The beads fall off. The links between them break. I tuck it into my backpack and take it out and find parts broken. I lose pieces of it on planes, in the back seats of cabs. Some of the pieces are lost forever. I lose them in foreign places, cities I’ll never come back to. One gets lost in Reykjavik. Another in Rome. Another in Hyde Park, New York. Another in Hue or Hanoi, Vietnam.
Others I salvage. In a hotel room in Mexico City, I spend forty five minutes searching for piece. I find it behind the couch and put it in my glasses case as I say goodbye to the lingering him from the night before and head for the airport. I collect the pieces and put them in a Capodimonte box. It seems appropriate. It was hers, too. It’s broken, too; the pink boy in the tricorner hat on the lid has a black gash down his stomach. I keep the sections under the gash, awaiting reassembly.
It stays broken for more than a year. I keep taking it out, keep bringing it along on trips. It’s my death prophylactic, my “in case the plane goes down or I get shivved in an alleyway.” I also buy others, though. In a shop just off the basilica in Guadalupe, an old woman sells me a miniature one in silver, with tiny beads that have petals carved into them. She takes me in the back of the shop after I pay, dips an artificial rose in a plastic bowl full of water, and sprinkles the beads with it. At the Vatican Museums, I find one in wood. The beads are soft. They’re a good skin substitute. They are meant to be caressed by lonely people. An actual priest blesses them. In Rome, they do it by the book.
Eventually, I find a guy who can fix it. I take it into a shop in Downtown LA with bulletproof cases full of diamonds and he looks at me and looks at it and then looks at me again with a face that says “Why would you want to spend $50 fixing this piece of junk when you can buy a much nicer, newer one for less?” I assume he’s not Catholic. I assume he doesn’t have a dead wife. I assume he gets on planes reasonably confident that they’ll land in one piece.
He fixes it anyway. He finds suitable replacements for the lost beads. Similar shape, size, color. He puts in the replacement links, folding them closed with tiny pliers. He charges me $75 for it.
When it’s fixed, I notice all the ways it looks and feels different. The new beads are lighter, less worn. The plastic looks more expensive, though I doubt whether one piece of plastic can be more or less expensive than another. The links look squarer, more firmly closed. It doesn’t sway as it used to before the break. Held in a fist or dangled from a finger, it moves strangely. It doesn’t wrap around my hand as easily when we take off and it doesn’t unwrap as smoothly when we land. The new beads and new links don’t seem as fluid as the others. They’re stiff.
It bothers me a bit in the beginning.
In time, I stop noticing.
Chris Records is a grantwriter and community organizer living in Los Angeles. He works for two nonprofits: USC Shoah Foundation, which collects the testimonies of survivors of genocide and uses them in schools around the world; and Karam Foundation’s Books Not Bombs initiative, which advocates for the creation of scholarships for Syrian refugee students. In his free time, you can find him being queer and Catholic at the same time.