Shedding

We don’t need the four-bedroom house we’ve lived in for the past six years. My eldest son is living abroad. That leaves me and his sixteen-year-old brother at home. Time to downsize, simplify.

But it doesn’t make sense to move. It would be cheaper to stay in our home with its high-ceilings, sunny rooms and neighbors we love. Our new place has no yard or balcony and overlooks a parking lot. Moving is a hassle. We have housemates who are quiet and ask me how I’m doing and wash their dishes and a landlord who responds within minutes to any request. But something in my gut, as soon as Tahn suggested moving to a small apartment, said yes. Something told me it’s time to move and to move on. Something told me it’s time to get rid of all the stuff that holds me down.

Since making the decision, I’ve become more and more intrigued by the prospect of decreasing the weight of my earthly possessions. An image keeps coming to me, not unlike a woman in childbirth: my body, belly-up, legs bent, poised to gather all the muscular momentum I can to shove the block of my old life over the edge of a cliff and watch it sail into the depths below. I like this image. Never in my life have I felt so ready to let go of my earlier life, so interested by the prospect of now.

Lately I have gone through closets and drawers and rooms and filled bag after bag to take to Goodwill. Every Friday I have rolled a huge recycling container down to the curb filled completely with papers. Each time I move into the rest of my day, I feel lighter, happier, even physically larger. My story of my son’s birth, illness and death, has finally been written and gone to print. I think this has a lot to do with this feeling of readiness to discard.

One July morning, crouched in the attic, breathing scent of sunburned wood and dry paper, I was peering into boxes of clothes, children’s artwork, journals, old datebooks. I came to a cardboard box, smaller than the rest. When I pulled back the four interlocking flaps on top, I found letters from my ex-husband, framed photos of the two of us when we were first together, first in love, twenty-eight years ago. They are beautiful, these images and words representing something as inimitable yet common as new love. I looked at each one without lingering over any and returned them to the box. When my newly ex-husband moved away after the divorce, he left a collection of boxes in one corner of the attic, fitted neatly together and covered by the blue tarp we always took camping. I put the small box of letters and pictures on top of the tarp. Not quite ready to throw all that evidence of love in the trash, I thought I’d give him the option. Let it be his problem, I thought. My addition dented the flat center covering his belongings like the puddles of rain that gathered there and threatened to spill onto our young family’s busy picnics in the woods.

Opening the next unmarked box revealed the corner of a quilt covered with colorful teddy bears smiling up at me, a gift the Cancer Care Alliance gave five-year-old Chan when we first checked into the hospital. So many hours he’d spent lying on this when he was sick. Its happy faces, I thought then, might help diminish his pain, my fear, so I lay it on my lap, the floor, his bed. I remembered, but this time I didn’t feel the tug of pain and tenderness I had grown used to after his death. Instead I thought, I don’t need this.

I pulled up the quilt and found the pair of scuffed black cowboy boots, small and sturdy, his dad had bought for him when he was only four. This was before we knew he was sick, when the cancer was still silent, growing. I remember when he and his big brother came bursting into our basement apartment that day, so excited to show me their new identical pairs of boots. I was tight-lipped and quiet for days, angry that their dad had bought something so decadent when we barely had rent money. But Chan loved those boots and wore them on city strolls in Seattle and jungle hikes in Thailand.

Next to the boots lay the little high-tops he’d worn as a toddler, bright blocks of primary colors and Velcro straps. Without hardening my heart, without the familiar forced numbing that had seen me through so many hard times when I didn’t want to cry in the years since his death, I packed the boots and shoes and blanket back into the box and set it beside the box of love-letters on the blue surface. I don’t need those anymore. Everything I needed from Chan’s life is in the book, were the words that came to me. Where was the familiar numbness, the distancing from my heart I’d had to do so often before?

Now that I know I will soon hold the book in my hands, now that I know Chan’s story will be out in the world, I am ready to let go of these bits of evidence of his life that, until now, I held so tight. I don’t need these souvenirs anymore because his life will be between the covers of the book. I know what happened. I told what happened. That’s all I needed. I’ve shared Chan with anyone who wants to know him. Some of my images of him will be out there, floating in the invisible but very real dimension of the collective mind of those who read the story. That is all I need. I’ve written him down. He’s not gone. Now my boy is back in this world. And I can move on.

Published by

Catharine H. Murray

Author, poet, speaker, workshop leader, teacher.

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