CW: Death | I never knew the volume of quiet could be this distracting. It’s been over twenty loud years in this home together; dogs barking, kids laughing and yelling, clattering dishes after dinner. We’ve survived tantrums, thunderstorms, children fighting, and even our own fights with my love. Now… it’s louder than I’ve ever noticed. Louder now that I’m alone.
I am thankful that the kids came back for the funeral, but they have their own lives. Lives that are full of that same noise, joy, and chaos; lives they had to get back to. They stayed with me for two weeks. Two weeks would have to be enough time to prepare me for this next stage; this next time dawning on my life.
“It's a sign of the times,” I heard my love say, moments from drifting away, on the current to that unknown place. Barely coherent, partially dreaming in a morphine induced stasis. What did you mean? Did you even know?
I knew I couldn't stay here, in this same house. I could not stay stagnant when everything else has changed. With enough time to just think; anyone would feel they were losing their minds. The routines, the repetitions, all of it was missing a vital piece, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The details escaped me.
I peered out my front window as the “For Sale” sign was hammered into the ground by the realtor; a young woman who just informed me she was recently married. I felt anger rise in my stomach as bile threatened the lining in my throat. I’m not entirely sure why; everything is simply… confusing. Confusing and empty.
She was someone starting on their journey, while mine had just ended.
The realtor waved goodbye after telling me she expects the house to sell fast (Not the home, the house), and advised me to prepare. I told the kids to take what they wanted before they went back to their lives. My daughter took some old books, a 12 piece dining set, and a potted plant I no longer felt capable of keeping alive. My son took the cat, some electronics I didn’t know how to use anyway, and my deceased spouse's vintage camera collection. Other than my necessities and the photo albums (which my son digitized for us a few years ago) everything else was donation fodder.
I made my way through the house, dragging a box and a trash bag behind me. With each item I held, memories fought to reach the forefront of my consciousness, but I turned away from them, keeping my focus on the items. I kept a few, tossed more than a few, and the rest went in a donation box.
I trekked through the kitchen, fought my way to the living room, and braved the study. The last place left was a little table in the hall next to the stairs. It held forgotten objects that we never wanted to bring up, but did not belong downstairs either. Time passed too fast, and then it was time to move on. To the bedrooms, to the memories.
“It’s a sign of the times,” I could hear their voice say to me, my breath caught for a moment before I ascended the stairs.
I hung outside the door to what used to be my daughter's room. It was still very much her room now, she even stayed in it after my love's funeral. Her brother's room was similar, only he had taken his bed with him when he moved out. Both used as guest rooms and included a hint of a ghost of who used to occupy the space. When guests were scarce, we used it for light storage. I put a treadmill in my son's room, though it mostly collected dust. That would be further fodder for the donation bin.
Anything the kids wanted to keep was already gone. I didn’t think too hard as I threw their childhood into the box to be given away. My attention grasped onto old sports uniforms, my daughter's prom dress, and my son's old suit from when he was baptized. All memories I wanted to cling onto, but my life could no longer contain the solid representation of them. I needed them to be distant. These are all things that would be nice to keep, but not practical to.
All that was left was my room, the room I once shared with the love of my life. I’ve been sleeping on the couch these last two weeks, the one time I slept in our bed I rolled over in the middle of the night expecting…
But no one was there.
Thankfully, they were more of a minimalist, to balance out the fact that I had a difficult time letting go of anything. This is probably the first time in my life I’ve felt like I didn’t need any of it.
I opened up their side of the closet, and I could only stand there. Moments passed, and this was harder than I had thought. I turned off the light and closed the closet. I took a deep breath, willing myself to have strength. This wasn’t like the kids’ things. I knew the most important memories to them were cherished, but this was different. I placed my hand on the closet door to steady myself and spoke to no one in particular, “My love, what memories did you take with you? Were they memories you wanted to keep, or did they dissipate when you took your last breath?”
The longer I stood there, the more my chest ached. Tiny cracks ran from my heart up to my shoulders and around to my back, caging me in. The tears flowed often now; I didn't notice them as their presence was a given of late.
“It’s a sign of the times,” I reasoned then. This feeling couldn’t get worse, so I might as well take it all on. It could only get better from here, though when that would happen was not so apparent.
I opened the closet again, as I flipped on the light, my attention went straight towards a blue winter coat. I took it off the hanger and inhaled the scent of them. The musky yet sweet smell was so strong that if I closed my eyes, I could picture them next to me, arms about to hold me, comfort me, keep me from hurting like this. The one person I relied on for comfort for years was now gone. All they left me with were their things.
I put the coat on without thinking. None of this made sense, so why should my actions? I closed my eyes and began taking the clothes off the hangers, throwing them blindly into the box without looking.
In my blindness, I could picture what I was touching. Their favorite band t-shirt, a sweater that was rarely worn since it was too itchy to be comfortable. I pictured that red button up I loved so much; I recognized the feeling of it on my skin. Visions of my love in those clothes danced behind my eyelids, they pushed their way into memories. I could see them walking toward me, down the stairs. Unlocking the front door and carrying so many grocery bags, they were lucky not to drop them as I rushed to help. They never wanted to take more than one trip, even if it…
I opened my eyes and saw the closet empty. Most of the clothes made it into the box, but some missed and laid outside. My breathing was hard as I fought to stuff the clothes down and taped the lid shut as fast as I could.
Loading all the boxes into the Uhaul was a blur. I remember it as one would remember a dream. Bits and pieces bleed through as I drove to my local donation center. The same donation center my love and I would make annual trips to. We would donate our kids' clothes as they outgrew them, all a part of the spring cleaning process.
I pulled up to the donation center and noticed two men leaning against a tower of pallets. They both looked up from their phones as I opened my door and climbed out. I told them what I had, and they made quick work of the boxes. It took them all about 10 minutes to unpack and sort the items. They handed me a tax receipt and, just like that, the transaction was done.
It felt as though I had passed my entire life to someone else. Just like my kids' clothes, I had outgrown it. A stranger would hold all my memories with no idea. These things, much like those memories, sat off kilter in my life now. Perhaps they would fit better, snap into place for someone new.
I sat in my living room a few hours later, alone. I was in an undiscovered county. Did I still have a life to live? My grief was endless, as were my options. I knew my love would never want me to resign to mourning for long. I knew what they would want me to do. Find a new way to live in this word, fulfilled. I was never one to sit still for long. My love knew that.
The house sold, and I put what I could in storage. I booked a trip to Europe and spent the next few months discovering what life would be like from now on. It was lonely, but it could also be full. It was sad, but I also found joy again. It was new, and it was scary.
It was a sign of the times.
In loving Memory of My Grandpa