[This is a series of stories/essays I’ve written this past year. They are personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]
Nancy witnessed their world collapsing.
Her task was clear. She had to empty out her parent’s home to return it to the bank.
Six months before, her mother had “gone to be with the Lord,” as her mother would’ve said. Two years before, her father had passed. They were binary stars, to be seen together, to live in relationship.
The irreparable damage had occurred and their world was slowly collapsing in on itself.
When possibilities lose their probability, the waveform collapses, entropy takes over, and everything erodes to nothingness.
Nancy sat on the floor of her father’s study surrounded by piles of paper. Five boxes lined up in front of her, a box for each distinct category: a box for financial records needed to close out the estate; a box for files to shred, those sensitive documents that must be destroyed to protect against identity theft. Nancy wondered whose identity remained to be stolen; there was a box of papers for the essential writings and work of her parents, their intellectual essence, papers that might still inspire and teach; and there was the trash, words and documents that could be discarded lacking in any remaining importance, energy or impact. Every page, every file got reviewed and sorted. Most landed in the trash.
As she worked on the papers, the contents of the house made its way out the door, helped by friends, family, colleagues and the strangers whose jobs consisted of collecting the detritus of some to help and mend others.
Her parents had lived lives of service and learning. Their work had touched many people. They had made an impact on others. As her parent’s passed through their world, they had changed many other worlds.
Nancy imagined the tens of thousands her parents had impacted in subtle and profound ways. Perhaps it was a moment in a checkout lane or years of friendship, their lives had touched others. This large group stood in contrast with the millions they would never meet or see. The possibility of those encounters ended and part of their world fell away. For one’s world includes both the concrete and possible. When the possibilities are no longer feasible those alternate experiences collapse. This huge volume of potential evaporated.
The casual encounters that had existed in moments and did not grow, the mention of their name, the passing on the sidewalk, every moment when her parents took in another, and every moment when they we’re seen as people standing in front of another; these moments faded and disappeared.
The men from Goodwill came to the door at the appointed time. Nancy showed them the scores of boxes and furniture set aside for them. The men grumbled about it being more than they were expecting and about the heat of the day. Resignedly, they loaded their truck taking more belongings from Nancy’s parents to anonymous receivers of goods and furniture. They would never know the energy and care her parents had given to those items, their stories or the times they sat on that chair, used those scissors or admired that painting. As these items left the house, Nancy was overcome by the feelings of loss and relief. And another part of the world collapsed.
Henry, a man Nancy had known since she was 13, piled up boxes of papers and books. He had trained with her father and considered him a mentor and a friend. In many ways, he was more heir and offspring to her father than she. To him was entrusted the papers and work of her parents. He had promised to go through them and share them with other colleagues and students. In this way, her parent’s intellectual work and ideas might continue, might remain. She helped him load up his red truck until it was as full as it could be. She hugged and thanked him. As Henry drove off with his red pickup full, Nancy felt another part of their world collapse.
As the house emptied, it felt as if it was being drained of the blood that had made it a home.
Debra came up to Nancy clutching a blue vase. With tears in her eyes she asked if she could have it. She went on to tell how she and Nancy’s mother had found this blue vase at a thrift shop. It wasn’t worth anything other than the memory of days when these two best friends would share lunch and conversation. Debra said, she’d paid the quarter for the vase, because she had a quarter and Nancy’s mother would have to break a dollar bill. As tears welled in her eyes, Debra wondered why she would remember such an inconsequential moment, but she remembered saying to Nancy’s mother, “This is my priceless gift to you.” Debra said, “This blue vase has no value. It is only valuable to me.” She asked Nancy if he could have it. Nancy knew that Debra would care for the vase until Debra’s daughter would give it away on a day like today. Until then it would hold the energy of their friendship. As Debra left with the vase and other priceless items, Nancy felt their world collapse some more. She knew that while this world might collapse, remnants of it would remain in other worlds for a time until they were no more.
Aunt Susan rifled through boxes and albums of photograph. She gathered up the ones she deemed to be “keepers”. She promised to have them scanned and distributed. One was picture of them as children feeding the ducks with their mother, Nancy’s grandmother, at the creek a half mile from the house where they grew up. Aunt Susan figured she was five and Nancy’s mother was eight in the photograph. It was taken at the start of long journeys for each of them.
Nancy helped Aunt Susan to her car, placed the boxes of keepers on the back seat, hugged her cousin, Susan’s daughter, and waved as they drove away. They were the last to leave. When she turned around, the house had begun to fade.
Nancy picked up the remains, tossed them in the pile of trash and began to sweep. It was the final task before walking away. As she swept, the house itself began to fade, the very walls and ceiling opened up until she was sweeping the weeds in a lot where a house, a home, had never been. Nancy turned and looked at the world around and watched it all fall away and erode until it was gone. And nothing remained.
Nancy evaporated out of their world to a world of her own, filled with family, friends, colleagues and all of those she might encounter before her world would also collapse and fade.