These Things

On the last day of packing up my childhood home, I rubbed my hand along the molding that held all of the hash marks of our heights through the years. And with the sight of each penciled-in slash, that feeling of a ruler on my crown.

And shoes… shoes are so hard to throw away. They look back at you as if making a final plea. Weathered and worn, their scuffs and holes tell stories, like an old pock-marked movie theater owner. Ghosts in our closets, threatening us with our own secrets.

The loose lightswitch; how I’ve cursed that thing and, on better days, laughed at it in the dark.

Even more aggravating, the wooden animal sculptures on the end table in the hall, with their long narrow legs (a sculptor’s practical joke, no doubt), always topping over at the slightest nudge by a knee or elbow. I’ve scolded them too. But I love them, I love how they’ve made every one of us stumble and cuss on the way to our beds.

My computer keyboard! Such an immense love for this tattered antique, with its letters rubbed off from decades of the soft solitary dance of my fingertips, alone with me in the magic, an accomplice in my quest to find the gods. Will it be wrong to weep when it gives out on me?

These things — they make a sane man look crazy just by being the recipient, indeed the adored object, of his fleeting tribute.

It’s my mother’s fault; ah, the queen of inanimate objects, of THINGS! She had a lamp in the corner she called “mother.” The flowers in her garden represented loved ones passed, green traffic lights on the way to piano lessons — yes! A sure sign Grampa Vic was giving us a wink. Pictures, blankets, collectible pencil sharpeners, stained doilies, an oversized grainy TV, half a dozen neatly folded washcloths never moved, the Lion’s Club blazer in her closet — all bringing her closer to people who aren’t here anymore and, sadly, farther away from people who are.

When I finish a book, I always hold it against my chest for a while, as if the author could know, as if the pages could feel my thumb fanning them tenderly. And for a moment, maybe, just maybe, I too can feel all the others who laid still after the last page, their eyes closed like mine, still as a corpse in the greatest reverence to what they were given.

These things hold the milestones of our lives like pressed flowers, sometimes more alive than we are ourselves. They talk to us, scream at us, and cry with us. They are companions in a hard world, obeying our orders to stay the same, to hold still—the only things that hold fucking still as the world whips and spins and splits apart.

I keep a paint brush on my desk, a gift from my art teacher for being a varsity scholar, or a “varsity scoffer”, as he used to say. When I notice it, I pick it up and brush it across my palm. The bristles are perfect; they’ve never been touched by paint.

Is it so crazy to believe that these things are alive, that they can hear us and record our lives when we’re too busy to do it ourselves?

Our trail of evidence. Oh, that we’ve lived!

And though they cannot breathe and sing and travel to the moon, they are sure to outlast us, to remain faithfully quiet and still in our absence, to hide in plain sight in order to be found once again and touched and held in the shaking, searching hands of the ones who loved us most.