I don’t talk much about my halcyon days at Flagler College. I cherish them, but keep them close. My best friend from school, Donalyn Frank, died in 2010. The Mermaid and the Murders is actually all about Donalyn, but I keep that close too. When hurricane Matthew ripped through Saint Augustine, I searched out news of the place where I finally fit in, the school where I learned so much, and the hometown I’ll always miss. Pictures of sharks swimming over the sidewalk where I used to walk and my precious college drowning left me filled with a sense of fealty, even as I knew my ties to that idyllic place were slipping. After all, my Flagler College mug is fading.
About twenty years ago, every Flagler College graduate got a mug with their graduation date written in gold script, beneath our lion mascot. I kept it safe through my many moves, wrapping it in a dishtowel, then putting it in the plastic box – not trusting bubble wrap and cardboard. When it got unwrapped it went on a shelf to be admired, or in one very small apartment, on my writing desk to hold pencils. In nineteen years and nine moves I never drank from it. It was too special.
After a trying day I found myself wishing for a drink. Unfortunately, I wished out loud and an amazing waitress offered to get me one. When I explained that I can’t have alcohol and shouldn’t have caffeine, she summoned the bartender, Patrick, who took my problem as a challenge. He customized not one, but two ‘mock-tails’, cocktails without a drop of alcohol, and sent them to the table. One of them turned out to be bliss in a glass, a nirvana of sweet but not too sweet, garnished with a Luxardo cherry.
As rare as they are wonderful Luxardo cherries come from one place in the world, a lucky town in Italy. Dark, sweet, and tart without a hint of bitter, there’s no good way to explain the bliss of savoring a Luxardo cherry. The juice is just as impeccable. Before I left the restaurant that night, I’d written Patrick into a novel (he’s on page 68 of Fire in Her Blood), christened the drink a Rachel, and bought my first jar of Luxardo cherries from Amazon. They aren’t cheap – twenty-five dollars gets you about thirty-five cherries – but mixing the sweet cherry syrup-juice they come packed in with club soda is my favorite way to turn a bad day around.
Which brings me back to my Flagler College mug. I reverently wrapped it again for our third move in nine months (2016 had a lot of moves even for me) put it in a box and promptly forgot it existed. I didn’t have as much counter space for knickknacks in the new place. I expected it to stay in the box until the next move. But my cherry cocktail needed exact measurements, a ratio of cherry syrup to club soda that produced the perfect blood red drink sensation, and all my glasses were opaque. The Flagler College mug was unwrapped at Halloween, and ruined by Christmas.
It seems the oh-so-carefully preserved mug was better as a pencil jar than an actual mug. Washing it chipped the gold enamel finish, and after one particularly hot bath of suds, the proud Flagler loin was wiped away by my dishcloth. Gone. The lettering has made it a bit longer, you can still my graduation date but the year is fading. I suspect it will be a nothing but a glass mug in another few months of service.
And I’m glad.
I’ve had more joy using that mug in the last three months than I did carrying it for nineteen years. In all that time it could have been lost or shattered, but instead it remained pristine but spiritless. When I unknowingly began its destruction, I made it part of a ritual to bring comfort on bad days. Happiness has a price, I guess, and I’ll only get to use the magic of my Flagler College memories a little longer. Not using the mug might have preserved it, but I realize now, preservation isn’t the always the best way to honor a thing you love. Sometimes using something up, hugging the stuffing out of the teddy bear, staining the quilt with picnic dirt, and loving something so hard there’s nothing left to love, is the best thing you can do.