Five years ago I was living from a giant red suitcase, sleeping with my babies in the bedroom that shared a hall with her, only not anymore. Five years ago today she wasn’t there by hours and among other things, my attention was beginning to turn to packing up the suitcase to go home after the long and hellish trip to say goodbye to the home I always had in her. It was weird.
Today I am piling clothes to fold and put into the big red suitcase for a trip to see the same people I was with five years ago, only now we’re gathering for the fun of it and not for a funeral – sorry, “celebration of life” as she insisted and it was. We gathered flowers and sunny dresses and made a point to smile back at the picture we chose of her beaming, holding her grandson (whom we cropped out, but was no less responsible for that look).
I unzipped it and so many things came out. Maybe that’s why I haven’t used it since then, why I forgot we still had it and bought another luggage set. Maybe my brain knew there were things in that suitcase I wasn’t ready to unpack even if it cost me $89.
Five years in there. It’s too long. It doesn’t seem possible for half a decade to have passed. She’s still so vibrantly here. I miss her in aches and chokes, but like I miss my kids when I’m away for a night and I’ve just seen them the day before. She was just here, you just missed her. Five years ago.
There is probably dust in there from that place and that time. Maybe some of her skin cells which is gross, but that’s what dust is, partly, so take it up with science if you’re mad about it. The losing time is in there, I know that. And the exhaustion. And the uncertainty, too. What is this? Will it get better? Will she be okay? Will I? How can I help? What can I do? When will it end?
I opened and closed this zipper so many times on the whim of a disease she did nothing to deserve and we could do nothing to stop. It was a storm of chaos and heartache and suffering and confusion. And it was goddamned beautiful, too. I believe that – God cursed it with us and stole out the Goodness to keep in the hex. Some kind of dark magic or old rune or maybe just a parlor trick, but he did it and I’ve got the cards.
Because it was – it is – an abomination that she died (yes, Biblical proportions of not fair and bullshit) and in that precise absurdity, we knew joy and hope and something like grace. We laughed and cried and lived because death stopped hiding her face. We embraced her and welcomed her into the family and that didn’t make her less ugly, but it made her ours, made us loyal. Death is not a threat, she’s a promise so you might as well befriend her even if she’s tough to live with.
It’s all in the suitcase which is sun-faded red, actually, because I think I tossed it outside for a while. And now it’s in my room, too, since I opened it up in here. And it’ll be on the clothes, which belong to my children, that I pack into the suitcase that took us to hell and back five years ago. These are things they’re learning younger than I thought appropriate, but nobody asked me which I’ll take that up with whoever is in charge of appointments. And even that is lovely in a stupid kind of way. That she snuck them something, palm to palm, when she passed the way she did: too soon, unwilling, and full of joy. Most grandmothers sneak a few extra chocolates.
We’ll spend our lives unpacking all of it and probably leave some dust mites, but we’ll keep adding, too. Five years from the loss that remains hardly bearable and I am still unable to separate it from the gifts. I guess you might call that baggage.