The Box of His Things
It’s not like I thought about it every day, maybe not even every week. But way in the back of my closet is the box of Stuart’s things that the police brought me after his accident. His watch, his wallet, his cell phone, a few coins, his wedding ring. Not things I could just get rid of, obviously, but also not things I wanted to deal with. So, clearly, I just had to shove it in the back of the closet and let them stay there. For a few days after the accident, as I would lie in our bed, now only half-full, I swore I could hear the phone vibrating. I had no desire, at that moment, to see who was calling or texting him, and I knew eventually it would stop, the battery would die, the person trying to reach him would hear of his death and stop calling or would just give up because he wasn’t answering.
Today, though, and for the last few days, the box was haunting the edges of my thoughts. Whenever I looked at my cell phone, I thought of his. When I gave the kids money for the ice cream man, I wondered how much money was in his wallet. It must have been the incident at Mom’s Night that put Stuart and the box of his things back in my mind. Seeing the way Cindy treated Josh, and hearing her horrible story of throwing shoes at him because he fell asleep in the chair reminded me of Stuart. I would never have done that to him, even if I hadn’t known he was going to die, even if he hadn’t died I would still say that I loved him and I wanted to make him happy for all the days of his life, no matter how short. No matter how long.
I was outside on my screened in porch, drinking a glass of wine and smoking a bowl. It helped with the pain and the grief, the physical pain and the emotional. My doctor had said it was not the worst idea. My shrink wasn’t thrilled, but what was he really going to say? I was already doing it by the time we talked about it, and he knew I wasn’t going to stop. There was no medication that would help me relax enough to sleep like a glass of wine and some weed, so that was what I did now, every night, after the kids were sound asleep.
Stuart’s death was not a complete surprise to me. I am sure it was to him, but I had a feeling it was coming. It was my own stupidity not to make sure he had paid the life insurance before he crashed and burned. Of course that was before, when I wasn’t sure I could trust my feelings, premonitions, visions, inklings, shining – whatever you wanted to call them. Now I knew. I knew all to well that the things I dreamt or saw or hallucinated or imagined or felt, deep down in my bones, were true. Would come true. Were already true and would soon come to light. Like Danny Torrance’s Shining, I really just wanted it to stop, to go away. I wanted my truth, the true thing I knew about my own body, to be a lie. But I knew it wasn’t.
I sighed, a deep, heavy, old lady kind of sigh. There was nothing to be done. All the pink ribbons on yogurt lids and mayonnaise jars and football jerseys weren’t going to save me. Only God could do that, and since I was sitting outside, alone in the dark, breaking the law and neglecting my children, I was not optimistic about a miracle headed in my direction.
My doctor said we needed to decide something soon. Move forward with treatment, whatever slim chance it had of working. Call in the troops again to wrangle child care and drive me back and forth and make meals for my family, meals that I likely would have neither the desire nor the capacity to eat, draw up living wills and guardianships and ask someone I knew – a friend – to raise my children. My parents were both dead, my husband was dead and I had been an only child. I had no cousins, no distant relatives. This, I guess, was the danger of small families and moving around a lot and never really connecting with another person. Stuart and I had each other, and for so long, that had been enough. When we were young and establishing the rules of what our lives would be like, what our life together would be like, we never imagined that we wouldn’t have each other, and we certainly never imagined that neither of us would be here to see our kids through to adulthood. It wasn’t until my first pregnancy that the visions, the knowing, started to happen with any regularity, with any reliability. And by then, the rules of how we were going to be with the world were set, and it was pretty much impossible for us to change. I resigned myself, my children to this fate, as cruel as it was. I had known what I was doing, and I went ahead and I did it anyway.
Could there be any more selfish act?
I drew another hit of smoke into my lungs and held it, letting all the chemicals and carcinogens and THC hit my bloodstream. I could almost feel the drug move from my core to my limbs, tiny waves of relaxation moving out from the center of my body, eventually to my mind. Quieting my mind was the part I couldn’t do on my own, even with yoga and meditation and running and xanax. I blew the smoke out and I took another sip of wine, and I envisioned the alcohol and the THC traveling together to the part of my brain that regulated my anxious thoughts, and I pictured them like windshield wipers, clearing away the things I worried about incessantly, the spirals of thoughts that played over and over. I pictured them letting the thoughts escape so that I could relax, and sleep, and dream of nothing.
Soon I felt that drifting, that disconnection from the world around me. I turned off the light and the ceiling fan, I took my wine glass and my pipe inside and washed them out, putting the glass back in the cabinet and carrying the pipe up with me to its hiding place. I climbed into bed, fixed my favorite pillow just so, and I let myself sleep. Morning would come early; it always did. But between now and then was my body’s chance to fight itself, and my mind’s chance to calm itself, so that I could function the next day.
Usually this routine left me dreamless, thoughtless, just a floating collection of cells and neurons and receptors, which was the only way I could sleep and wake up refreshed. Since Stuart’s death, dreams were nightmares, and I would wake up sweaty, shaken, disoriented. It scared the kids, seeing me wild-eyed and afraid, when they came in to ask for breakfast. So I had tried, over the past months, to just not dream. I tried not to think before I went to sleep, I tried to make my mind blank, empty of emotions or pictures or anything that could spark a nightmare.
Tonight though. Tonight I hadn’t gotten it exactly right and just as I drifted off, I thought of the box of his things at the back of the closet. I thought of the cell phone that vibrated for days after his death. I thought of the money that could be in his wallet. I thought of the clues I might be able to find, the footpath that could lead me from wondering why he was where he was at the time he was there to knowing, to understanding. I decided that tomorrow I would start looking. I would charge his phone and look at the missed calls, read the texts he had never read, connect the dots between his office and Lakewood Drive.
What was he doing? Who was he seeing? What had been so important that he had ignored my impassioned, repeated pleas to come straight home, to bring me Diet Coke, to rescue me from misbehaving kids? I had seen him die in my dreams, I knew it was coming. I tried to keep him off of Lakewood Drive, because I had seen where and how it would happen, and I foolishly thought I could change his destiny by changing his location – and in the end, I wasn’t even able to change his location. I had known when, and where, and how, but the why of Stuart’s death had eluded me. Before my own death, I needed to know why. I needed to know what pulled him there, I needed to know why he was in that exact place at that exact time.
And so I dreamt, wild, vivid dreams of Stuart and I, dreams of running and chasing and falling, him holding my hand as I slipped, letting it go. me watching him fall, unable to stop him from crashing, screaming silently as he bled and died. I saw myself, scarred and disfigured, patches of hair missing and sunken cheeks. I awoke exhausted, but determined.
I had to find the why. I took down the box of his things and I opened it. The unmistakable smell of Stuart drifted out as soon as I lifted the lid. My eyes filled, my breathing changed. I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder, reassuring and strong. I remembered the beautiful Stuart, the man I had loved since I was 15 years old – young, handsome, smart, kind. The image of his dental records beside a corpse’s x-rays was far from my consciousness. I wiped my tears and steeled my courage. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that going on a wild goose chase to figure out why Stuart was across town on the night he died was doing nothing but distracting me from my own impending death, and giving me something to focus on besides the decisions and plans I needed to be making. But maybe, I reasoned, just maybe, this was the last gift Stuart had to offer me.
I pulled out his cell phone, and I attached it to my charger, and I went to make coffee. I knew something, some clue, would be waiting for me when I came back. I knew I would have to accept Stuart’s secret, whatever it had been, because I was the one who had conjured it.