Death is such an intrusive bitch. Two weeks have passed, and I didn’t want to put this off anymore: I am going through his things, like he did with mom’s two years ago. That was a rough period for all of us but mainly for dad. Cancer not only ate mom’s body away; it also consumed dad’s will to live. He never recuperated from the loss.
I work my way around the house. I have organized stuff into piles to donate, to throw away, and a small box of items to keep. I am finishing up their bedroom now. I find dad’s library card, the one he used to borrow books for me before I got my own. Terrible, Horrible Edie comes to mind. I sit on the trunk at the foot of the bed, holding the card. I take a moment while early memories sink in. Back then, I felt like the world opened up its doors to me every time Dad or Mom took me to the library, and I could choose books to read all by myself. I am keeping this.
I find his gold watch inside a case on his dresser. That’s a keeper. My daughter would love it. She was very close to dad, her ballpark buddy. I also keep his Little League membership card. Dad was happy to dust off his mitt and hit a few balls with his grandkids, just like he did with me. More, more, daddy. My appetite for curve and fast balls was insatiable on Sundays when we were back to the backyard after service and brunch. Mom didn’t play, but she made a killer cold lemonade. The ice cubes clinking against the pitcher was music to my ears. I could use a fresh drink right now.
I go to the kitchen and get a glass of water. The window above the sink overlooks the back garden. After his retirement, the garden became dad’s new job, more furiously so after mom’s death. It’s late fall, and the garden is now mute, like the rest of the house. Then I see my reflection on the window. For a split second, I see them looking at me. Dad’s brown eyes and square chin, Mom’s round eyebrows and long cheek dimples. I amble back to their bedroom.
My pain has eased now, but it is hard to let go. I resent that a life as rich as his, at the end, is summarized into piles of stuff, most of it unwanted. Each new piece that I examine brings sharp claws back to my chest. Still, I have insisted on doing this alone: a moment of communion with the past.
I am almost done with the bedroom when I find a dark wooden box tucked away on the wardrobe. I open it; there is an envelope with some Polaroid pictures inside. I look at them briefly and realize that they are what I can only describe as home-made porn with my very mature parents as the stars. I look at them again. Yep, without a doubt, these are my parents, in the same bedroom where I am standing right now. There they are: Mom wearing an open and short fuchsia silk robe in high heels and nothing else, lying in bed sidewise, her mostly white, disheveled hair covering one side of her face. Dad is seated next to her, looking at the camera, wearing a fedora, a hand placed on Mom’s naked hip. They get more intimate in some other pictures. I recoil. My heart pounds like a frantic drum. My mouth tastes like dry metal. I feel like I have just opened their bedroom door and caught them in the act. How childish of me, but I thought that they expressed their love in their later years by sharing porridge and holding hands while walking gently by the beach.
Suddenly, I remember the fuss about them getting a Polaroid on e-Bay, one with timer, I recall. I was a little surprised with that purchase, but I knew that Mom and Dad were not technologically inclined. Dad, for example, refused to take pictures with his phone; he believed that anything he put in there was going to end up in the government’s hands. They must have bought the camera a couple of years before Mom’s diagnosis and rapid decline. The time comes back more clearly now. They were so happy then. Dad had just retired, and they were planning their second honeymoon (their first, actually, since they didn’t have a proper one) to Italy, where they took lots of pictures with their digital camera. They loved la Via dell’Amore. Maybe they took more Polaroid photos…None of my business.
I see my husband parking the car in the driveway. He is back from dropping off the kids at his mom’s. Without thinking, I go to the living room and throw my parents’ photos into the fire. I give these rascals some privacy and the chance to get hot one more time.
“Do you need some help, want a break?” my husband asks, walking towards me with a smile and two glasses of wine.
“I’ll take that break, handsome,” I say, with a grin.
His eyes widen, surprised at my giddiness, and hands me the glass. We sit in front of the fire and I cheer for my parents. I feel, for the first time since Dad is gone—since Mom’s illness, actually—happy for them, for the life they lived. I know (hope?) that the man I am drinking a Cabernet with and I will also do more than eat porridge and take nice walks together when we reach our golden years. I lean into my man’s shoulder and take mental note of finding an app that automatically deletes selected files from our network if my husband or I haven’t entered a password within a month or so. Just in case.