“Just...put it in the box with the rest. I’ll...I’ll deal with it later.”
We spend our entire lives surrounded by...stuff. And when it’s all over, that’s what we are reduced to.
I don’t know how long I’d been staring at the pile of boxes. Numb. My limbs feel detached. Heavy. My eyes blind as they fixate on nothing. My mind blank. The only sensation in my entire human vessel is the heavy pounding of my heartbeat. I sit so still you can see the whole of me subtly jump with every involuntary thump. It’s lucky our blood pumps and our breath rises and falls without command. Otherwise, I wouldn’t survive this. Not that this much feels like living.
“You need to eat something, dear” Flo said gently, setting a plate on the coffee table before me. I slowly broke my gaze to lower my eyes. Peanut butter and banana toast. It was my favorite when I was little. She remembered. Flo was good like that. She had been our neighbor for my entire life and was the closest thing to a mother I’d ever had.
I never thought I’d be back in this house. I hadn’t planned on it. But how can you plan a fatal heart attack? You can’t. Unless you’re an assassin and poison was your, well, poison. Give me some slack. I’m too numb to be clever right now. Dad was the clever one, anyhow.
Huh. Was. That one I felt. Like a vice around my heart.
Closing my eyes, I curled into fetal position. All of the stuff disappeared as my heartbeat gently rocked my body into unconsciousness.
When I opened my eyes I was alone. The cat stole my peanut butter and banana toast and was currently eating it, peanut butter side faced down on the carpet. There goes dinner. Money had been tight before Dad...you know...and now that he’s gone, after hospital bills and funeral costs, peanut butter and banana toast is sounding real gourmet about now.
Bored of sitting, and frankly grossed out by the cat’s incessant licking as he tried to remove peanut butter from the roof of his mouth, I floated into Dad’s room. It still smelled like him. Though you know it’s impossible, you still half expect to find him there. But he’s not. You can’t even feel him anymore. A cold emptiness has taken his place. I stood in the doorway not wanting to go in. The air is so stagnant it’s almost as if it has created a time capsule to protect everything and keep it just so, just in case. His short sleeve button down still hung from the bedpost, ready to be worn again tomorrow. I picked it up to smell it, to feel close to him. If I had had any tears left they would have stained the collar as I buried my face amongst the plaid and pearl snaps.
The shirt breast pocket hung low. I reached in to pull out a familiar sight. Dad’s little black book. He never went anywhere without it. It was an appendage; part of him. He always kept it in the same shirt breast pocket, close to his heart. My heart gasped and my breath caught. For a moment, just a split second, I thought ‘he must feel so lost without his book!’ but then reality came to, and I remembered. He doesn’t feel anything anymore.
I had never touched the little black book before. Dad had always been a private man. Somewhat quiet and stoic, not letting on to what was going on behind his eyes. He loved me, of course he loved me. That was never a question. But being loved and feeling loved are two different animals. He loved this little black book, though. That was clear.
A hunger pang shot through me. Shooing the cat away from the remaining piece of toast I set the black book on the coffee table. It stared at me with each bite I took. I rolled over onto my side, fingering my bottom lip, and stared back.
It stared at me still.
I closed my eyes. I didn’t like losing a staring contest with a book.
“FINE!” I took the book from the coffee table and held it out in front of me. The binding was worn from years of being broken. I ran the blade of my finger along the edges, dulled from living in a shirt pocket.
I opened it gently. A delicate scrawl wisped across the page. I didn’t recognize the feminine handwriting.
"June 11, 1985
I met the most amazing man tonight. It wasn’t much of a meeting per se, more of an accidental encounter. My clumsiness may have actually worked in my favor this time. I was visiting Steph at the bar down the block. Apparently I am incapable of talking without the use of my hands and, well, long story short my wine ended up on his trousers. I was mortified! He seemed almost pleased. As if he had planned it all along. There was just something about him. I felt like I could talk to him for hours. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and see him there again. Maybe without the wine casualties."
I was confused. Whose diary had my Dad been carrying around all these years?
"June 18, 1985
I saw him again! No wine spills this time. We’re going out on a real date this weekend! More to come!"
"June 21, 1985
We had the most wonderful time. I know this is too early to tell, but I think I might marry this man! God I hope he never sees this. He would think I was an absolute crazy person. But wouldn’t that be something?"
These entries went on like this for a few more pages.
"He held my hand."
