Barbara, I have never more wanted to talk to you then this week, when getting ready to sell your house.
Why is everything so dusty? And I don’t mean just dusty like the house has been unlived in since June, I mean, it was dusty when I first walked into it in June. At least an inch of dust piled in the corners of your bedroom, and against the bottom frame of the bed. Were you having trouble cleaning? Was there something wrong with whatever robot vacuum thing you had? Did you need help at home? If you did, why didn’t you reach out? I mean, I know I was busy with Tim, but you still could have said something. If I couldn’t have come and cleaned for you, I would have brought it up with Doris, or Aunt Gay. Or found you a cleaning service to come by once a week or so. I wish I knew that you knew you could have reached out if you needed help.
Why didn’t you ever paint that patched wall? The plumbing thing you had to go through the wall for was a couple of years ago. Why didn’t you ever paint over it? That, I think I know the answer to. I can hear you in my head sometimes, still saying “I could do that! Why didn’t I ever do that?” and I don’t mean it in a “capable” way, I mean it in a “deserving” way. Sometimes we would be somewhere together and I’d point something out, a design or piece of art of whatever, and say “that would look really good on your wall/in your garden/whatever” and you’d get this surprised look on your face and say “why didn’t I think of that? I could do that for myself!” … as if all this time, you were just …. I don’t know. Waiting. Unassuming. Thinking you didn’t deserve things? That you weren’t worthy?
You told me once, when people reached out to you about helping, that you were surprised they even knew who you were. That you thought of yourself as “Barbara, the lady in the office who collects the money for birthday cakes” and lady. LADY. You were so much more than that! You were a caring, deserving, quiet, steady person who mattered. I wish you could have seen yourself that way. The way we see you. Saw you.
I really have to hand it to Doris, she took care of most of the big things. The books. Most of the craft supplies. The big pieces of furniture like the couch and the dining room table. She took care of a LOT. The things that are left for me to go through are the little things. A cabinet full of craft supplies that got left behind (which is fine because some of them I can use in my ceramics, and I’ll think of you when I do!). Boxes shipped from storage in Canada with even more craft supplies – mostly sewing, which I didn’t even know you did. Some embroidery. It’s like the layers of your life. I think the scrapbooking and paper crafts were on top, that’s what Doris took care of. Then underneath that, the things that got left behind, the jewelry-making. Not the beading, Doris distributed those as well. But the hard jewelry stuff – metal stamping, and whatnot. Then I found some stamping things. Then I found unopened boxes of sewing things. And calligraphy. And stacks of blank journals. And some music things – Barbara, we didn’t even know you were into playing music. But you had, what, two? Three autoharps? We gave them to Jenn and she loves them.
I hope I’m doing right by your house.
We got the screens on the porch replaced – Duane says the screens you used were too thick, too heavy for the way they were put up. I know you did that so the cats wouldn’t get out, so it makes me sad that they didn’t work. Sad for you who were probably sad and frustrated, not knowing why they were coming down… sad for the cats who didn’t get to go outside on the porch after a while… sad for you that you didn’t get to enjoy a bug-free screened-in porch with cats in the sun.
We painted the patched wall a dark blue, one of your colors. I would have gone for purple but I think that might be a hard sell in this neighborhood, haha. Dark blue at least implies nighttime and sleeping. That’s when I really hear you, Barbara, is when I look at that beautiful blue wall and think of what it looked like with just your bed up against the wall with visible patches. “Why didn’t I ever do that?” I can hear you ask… not wanting an answer, just more wondering why you never did something nice for yourself.
Something happens to my brain when I go in your house. People ask me “what do you want to do with this thing?” and my answer is “get rid of it.” Not that it doesn’t have value, it just doesn’t have value to me. I already have three or four boxes of Christmas ornaments, I don’t need the ones you bought after my father died, and you gave me the family ones and got ones that were more you. I’m proud of you for doing that – but I don’t need to keep them. They’re lovely and you took good care of them and I hope that they make someone very excited and happy to have.
I have a friend who’s a little irritated with me that I keep answering “get rid of it.” They tease me about “oh, I’m sorry I asked you a question, made you make a decision” because they want a better answer than “get rid of it.” But here’s the thing – “what do I want to do with it” is a different question than “how do I want to get rid of it” or “where do I want to donate it.” My brain is already pretty literal, and something happens to me when I come into your house. I just can’t think of answers ahead of the steps being asked. If someone asks me while I’m there “what do you want to do” well honestly, what I want to do is lay down and pull the covers over my head and stop being the adult. But that’s because “what do you want to do” is a different question than “what needs to be done here today” or “would you rather tackle the kitchen or the bathroom.” Like, I’m already having to make a decision about a hundred tiny sewing things that meant something to you but don’t mean anything to me, so cut me some slack on having a little decision fatigue, ya know?
I hope I’m making good decisions about your things that are left. I’m sorry I don’t want books on sewing garments from the 1980s. I already have a pile of sewing books from the 50s and 60s that were my grandmothers, that I never do anything with. I can’t handle carrying yours, as well. Going through your things is already making me want to throw most of my things away. From you, from your house, I’m taking things that are useful (that thing that holds Publix bags, the stamping supplies I can use in my ceramics) or things that mean something to me (that ring you made in your first metal jewelry class, the one you got the polydactyl jewelry stamp made for… my dad’s original Jack Gaughan art. the license plates from your car). As for the rest? I hope your spirit is happy that people who will use your crafting supplies will wind up getting them. I’m sorry I can’t use, or don’t need them. I hope you’re not disappointed in me.
I wish I could do more. I wish I could have done more for you, with you, at the end of your life. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there; I let myself be pushed aside by someone who was steamrolling me, and at the time that was what I needed to do because I just didn’t have it in me to push back… but now I wish I had. I wish I’d stood up for myself then so that I could do more things for you. I wish I could talk with you. I wish I could send you goofy cat memes.
PS. I’m keeping your braid, from your haircut in 1963. It’s a healthy, thick braid – damn, woman, you had great hair when you were young! That shit is THICK! I’m going to put it in the shadowbox with my dad’s ponytail, with Bill’s ponytail.