There is no furniture in my father’s house, although we unearth a pink crushed velvet sofa the third or fourth day of sifting through 40 years of debris.
In one corner, on a table made of plywood strung together with leather cords, we find a birthday card in a purple envelope, never opened, with a Home Store gift card inside, $25. This we take to buy a new pair of pliers to fix the leaky faucet in our shower.
We take the tall dresser that once held my mother’s nightgowns and stockings to wear to church on Sundays. We find this in the garage, surrounded by damp cardboard boxes smudged with mold that collapse when we raise them, spilling out softballs, never used, jumper cables in plastic packaging, a doll we once named Giggles, more than one popcorn tin with Santa on the cover, filled with nails. In one of the containers, we found actual popcorn. We take the jumper cables, because you can always use an extra set, but we push aside the mildewed boxes for the extra-large dumpster arriving the next day.
My sister takes a small, yellowed piece of paper with the words “Things that have died,” followed by a numbered list:
- Brown dog
- Bob Hope
- Spruce tree
- Someone’s grandmother living up the street, possibly named Tildy.
I wondered if my sister would add our father’s name to the list.
We leave the dirty answering machine with the garbled, nonsensical message about frogs and elm trees and washing machines. I used to dial the number once in a while to listen, wanting to hear something that would tell me how my father was getting by. After every message, I knew he was rapidly unraveling.
My father let no one in the house past the front door when they stopped to drop off meatloaf in Tupperware, paper plates of cookies, the occasional fresh fruit. His squat, dorm-sized refrigerator, in the basement on top of laundry soap boxes, was mostly empty except for a congealing tub of butter, some unknown glass jar of soup, and an emergency contact list taped inside the door. My name was on the list, halfway down, with my last known phone number, never dialed.
We leave the hubcaps, hammered into decent shape, the gallons of blue latex paint we recognized from the kitchen ceiling, splattered there while he was no doubt in a state of mania. The paint dripped tears down the walls, seeped into the trim work, spread spider web patterns on the hardwood floor.
We leave behind the slender twigs, tied loosely with twine, lined up in a box that once held our good silverware, the tree branches he used for curtain rods, the small pebbles in prescription bottles long emptied of their painkillers. We leave the calendars thumbtacked to the walls, all from the year 1976. One was turned to April, where the recipe of the month was chicken fricassee.
We take the hope chest, filled with our elementary school binders, Barbie Doll coloring books, notes once written to BFFs, long forgotten. We empty the contents into a garbage bag, industrial size, lined up against the living room wall, waiting for the dumpster. In the end, we fill two, industrial size, so long they go past the end of the driveway into the road. We wait for neighbors to complain but they leave us alone.
I take his wedding ring, which rolls out of a rusty muffin tin inside a box marked “bathroom.”
It is a perfect fit.
- “What We Take, What We Leave Behind” - November 2, 2016
- The Story Behind the Story: “What We Take, What We Leave Behind” - October 23, 2016