Two weeks after the worst day in my life, I went back to work. That first day I hid in my cubicle for eight hours holding back tears, pushing papers from one side of the desk to the other and tried to remember what I did for a living. I found myself staring at the clock dreading for “three” to roll around. With our older boys in their twenties and Gus gone, it would be the first time in twenty years that I would not have to rush out to pick up a child from school, race to a practice or a play date, do homework, or in Gus’ case dash from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment. I stayed until four that day and then went home hoping I’d let enough time pass. I hadn’t. With nothing better to do I ambled around the house impatient and sad. At the corner of the family room was Gus’ bookshelf still crammed with his school supplies, books and toys. I decided it would make a great place for a permanent memorial. Right there in the corner of where we ate and watched tv so that he was still in our midst.
I began by clearing off the shelves and collecting anything that Gus had ever used, slightly touched or even glanced at. I planned to organize it all and put it in his room which is kept closed and nearly like he left it – probably until I die. Since keeping all of his pencils, crayons or games would be ridiculous, I resolved to keep only the “special” ones -the ones he used the most. As I sunk deeper into my task I came across boxes of other things that with him gone we’d no longer need. The assortment of paints for the pinewood derby cars (apparently we’d bought more and more of them each year), boxes and boxes of crayons, paint brushes, coloring books, bottles of glue and stacks of long-forgotten games. As I tossed or boxed the many items that I thought were Gus’, I realized that many more were mine. Soon, I was organizing not just his shelves, but the immediately adjacent closet, then the cabinet across the room, the pantry next to it, the laundry room, the linen closet, the other linen closet, the outdoor tent, the garden shed and finally the two holiday decoration sheds. And so the great purge began.
I blame William-Sonoma for convincing me that I absolutely needed that express rice cooker I was always too afraid to use and a multitude of “specialized” kitchen gadgets like a mandolin (I might have used that thing once). I blame Pottery Barn for the collections of nick-knacks appropriately “grouped” and displayed throughout the house and for filling my linen closet with “seasonal” sheets and comforters. I blame Martha Stewart for the all the ridiculous “matching” holiday collections and decorations like the “mummy in a web” for Halloween and the Santa Clauses, Easter rabbits and wreaths that contributed to that special “a Holiday just threw up all over the house look”. I mostly blame myself for believing that I ever needed any of it to heighten our family experience. That my perfect family was somehow more complete in a expertly staged photo-ready setting. Over the year I made at least ten trips to the local shelter with the car filled to the brim (trunk, back seats and passenger seat) with neatly arranged boxes of the useless and irrelevant stuff that once crammed rooms, got piled on shelves and clogged up closets. At one point I was even asked if I was moving. At the time I blushed and muttered that it was a long story. The truth is though that I am moving – from the perfect family Gus era to the nearly perfect family “after” Gus era.
In this new era, it is not the setting that will take center stage but the memory of the experiences we had and the ones we are yet to have. The less “stuff” I have, the more room I make to bask in the glory of our family love (Gus’s love) and the love of the people that are still in our future. I expect the great purge to continue.