Delilah: Tuesday, October 17th 2017
It isn’t yet dawn as I ransack my apartment for things I can’t leave behind. The list is surprisingly short.
Handfuls of clothing stuffed into a duffel bag. My laptop. An awkwardly-sized cardboard box full of nostalgia, the only things I’d allowed myself to take from my parents’ house after my mother died. I wrap both arms around it, hefting it onto my hip as I cast my eyes in nervous darting circles, contemplating what doesn’t make the cut. The futon. The microwave. Sheets and towels and curtains. I leave it all.
Everything fits quite easily in my Mini Cooper, the box and the duffel bag smooshed together on the backseat like sleepy children apprehensive of the spontaneous road trip. I go back to lock up, remembering to take a pale blue scarf from the hook just inside the door. I drape it over my fleece, which I zip up to my chin on the way back to the car. I slide into the front seat and turn the key. It starts right up – nothing like nightmares and old movies, where people can never leave in a hurry when they need to. Everything goes smoothly. Leaving is easy. As I pull out of the lot, and my apartment building gets smaller in the rearview, my breathing slows. I’m certain I won’t miss any of it. I wonder why I never thought of this before.
I feel no attachment to material things. I take some degree of pride in that. Near the end of her life, my mother asked me to take her antique furniture. She had an oak dresser and nightstand that were a set and she didn’t want them separated. She was dying and she was worried about keeping the furniture together.
After the funeral, there’d been an estate sale. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I don’t believe my mother is upset with me or proud of me or looking out for me.
Dead is dead.
The cardboard box contains twelve file folders that hold report cards and artwork and essays from every year I went to school. If I looked closely, I’m sure I’d find my SAT scores. I haven’t looked closely, though. I saved a shoebox full of loose photos, but I haven’t looked closely at those either. When I first lifted the lid in the basement, my throat started closing. I replaced the lid and set it aside. For later. Whenever that is.
My mother died five years ago, six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She’d never smoked. My father had smoked, though he quit before I was born. He’d died before her diagnosis. A heart attack we hadn’t seen coming. She’d just begun to shake off the most crippling parts of her widowhood when she got the news that she wouldn’t need to get used to living without him after all.
My father’s death was sudden and shocking and devoid of the opportunity to say goodbye. It was terrifyingly fast: the fear in his eyes, his twisted face, the ambulance sirens too late. My mother’s death was miserably slow, an endless terror with a million goodbyes until there was nothing left to say and nothing left to do but wait for the guilty relief when it was over.
Tucked into a corner of that box, wrapped in a checkered kitchen towel, are their wedding rings and her quarter carat diamond in yellow gold, the only jewelry my mother owned.
As I wait at the intersection on the way to the highway, remembering my favorite frying pan with grooves in it that made burgers look like they’d been grilled, I see a police cruiser in my rearview mirror. It turns into the parking lot of my apartment complex and I take a right on red.
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