     If you ever want to see it, you simply have to look at my neck. Because it usually only leaves there if I’m taking a shower or sleeping.

     As I continue to go through life it’s nice to have that one reminder with me all the time. That one piece of significance that I can’t imagine going without that ties me back to my family and the man I looked up to and loved for the years I got to spend with him. I have a habit of nervously grabbing it and twisting it on its chain when I need something to do with my hands. Whenever I feel guilty or am considering doing something I know I shouldn’t do, the phoenix feels heavy on my chest. And if someone notices it, the small thing that’s so significant it really takes someone who cares to see, they gain instant respect from me.

     Some wear their grandmother’s ring. Others hang a picture of the loved one on the wall. Even more place some token of importance on a shelf to remember them.

     But me, I wear a phoenix around my neck.