The dog was with me when I pulled away. The seatbelt alarm rang from the weight of him, panting in the passenger’s seat. As I drove away from my parents’ home for the last time, the past two years whirled in my head. Then, all the comings and goings over all the years. This time, with a pickup truck full of furniture to reupholster and the console sewing machine my parents bought me for my 8th grade graduation.
How many memories I have of this same act, yet going in a different direction, with contents other than these…babies in the backseat, containers full of Mom’s homemade leftovers, the new bike rack my dad bought us to haul the kids’ bikes….It seemed appropriate that it was still dark outside, 4:30 in the morning, with not a soul stirring except the ghosts of one’s entire life.
Every single part of my body ached, not just my heart, though I wasn’t focused on the pain. It had been a surreal week of long air travel and all its implicit stressors, followed by hours and days of endless sorting, moving, and deciding, taking things out, putting them somewhere else, then dealing with many people both in person and online wanting lowered prices lower…millions of bodily movements to match a few sharp, recurring and sometimes unexpected emotions. How does a person keep from being swallowed up by all the minutiae of breaking down a home?
I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t so bad. That it wasn’t really the house I grew up in—the house where indelible memories lie. But it was the house where my cousins grew up, the house my aunt drove away from on her lunch hour, the house where on Christmas I opened the best gift I ever received (an Easy-bake oven I could not wait to try). I had plenty of memories here. After my parents moved from our house to here, my brothers and I hosted a surprise 25th anniversary party for them at this house, even as we each returned for the weekend from college. I remember scrubbing the basement steps in preparation.
They were the same stairs, later carpeted, where in my nylon-clad feet I slipped and fell, tumbling rapidly down, breaking my tailbone (for the first time). I have so many memories of these stairs that they alone probably belong in a poem.
This was also the place where I found out that my fiancé had a brain tumor. Much later, this became the house where I dressed on my wedding day. Later still, the house my baby shower was held for my firstborn. It is the house I read so many books in, both inside and out. It is also the house that one summer (while lying outside on a chaise lounge reading a book) I decided not to return to graduate school, but to go to work full time instead—a decision that changed everything for the rest of my life. This house. The house where I breastfed my babies, and where I sat panicked at age 34 with a stack of seventeen books on breast cancer–trying to learn what it meant exactly, when the doctor said preliminary testing showed I had it.
No house really, no matter the circumstances, is safe for a writer, a scrap-booker. I walked somberly about, taking final pictures of the hollowed rooms. As I stood with my phone camera, my husband arrived unceremoniously and I heard myself say to him, “This is the room where my grandmother died. Right in that corner there.”
All that was left of a generation were remnants. The last of the last of what no one had use for–no one in the family, no one at the garage sale, no one on craigslist, none of the neighbors, not even any of the charities. Stuff that somehow couldn’t even make its way to the garbage: my mother’s handmade peg board that displayed the necklaces she crafted in her last years; the ornate shoe shine kit (well, the box, anyway) someone (it had to be my brother) gave my dad one year, possibly for Father’s Day; an ironing board…my mother’s ironing board.
On the walls in two rooms stood the calendars. I couldn’t bear to leave them hanging there. My dad, so fastidious about time and date, surely had others, and so had left these behind. He had written on them in his hand and now they said May 2014. Life in a sheaf of pages–just like that–and there they remained, the calendars. May 2014. Leaving them behind was like marking in time the end of all things. A family’s life. Making human life as disposable as all the stuff we accumulate. I quietly removed them, as if it was my secret. As if no one in the world but I would understand what calendars mean.
All rights reserved, © Debra A. Valentino.