Side Swipe from a Grief Drawer

Over and over, in your head, you say, what have I done? What have I done? What have I done? Standing in front of a bureau drawer you’ve been cleaning out, discovering your dead father’s driver’s license or a black and white photo of yourself, at a beach, standing knee-high to that father. You shut the drawer and go on. Maybe clean out the linen closet. Too late. The image of the face on the plastic weathered driver’s license is now lodged in the middle of your throat and when you swallow, the image sinks deeper and cuts into your center, the center from which all activity and motivation spring forth, and you want to sit down but the image might kill you, so you open the linen closet. steve-and-dad.jpgMice turds and urine sprinkled throughout the sheets and towels. The mice have eaten holes in your favorite sheets. Hands rip at the mess, pile it in the car for a later trip to the laundry. A temporary respite from the jabbing ache of longing, regret, loss, loss, loss. And you think, all is lost, so why bother washing the sheets? Dangerous thinking. Phone call from daughter driving a U-Haul cross country alone. Her cat is freaking out in the truck and has pissed on the seats, in her purse, on her lap. Ah, a problem, a smooth-out time-out. The gift of an unsolvable problem of the now. Will I have to pay to have the truck cleaned, she asks? Does vehicle insurance pay for cat piss cleaning? I offer to call the U-Haul people. There are no U-Haul people, just U-Haul recordings. What have I done? What have I done? Why am I standing in the middle of the living room asking what have I done? What does that mean? I have no idea. What am I going to do? What happened? What is happening? What is this? What is what? Let’s not walk to the mailbox today. Let’s not clean out any more drawers. I brush the mattes from the dogs paws. Mud season. Futile. The brush in my hand is weightless, the dog seems unreal, like a stuffed animal. In my head, full color, my father’s face on the driver’s license, resigned but dignified. One eye droops from a growing cancer of which he is unaware. Date of birth. Safe driver. Frayed, dirtied edges of plastic, a small square of plastic, impersonal, lawfully executed. My father is gone. And I will be gone. And my daughter may find my driver’s license in a drawer and your daughter or son may find your driver’s license in a drawer. But after all, we’re going to be dead and that’s perfectly natural. The lesson is: when we feel concern about mice eating our sheets, traffic jams, a neighbor’s gossip, lost job, bad credit, the inevitable broken heart, we can rest assured that someday all that will be left of us and our concerns is our driver’s license and maybe a building, some money, a novel, a good deed, our children’s and friend’s memories of our shenanigans. And so I suggest, don’t play it so safe. Live and die large. Fail large. What our children need are good stories about outrageous people who were ahead of their time. Be ahead of your time and make the discovery of your driver’s license in a drawer a cause for celebration and laughter.

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