The Pebble by Anne

Anne F. Pebble image.jpg

I have a small pebble with a smiley face drawn on it.

It’s about one inch long, and half an inch wide, weighing very little.  It fits in the palm of my hand. The pebble is quartz-like - white, translucent, jagged. My fingertips catch on its rough surface when I rub it, though it's not uncomfortable to hold. It seems to me both commonplace yet unexpected.

Someone has drawn on it with black magic marker. It once had a clear smiley face - two dots for eyes and curved line for a mouth. The smile has faded over the years. Only I know what the now-vague markings once were. I could probably redraw the smile but I haven’t yet. 

The pebble lives in my purse.  Occasionally when I need to find something like a pen or a little candy, the content gets dumped out and the pebble sees the light of day. Each time, I am mildly relieved that it is still there, unchanged, a reminder of the day I got it.

I received the pebble as part of an interactive theatre performance that took place in a small house in Little Portugal.  I was there by myself, with a dozen other audience members, most of who were there in pairs or groups.  I was at a very low point in my life, still grieving the loss of my father and feeling the stress of managing his estate, while also experiencing a severe rough patch in my marriage. I was feeling lost and alone and was searching for a way to validate myself and find a little joy and connection.

When my dad died it felt like the stool I had been standing on was kicked out from under me.  The rock I had leaned on my whole life was gone.  My supposed other rock, my husband, was managing his work stress by projecting his unhappiness and anxiety onto me.  

I had had to sort through and dispose of 45 years worth of my parents’ stuff as I got ready to sell my childhood home.  The place I could once go to was now gone. My own home was a battleground instead of a refuge.

In the midst of the tumult, live performances provided an enjoyable outlet for me.  This particular play was a bit of humorous, absurdist theatre from a company I had followed for years. In a scripted, but unpredictable way, half a dozen actors in bathrobes moved around over the four floors of a house, with the audience wandering from room to room to catch bits of unconnected scenes playing out.  Occasionally the actors would involve the audience in benignly amusing ways.

About half way through the evening, I had my palm read while balanced on the edge of the tub in the second floor bathroom.  Soft new age music played and jasmine incense filled the air, countering the mild trepidation that I might be asked to do something embarrassing.  The odd sensation of touching a stranger’s skin mingled with the warmth and softness of the actor’s hands as they held mine to look at my palm lines. I felt comfort in the gentleness of the touch, followed by surprise at receiving the parting gift of a smiley pebble.

Later on, in the kitchen, another actor wrote the word “HAPPY” on my hand.  Along with the cheery little pebble, I took it as a sign that I was meant to be happy.  That I deserved to be happy. That as desperately sad as I was, it would get better. 

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to keep the pebble or leave it for the next audience.  After clutching it in my sweaty palm for a while longer, I decided to slip it into my purse - it was a message about my future, after all, and I didn’t want to tempt fate by discarding it. I checked on it occasionally in the months that followed, smiling each time - my little secret with myself. I didn’t even need to look at it - just feeling the multiple tiny surfaces in my fingers made me solid and whole, peaceful and confident. 

What kind of adult needs a smiley faced pebble? Someone who needs a small act of kindness to be reminded of her humanity. Even if it was a theatrical gesture from an actor playing a part, the physical contact and genuine warmth of the moment showed I was worth caring about right at a time I needed that knowledge. 

I am much less fragile today and perhaps the pebble doesn’t have the power for me it once did.  I may even take it out of my purse and stick it in a drawer somewhere, along with all the other bits and pieces of my past I hang onto because they make me smile. But not just yet.