"He kissed me."
"August 19, 1985
TODAY IS MY WEDDING DAY! It’s all happening so fast, but it feels so right. I love James so dearly."
James? That’s my Dad’s name. This...this must be my mother’s diary. I ran my fingers across the page to feel the indentation of her pen. She had a heavy hand and pressed hard into each stroke, and yet the letters flowed so seamlessly into the next. I’d never seen her handwriting before. Dad didn’t like to talk about her much. She died shortly after giving birth to me. It’s hard not to think he blamed me for her death. He never said it, but I sometimes felt he would have preferred to have her here instead of me.
"November 13, 1985
We’re pregnant! I cannot wait to be a mom. Ever since I was just a girl I knew I wanted to be a mother. To hold their tiny little hand, with all of their tiny little fingers curling around my thumb. I could cry! I did cry. A lot actually. Hormones are something else. But it will all be worth it. I know you aren’t supposed to say this, but I hope we have a girl. A baby girl! Oh the things I will teach her! And everything she will teach me."
"June 29, 1986
I am on my way to the hospital. Today is the day! She’s a little early. The doctors are a little worried. She’s already taking after me. Doing things on her own time. I’m so excited to meet her!"
My eyes welled with tears. I didn’t think I had anymore left in me. I turned the page. The next entry was in a man’s hand.
"July 15, 1986
I finally got to bring our baby girl home today. She’s absolutely beautiful. She looks just like you. Has your eyes. I wish you could see her. The doctor’s took you away so quickly you haven’t had the chance. I don’t want you to miss a single moment. Hoping to bring you home soon. We love you."
"July 17, 1986
She took her first bath today. Her little eyes widened with confusion as her body was surrounded by water. You would have loved it. The doctor’s say you are making progress. Can’t wait to bring you home. We love you."
"August 2, 1986
We laid you down to rest today. I made sure to have your favorite flowers. Ranunculus are out of season, but I found them for you. She seems to like them, too. We’ll plant some in the spring for you. I wish you could have met her. I don’t know how to do this without you, my love. We miss you."
He wrote to her, regularly, to tell her every knee scrape and every accomplishment, so she didn’t miss a single moment.
"She learned how to ride a bike today. You would have been so proud."
"Her heart was broken by her first crush. She looks so much like you when she cries."
"I dropped her off at University. She swears she’ll be a famous writer one day. She gets that from you. She is like you in so many ways. I’m so proud of her. I gave her your keepsake box with all of your writings as a graduation gift. I couldn’t find the key though."
Everything I’d ever wanted to hear from my father was written in these pages. I was meeting my mother for the first time. And introduced to the father I never got to know.
I read the entire book in one sitting. Devouring each pen stroke. Remembering each story I once lived. Living each moment anew from behind my father’s eyes.
I closed the book and stroked the spine. As I memorized each lump and bump and nook and cranny, I noticed one bump felt odd. A familiar shape.
Careful not to damage anything, I pulled the endsheet from the back cover. Hidden within was a small key. After all these years, he’d had the key all along.
I rushed to my childhood bedroom and pulled my mother’s keepsake box from under the twin sized bed. I was hungry to know more of my mother! To share with her, to learn from her.
The box opened with a creak. Thirty-five years of resting. Thirty-five years or holding my mother’s secrets. Scraps of paper filled with her fluid scrawl. Dried flowers pressed between wax paper. Letters from former lovers, and a few from my father. I smelled the contents. I had never smelled her before. This was the closest I had ever come. I breathed her in deeply.
At the bottom of the box was a thick envelope. It was still sealed. The words “For my future daughter” were written in script. I paused. A gift meant for me, from the mother I never met. My arms drained of all sensation. I opened the envelope.
I have dreamt of you so many times before. As you grow inside of me I think of all of the wonderful adventures we will go on. The stories we will write together. The tears we will share of loves lost over a pint of rocky road ice cream, our favorite. Even though I have not yet met you, I love you with every fiber of my being. I hope that I have been the mother you always needed, even if I wasn’t always the one you wanted. As you start out on adventures unknown, I thought this might help you along the way.
With all of my love,
“With all my love, Mom” I whispered to myself. Words I had craved my entire life.
I unwrapped the contents of the envelope. $20,000 in large bills. I slunk back against the bed.
In one night, I went from a poor orphan, not really ever knowing either of my parents, to rich, in every sense of the word.