1. The Wedding Gift
The vase—blue, pottery—was a gift from my college boyfriend. We’d drifted apart and become just friends for a few years and sometimes we wrote and sometimes we called and we invited each other to our weddings in cities four hours apart and neither of us went to the other’s wedding and we sent each other presents. We mailed Christmas cards and then we didn’t. When my husband and I were selling our last apartment in Manhattan, a woman who answered our ad turned out to be the roommate of the old boyfriend’s sister and I asked her to say hello and she said she would. The vase sat on the windowsill of my house for a long time, part of a collection of pottery and glass. When the kids were toddlers I put everything away, and now that they’re older, I have other vases there.
2. French Bowls
My first job in New York was at a magazine where a frail, elderly man delivered the interoffice mail. Over time it emerged that he was an artist and had in fact made the spare, expressive paintings that were hanging in the magazine’s corridors. He spoke very little but I often noticed him looking intently at me. Once I heard him say, “Very French.”
One day he dropped off a drawing at my desk, told me that he had made it for me and walked away, embarrassed. The drawing, rendered in a few dark strokes, was of a woman’s face, and though it was not particularly representational, there was something unnervingly familiar in the cast of her eyes and the set of her mouth.
I left the magazine soon afterward and never saw that man again. A few years later, my future husband took one look at the drawing, which I’d had framed, and said, “That is definitely you.”
We went to Paris for our honeymoon and again for our twentieth anniversary. Leaving our hotel in the Place St. Germain every morning we passed a pottery shop. In the window was a set of bowls; painted inside each was a woman’s face that looked to me strikingly like the face in the drawing hanging over the fuse box at home. I said nothing about it. After we’d walked past a few more times, my husband said, “It’s odd, isn’t it, seeing your young face in that window.” We went in and bought the bowls.
3. The Daughter Vase
A week after we returned from Paris, I received a phone call telling me that my mother had died. My mother had been despondent over my stepfather’s terminal illness and had called again and again to say, “This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to die first.” Then one morning she didn’t wake up. Her heart had stopped.
After my stepfather died as well, I emptied out the house. My mother had been an artist, so I packed up a lifetime’s worth of paintings, drawings, and sculpture, divided them up among family, shipped home boxes and boxes marked “fragile.” I took her glass collection, her jewelry, her papers, her photos, her shoes.
On a shelf I found two matching vases—a big one and a little one, luminous blue. I wrapped the little one in my clothing and put it in my bag. I left the big one in the house.