By the end of the first week, as I cruise towards my weekend, I don’t expect to hear much more, if anything, from around the world. The project might be on schedule, or close to it, but it remains a government contract. I encounter those often enough here in the remote Bighorns to know those rarely keep on schedule. He’ll be working at the site, meeting with contractors or project managers, or construction supervisors, or maybe even our future house guest. I prepare myself for a weekend of silence and quiet, finding my own ways to stay busy in hopes that time will pass more quickly than it has at any moment since those airport doors closed behind him. I need a project that will immerse me in other thoughts, and I have one in mind, long postponed, with hopes that by the end of the weekend, the house will be spotless, and will feel like two weeks have passed even if it’s still only a mere eight days since his departure.
Down the stairs, off to the left from the entertainment room, Daniel’s home design features a storage room complete with shelving and cabinets. My junk that I’ve hauled from home to temporary home possesses more value than just the handful of boxes I never finished unpacking, even if most of its value is perceived by me only. They hunker down in a corner of this room waiting for me to be willing to swallow that much family information in one sitting.
When he invited me to live with him just days after we first met, I didn’t even consider what would become of my belongings. We donated my eclectic and randomly acquired furnishings to a local thrift store, but these half dozen or so boxes continued to remain unexposed and ignored now for several years. I wasn’t ready to let go of my entire past and considered this last batch of lingering memories would be unpacked a few weeks after my arrival in our home. This fall will be our fourth anniversary and I still have yet to purge the last reminders of my old life.
It isn’t that we never come into this room. What few Christmas decorations we have purchased during our holidays as man and wife get retrieved, displayed, and returned here seasonally. When we agreed to accept Niesha and her child into our home, Daniel opted to relocate some of his mother’s décor for long-term safe keeping, such as her tea table where she used to sit and read, as he lovingly recalled before carrying it down the stairs, when he finally agreed to change the room to suit our incoming guests.
“When Mom was in her final few months, even in my cramped apartment, she would move from her bed to her reading chair. She would keep a cup of tea, her current book, and a picture of Dad here,” he described to me.
He could recount the story with tenderness and without a hint of weeping, yet I sobbed sloppily for a woman I never met. As I listened to him tell me of the simple moments of her end of life, I wished I would have known either of our mothers for a spell.
We discussed leaving the table and chair for Niesha, but Daniel insisted we get her a rocker of her own, with thoughts that one day she would take the gliding chair with her to their own residence and his mother’s chair and table would return to the spare room.
We never decided exactly how long our new roommates would stay with us. Maybe we both accept the prospect as open-ended and we will know when it will be time to give them their own space. Perhaps too many unknowns remain between preparing the room and their actual arrival, much less any expectations of what life would be like once they join us in our home. Even now I worry they might feel like outsiders in a place I sincerely want them to feel like equal residents. Daniel shared with me how he often experienced the treatment as an outsider after his divorce, and he lived in Wyoming practically his entire life.
The storage room still feels spacious, even with the recently added pieces. Every storage facility I rented felt like a cramped, metal box into which I shoved all the pieces of my past, as well as the tagalongs of my then present that I thought I may want later in life. Yet now, I am here markedly later in my life and I have not even glanced at the boxes of assorted belongings, including the first of the cartons I now examine, which I folded and left untouched when I moved in with Daniel. It contains the loose papers and random unnecessary bits of adult homework I thought I might need as I escaped Jason and eventually journeyed to Wyoming. Old W-2 forms stapled to copies of old tax returns filed digitally long enough ago making these hard copies now pointless can go. I ought to shred these and let the dollars and cents of those years drift away with the rest of my poorly spent history.
I know I need to tackle each of the remaining boxes, not because we need the space in this room, but because the purge which I have procrastinated since my life began with my husband remains incomplete. I still find it difficult to believe the life I am living is my life. I often sit watching Daniel complete simple tasks in our home, such as cooking a meal or watching a movie and wonder how I ever came to be in a room, much less a life, with him. I remain in awe of him and how he has changed us both.
From tax forms to employment paperwork, most of the contents of each progressive box are superfluous now. I am not in need of a job recommendation from a past co-worker, or even my expired teaching certificate. Quite possibly the only historic document of note that I choose to keep is my college diploma, and even that is buried more than halfway through the collection. Still folded into fourths, it is in even worse condition than I expect. I remember submitting my last assignment and that unceremonious achievement marked the end of my college experience. I didn’t attend graduation or toss my mortar board into the air. No one took me to dinner or bought me a gift. College simply ended and my life proceeded. Any papers related to that experience, besides the diploma itself, now land in the pile to be shredded.
There’s a box marked ‘Amelia’ and I know its contents. I may have sifted through the first four, but of the two remaining, this one does not need to be touched. What it needs is to be relocated out of its cardboard cocoon and into a more protective container. Perhaps I ought to buy myself a hope chest, not to save old family linens as a dowry for a future marriage, but the hope for what happens when I die. These are items I thought I would one day pass along to my own child, small items that mattered, one or two garments my mother saved from my childhood, and even, yes, a couple heirlooms from my grandparents.
I packed up this box long before Amelia was even a twinkle, and when I left Jason, I put her name on this box knowing each tangible object and intangible memory would one day belong to her. The objects haven’t changed, just the owner, but as long as her name remains on the top, I can identify its contents without ever looking inside again.
Maybe I’ll give these items to Niesha’s child. I suppose if she gives birth to a boy, he likely won’t care about any of it, not to say a daughter would, but maybe I can tell her the stories my grandfather told me, and maybe some of the items, and the recollections to which I still cling, may be carried into the future. I hold off changing the name on the box just yet, but in the next month, the possibility exists. Very soon these strangers who will enter our lives will never again be strangers to us.
NEXT: Lies of Omission – Part 53