Tag Archives: legacies

The Clip Files, Intro

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.

Grime and fatalism

After ten years of not exactly saintly but certainly thorough and effective advocacy for someone with an unfortunate cluster of problems, your vocabulary changes. Words like ‘impairment,’ ‘handicap,’ and ‘disorder’ become second nature. You may not like their clinical sheen, but since they’re far better than the words applied during a tempestuous childhood, you use them. The ugly echoes: ‘fat slob,’ ‘fucking nuts,’ and ‘impossible.’

But today, a new word supplies perspective and it is GRIME. Sorting your sister’s beads from the failed parent-financed venture in Rockport, you dump them into plastic trays, eager to chuck the sticky plastic bags. They are so GRIMY. You use windex on the storage boxes, not wanting to know the source of one lid’s ocher spatter (cat puke? ramen stock?) The tools of glass-cutting and jewelry-making offer sad testimony to squandered talent — cruddy, rusted and neglected as they are.

Restoration requires, among other things, sand paper.

I had to use a dry toothbrush to clean these three little felt gifts.

Indolence, apathy, compulsive consumption of low brow television and food, the repetitive shooing of most people away, and the manufacturing of insult and victimhood with others, it turns out, leave a grubby residue.

You will need to remember this.

When you’re telling yourself that it wasn’t enough to supply her with a brand new pack of jewelry findings — that you should’ve figured out how to get her crafting as well — you’ll need to remember this.

And you’ll need to remember the virulence of her refusals. Her knack for turning any suggestion that required effort on her part into evidence of your deeply flawed character. Recall, just for one second, her lengthy diatribes about your failure to understand. Your lack of compassion. And how the screeching had more in common with hurricanes or tsunamis than with speech.

You learned not to make the suggestion. And to skedaddle.

You have long recognized the violence of applying “shoulds” to others. Perhaps this difficult passage will teach you to extend the same courtesy to yourself.

As to fatalism: think I’m gonna start taking my social security. At 62, I am now the age my mother was when she died. I’ve outlived my father by eight years. My sister is receiving hospice care at 64.

My parents were smokers and my sister has health issues that I don’t share, but still…

The monthly payment won’t be a lot, but for someone who hasn’t earned a significant salary since the early 90’s, it seems a small fortune.

Lastly, look at this guy. With temps in the mid-30’s and beautiful sun, we enjoyed what felt like a balmy walk this morning!

Little yellow house : after

Early on demolition day, I blindly pulled this quote by May Swenson as a writing prompt: “Am I the bullet / or the target / or the hand / that holds the gun?

The destruction was unexpectedly and utterly fascinating. Yes, there went the bedroom then the room with the radio, the staircase — but what an efficient and powerful brutality! I was no longer the target, I was the gun. Sometimes the bucket chewed on support beams like a hungry beast. Other times the operator used it to nudge weakened walls into collapse, not unlike a mother animal nudging her wayward young. How did the operator know when to grab and claw and when to shove and tip? I was the finger pulling the trigger.

It was 19 degrees that morning. Gloves off to use the camera, my fingers quickly froze. Finn had hopped up onto the rock wall at my back, so when he started shivering I could feel it immediately. Oh but I wasn’t ready to leave!

I slung my arm around the dog and pulled him close. Like a gory car accident that you can’t look away from, the floors and walls being compressed into rubble kept us standing by.

Close to dusk, I went back only to be shocked at the uniformity and anonymity of the debris. It seemed to consist only of wood and bits of insulation. Where did the bed springs go? The yellow velvet cushions of the couch? Naturally, not a chip of the praying figurines showed up, but the pink bathroom tiles? How did they so thoroughly vanish? The crocheted afghan that had occupied the end of one of the beds just hours earlier might as well have been vaporized.

There were two very large stuffed creatures, pierced and toppled in a gruesome fashion. There was a piece of wood (part of a closet wall?) on which an oil change had been noted. A coil of wire. A glove. But not much else except round back.

Since the basement was still intact after day one, I went back to see what I could grab, not quite remembering earlier rationales for restraint. Perhaps the linens? Maybe that strange collection of incense burners? But to no avail. The basement door gushed pieces of the caved-in house like a barfing mouth.

On the second day of demo, they wrecked the last of the wooden structure and removed most of the debris. Again the utter lack of identifying detail in what was left seemed physically inexplicable. How could there be so little evidence of all those things — of all those years of living?

I told myself that if I found anything I would treat it as something important.

And that will be the third (and final?) post about this wreckage. Incredibly enough, the prompt in today’s writing class was: “the empty lot was a constant reminder of…