I’m coming to your house to see what’s left, what I can take. Even though I’m not sure I want to remember you, I know that I will whether I want to or not. This is the downside of my elephant mind.
There’s a piece of junk mail lodged in your screen door that you won’t ever read. One of the neighbors, maybe the one who stood in the window pointing at my mother three weeks ago saying “I know who you are…” has left a key under the mat. Holes in the mat, hole in the door. I enter into an empty house, not your house. It doesn’t smell like you. My brother’s old room at my mom’s house smells like you because all of your rugs and chairs are now crammed in there next to your dead ex-husband’s books. Grandpa.
I’m the last to come here. There’s been the service and the wine drinking and the staring. Then came the people from the company that empties out drawers when you die to make it easier for your relatives to suss through a life. Their job is to quantify possessions. Twelve plates, four blankets, two bottles of shampoo. The aunt you liked came first, but she didn’t really take anything. Mom was next. Then Sandy with her U-Haul truck. Then me.
By the time I arrive there is nothing and the house echoes because of its emptiness and wood floors. Oddly organized piles line the baseboard and cover the countertops – all of it picked over, gone through. It’s like a private viewing of a Goodwill.
Your bed is still here. A screwdriver on top. No sheets. No comforter. No one wants a dead woman’s mattress. There are clothes in your closet. Stupid turtlenecks and cheap shoes. I remember hugging you in one of them after you had your double mastectomy, how I didn’t want to squeeze too tightly to make it weird for the both of us. It is your life’s greatest irony that the focus of your vanity was eventually what killed you. ”Perky breasts.” Lymph nodes. Oxygen chambers. Boobs.
Handwriting. Terrible handwriting. Notes dictating from the grave which books are supposed to go to this friend or that friend – the ink becoming increasingly more illegible and scrawling. It doesn’t matter anyway because no one’s called the phone numbers under the names. The books are still here and they will end up in a thrift store or at a garage sale for horses and veterans with missing limbs.
I walk outside to the garden that you tended to like my mom tends to her garden now. I inexplicably pick up fallen fruit under your tree. I think they are pineapple guavas. I don’t even like pineapple guavas. I’m taking them because I can and they’re here and you are not and soon they will start to rot like you are rotting.
Tyler helps me dig up a cactus with kitchen utensils even though there is probably a shovel in the garage. A spoon breaks. Helen told us we can’t but I do anyway. I want to uproot something living from your house. For no reason. For many reasons. Remove it. Keep it so in my head you continue on. Even though you were a witch. Even though you didn’t love us as much as you should have. Even though.
I take your photo album from a trip to Turkey. The margins are filled with paragraphs written in blue ink. You did it because you wanted to convey permanence in this world. In your experiences here. But you vanished like we all vanish. And Turkey doesn’t matter anymore. I thought twice about taking it because I’m not supposed to like you but I take it because I don’t want your efforts to be entirely in vain. For another moment today, I am sad. Sad by death and irrelevance. Sad because of you. Sad because this will one day be me.
There are trinkets. Everywhere. They don’t mean anything. Porcelain from Japan. Plates from Portugal. Spoons with wooden animals carved in. At the end, all you were was your stuff. Little souvenirs from global travels and memories for yourself. I have memories of you but your stuff is more benign.
Your plastic spoons are worn down to the thinnest parts, stained from years of making soups and sending me the wrong recipes. I leave some of them. I take a few.
Tyler takes your plates because he doesn’t like the ones we have at home anymore. Yours are more masculine and graphic. Linear and blue. I take a cake spatula that I can’t imagine you ever using. When Phil was six, you threw his cake in the trashcan. Uneaten. It was the 4th of July and he was throwing little explosive poppers in the street to celebrate. He was just a kid. He never liked you again.
We go into the garage even though we’re not allowed to do this either but I don’t respect people who don’t respect me. I take two wool blankets, a salmon colored umbrella with little white flowers, and a leather folio case with “Bond St” imprinted on the gold zipper end. The inside of it has an address label of yours. I imagine you used this when you were doing your activist work for the oil drilling in Alaska. Later I realize that one of the blankets I’ve stolen is my grandpa’s. ”ADJ” stitched in the corner. I am happy to have taken it. Tyler thinks it will look good in the living room.
We take some pictures, some wall nails, some computer paper and envelopes. Geodes, fridge magnets, vases. It’s hard to say what’s junk and what isn’t. My mom has taken anything of emotional value: books of her dad’s, family photographs, things that would have just been thrown away, left to end up in the bins of a flea market with everyone else’s dead grandmother’s stuff. I come in for the scraps, because that’s all you ever gave me and that’s all I’m able to take away.