The night before I left for college was bittersweet. A collection of my family and a few friends gathered around a table, eating chicken wings and cheese dip and skirting around the idea that yes, we really were moving into the next step of our lives, and yes, I really was leaving.
The move wasn’t far, only six hours across the Midwest, but the change was substantial. I remember leaning against the kitchen counter, taking a deep breath, and watching everyone. They were eating chips, checking their phones, laughing about something ridiculous, tucking their hair behind their ears, trying to look tough. I remember wishing I could just freeze-frame that moment, just keep the world exactly where it was, those eight people standing around my table, not yet knowing what was to come.
My ex’s mother had shown up that night. My ex and I had recently broken off a two-and-a-half year relationship, so I was still very close with his family. Truth is, I think she was reeling about my decision to go to school in Iowa more than anyone.
When I opened the door to her, she handed me an angel charm. It was a charcoal grey with tiny wings and a key-chain loop at the end. “To watch over you,” she said in her soft spoken manner as she hugged me goodbye. She smelled like cinnamon and vanilla.
I still remember that moment. Her hug. The smell of chili cheese dip. The way my friends seemed both loud and quiet, filling my house with their drunken laughter. My mother standing next to me, tears pooling behind her green eyes. My sister, lingering on the edge of the steps, trying to find her place between my friends. My father flipping through the TV stations.
It was the simplicity of that moment—an unexpected gift given to me, embraces shared between a small group of people I loved so dearly—that will always carry so much weight. That charm was small and ordinary-looking. But to this day, it still hangs from the rear view mirror of my car.
I have this strange belief that it has saved me, protected me in my travels back and forth across the country over these past four years. I’ve avoided several accidents by what I can only say was a miracle. Or angels.
And many times I’ve looked up and watched that charm spin charcoal grey in the sunlight, been reminded of the people who love me, and always will, no matter how far I wander.