The Story Behind the Story: “What We Take, What We Leave Behind”

I was estranged from my father for more than 25 years. As a child, we didn’t have a name for his rage, followed by tears, and the highs and lows that represented his roller coaster life. We only knew to be scared and stay away. Decades later, he would be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

My father was always a collector of things, many broken and useless. Rusty tools, Barbie Dolls missing limbs, rags made from our childhood dresses, dirty baseball caps, newspapers, and small appliances like can openers and toasters that hadn’t worked in years. He maintained a workbench that eventually took over the whole basement; we avoided going down there and disturbing him.

My parents divorced in 1976 and my sisters and I parted ways with our father.

Fast forward to 2015, when I got a phone call from a neighbor that my father had fallen inside his home and lain there, crying out for help. Medics discovered he’d had a stroke, and at 76, was nearly unresponsive. His first day in the hospital he was able to turn his head towards voices, but by the time my son and I arrived, he was motionless and on a breathing machine. He died 3 days later.

We were left with the task of cleaning out his house. His workbench had expanded to take over the entire house. Debris was everywhere, unopened mail including a Father’s Day card I’d sent in the 80s, letters from friends, birthday cards. He washed his clothes outside and left them hanging on branches for so long they were filthy again. We spent the summer digging through the piles and trying to understand how his illness had progressed so far without anyone realizing.

Towards the end of his life, he’d been sleeping in his bathroom on a dirty patio lounge chair propped up on cinder blocks.

The house, my childhood home, was nearly ruined by his psychosis.

We took some items from the house. Most of it we left behind. I still wear his wedding ring.


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About Cari Scribner

Cari Scribner is a freelance writer/journalist in upstate NY, where, like any hardy New Yorker, she loves orange leaves, sweltering heat and briskly cold weather. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The New Renaissance, Gravel, Bartleby Snopes, New World Writing, Fiction Southeast, Drunk Monkeys and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She is an assistant editor at Bartleby Snopes. Cari is currently in a writing frenzy. She is at work on a short story collection and a memoir, 6 Caroline, about growing up with a father with schizophrenia.