The dumpster has been hauled out of my driveway. The porch looks beautiful once again. The painting is nearly done. I am slowly but steadily working my way through the punch list of repair and clean up items set out to get the house ready for sale.
The cleanup has been difficult, but more therapeutic than I anticipated. It has forced me to go through all the accumulated cruft of thirty years of living together and separate the stuff that matters from the bulk of things that are just plain stuff. It all reminds me of an episode of St. Elsewhere Barbara liked that aired way back before our second child was even born. She commented on it enough that it stuck with me all these years.
Barbara loved that show. It was set in a fictitious rundown Boston hospital named St. Eligius, but nicknamed St. Elsewhere because nobody really wanted to be there. She knew all the Boston hospitals, having spent so much time in and out of them as a kid. To her, it was an amalgam of the worst stories of the Floating Hospital and the Carney, exaggerated for effect. She even recognized the building they used for the exterior shots, actually an apartment building.
One of the principal characters was a widowed middle-aged doctor named Westphall. In the third season, he finally decided to sell his house and downsize into a condo. When the movers come to pack his stuff up, one of them comments on the horrible condition of the mattress he is moving, Westphall launched into a talk on all the memories of the times with his wife and the kids in that bed.
The mover’s reply was perfect: “Keep the memories. Lose the mattress.”
I don’t remember the exact conversation we had over that line, but I know we had one, enough for it to stick with me for 28 years. She thought that was the perfect expression of what to do after a loss. I have to agree.
All this cleanout is just that. I am keeping the memories. They take no space, require no effort, they are a part of me so deep I couldn’t get rid of them even if I wanted to. When the memories come on their own I smile. When I look at the leftovers accumulated, I think of the loss, not the joy. All that stuff, like Westphall’s old mattress, is just junk dragging me down, holding me back tied to a time I loved but know is over. It’s taking up space and energy.
I need the space back. I need the energy back. It is time to start making new memories.