The support and love that readers offered here moved me profoundly. Thank you! I’d considered turning comments off for the announcement that my sister had died and I’m glad I didn’t know how! Locally, friends have stepped up with legion acts of generosity. Flowers. Dinners. Errands. Packing up the apartment. Prayers. The word that I hear in my head this week to describe friendships is: MIGHTY.
My sister had many compulsions, all of which added up to a disordered life and her premature death at 64. She’d been incapacitated physically for most of the last ten years and morbidly obese for nearly the entirety of her adult life.
Her need was bottomless, her rage explosive, the triggers countless. There were many times over the last nine years when I didn’t think I would survive her. But I offered up a battered loyalty.
Relating to my sister was so crushingly difficult that the demands placed by her remaining mess feel very nearly trivial.
Her clip file, however, poses special problems. For one thing it’s huge — the equivalent of ten banker’s boxes? Fifteen? It’s hard to tell yet, because I keep finding more.
The collection was housed in boxes that lined the walls and spilled into her teensy living spaces. Also in cardboard lids, recycled Kleenex containers, drawers and scattered on table tops. Bills and medical statements mixed in. Foil packs of albuterol buried. While fetching her things (coffee, lunch, address book), I constantly tripped over some box or other. Consolidation, not allowed. I felt a constant, smoldering resentment of all her fucking paper.
So here’s one of many contradictions: how could a visual person, a former artist of some promise, someone still interested in images of nature, interior design, archeology, ancient religious iconography, ALSO be a person who let her living space look like a literal dump?
(For the first three or four years in Salem apartment Number One, at the outset of every visit, my sister would make the same cheery-but-shame-filled queries: “Doesn’t it look better? Can you tell I’ve made progress?”
Me: nearly speechless with disbelief, sputtering some lame agreement).
So you’d think I’d be standing at the recycling bin, chucking it all with a flourish. A big exhalation of relief. Garbage at last! But here’s the second contradiction: I’m not.
The above assemblage represents just a third of the images she pulled while at the nursing home. She couldn’t sit up. Had no scissors. Knew she was dying. But she kept at it.
As for myself, being a collage artist who also sometimes uses images as writing prompts, I view these papers as a treasure trove.
My sister’s legacy.
The second they assume an ugly weight, which might be tomorrow, I’ll recycle.
But not yet.