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If You Build It …

by Gail Presnell-Jones

Inspiration image

I started my regeneration at Goodwill. No, I didn’t volunteer or utilize their many services; I simply shopped. After a year of battling cancer and an 18-month depression, I realized that I had two choices: I could continue to sit around in my fuzzy bathrobe, waiting for a miracle to lead me back into life, or I could get up, get dressed, and … Well, I wasn’t so sure what should come next, but I decided to go with that sec­ond option anyway. I would get up, get dressed, and take it from there.

The first problem with my plan was that I didn’t have anything to wear that was much of an improvement over my well-worn bathrobe – just a few pairs of jeans and some t-shirts. The second problem was that my budget didn’t allow much room for new clothes. Neverthe­less, like Kevin Costner in The Field of Dreams, I told myself, “If you build it, he will come.” Only I was building a new image for myself, not a baseball field in the middle of Iowa, and “he” referred to my new lease on life.

Years ago, I had worked as a cloth­ing designer, so I felt confident in my ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, in the local discount and thrift stores. I took my mission seriously, rarely spending more than 10 dollars on any item and scoring an amazing array of name-brand garments and accessories.

One of my last purchases was a three-strand, shell-disk necklace in a color that can only be described as neon tangerine-pink. It had the potential to be either horrifically gaudy or fantastically over the top. I took my chances, bought the necklace, and went home to find my husband making reservations for a business trip to Charleston, SC. Because our 25th wedding anniversary had re­cently come and gone with little to no fanfare, I decided to tag along.

I packed the necklace.

For three long days, my husband was immersed in meetings, so I took the opportunity to wander aimlessly around the city, enjoying museums, restaurants, and everything else Charleston had to offer. On my second day of sightseeing, I paired my bargain neon necklace with white jeans, a black Kenneth Cole halter-top, a brilliant sunflower-yellow Escada blazer, and dainty bronze sandals. (The total cost of the outfit came in at just under 40 dollars – score!)

Famished from a day of exploring, I waltzed into a local deli, feeling sassy in my second-hand finds and looking for a snack. As I rounded a corner, I came face-to-face with a beautiful, mahogany-skinned older woman who gasped and smiled broadly on seeing me.

“Well, I do love your necklace,” she declared guilelessly.

I sidled up to her. “It’s from Good­will,” I whispered.

“Don’t you go telling that,” she said with a giggle. “You look like a million bucks.”

And for the first time in years, I felt like a million bucks. I thanked the woman for her com­pliment and moved around to the next aisle, clutching the necklace’s clasp at the base of my neck. I so wanted to share something lovely with someone equally lovely – something that, no matter how inexpensive, was a symbol of my survival and my reemergence from the pits of depression. Maybe she, too, would pass it on one day.

It took a moment for me to release the clasp, but I eventually removed the necklace, shoved it into the outside pocket of my purse, and returned to the previous aisle.

“Excuse me,” I alerted my approach to the woman. “Would you do me a favor?” She never hesitated. “Well of course, darling,” she answered.

I took her beautiful, timeworn hand in mine and put the necklace in it, wish­ing that it were made of diamonds. “Please take this,” I said.

She balked, “I can’t take your jewelry.”

“I would be so happy knowing you were wearing it. Please,” was all I could say as I dashed away.

“Well, you are my blessing today,” she called to my back.

“And you are mine,” I whispered. I hope she heard me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gail Presnell-Jones is a breast cancer survivor living in Valrico, FL.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2015.