Four years ago I started putting you in boxes. The things that were left. I tried to preserve the memories I had and held onto each image in my mind as if they were fragile leaves pressed dry between the pages of a book. Somedays I flip through that book, a series of images and feelings and smell. I can call up any number of voices to read the litany of thoughts rushing through my mind, but I can’t remember your voice.
But sometimes when I look in a mirror I see my eyes peering out of your face. The one from the picture when you were maybe 28. The one where I realized I have your hands, where I can see how alive you once were, your spark and spirit, the woman who followed her heart. High cheekbones and faint laugh lines, a crooked & wry smile. The way our eyes narrow when we laugh because there is room for nothing else but laughter.
I try to laugh as much as I can, but every day a happy moment of sadness catches up with me when I start to reach out to tell you something. Four years of things big and small, silly and serious. I left not long after you died; I needed to travel and get away from the places where I saw you everyday. You followed me, a trail of single roses out of season. Now that I’m back and it seems I’m staying, I see you in myself.
There are so many things I want to ask you. Mainly, how did you do it? With everything that happened how did you keep moving forward. From where did you draw your strength? I think we had only just reached the point where maybe we could have these conversations, that I was even cognizant enough to ask. I want you to tell me all the stories I don’t remember. I want to know about your mom and how you figured out life after she died, but if you were here I wouldn’t be thinking about that.
I’m trying to figure out life without you here. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense. So I’m clinging to the things that do, all the little things that make me smile and laugh. My friends, some of whom were once your friends, now my family. Family, in whatever way I can, but mostly letting go (we know why). Dance. Travel. Little things like a clean house or a cuppa tea on a grey morning, book in hand (or maybe both!). My cats. The things that make me feel that I’m flying; I’m clinging to them all while the world rushes around me, the media telling me I’m doing it all wrong. I’ve stopped listening.
That is, I’ve stopped listening as much as I can. I can still hear the voice of society booming in the background that there is one way we need to be. I’m just trying to be someone you would have liked, that you would be proud of. And yet, still trying to make my decisions for me, being a little selfish when I need to be. Learning that compromise isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Maybe one day I’ll unpack those boxes and see if I remember why I kept the things I did. The thing about things is that the can start meaning things nobody actually said. And the things that matter most, they’re all inside my head. Like the way we danced with abandon in the living room to a new cover of an old song or the way you’d wrap us up in blankets and sit on the back porch in the cold when I had a bad cough and the cold night air was the only thing that felt good on my throat. But four years on, those boxes are staying packed. I might peek in from time to time, but I don’t think I’m ready yet.