digging through other people’s lives — ones that are associated with people you are friendly with — brings a bit of melancholy with it almost as if you’d been at the grocery store and brought a plastic bag half-full of it with you — you’d stopped by on your way to somewhere else, back home for instance, or to meet other friends later in the day, but why not run your errands as you would anyway, you ask yourself, and so there you are, bag in hand, staring at a wall of photos of their only child who had died (a doctor!) in a trailer in new orleans after katrina of cancer.
you don’t know that at first, having arrived in the heat of the day–a little discombobulated from the drive and the unfamiliar neighborhood and the amount of activity as your friends along with a mexican couple they’ve hired, are shouting at each other “put that in the goodwill corner,” “throw that away,” “that’s for the archive.” and that’s when you start to ask questions, “archive?”
and what starts to unfold in this unassuming house (it’s a mess of mid-century shag carpeting, gold low sofas, upholstered chairs that once you sit in them it’s nearly impossible to get out of gracefully or in one easy movement or that could be a result of the age of the occupant, idk) across the street from an elementary school where there’s a baseball game in progress, with a lemon tree with rotting fruit on the ground circling it in the backyard and one of those wonderful tiled bathrooms –actually there are two–(green & pink!) that you seriously want to restore to their former glory with the pedestal sink and the little frosted window over the toilet that looks out onto the neighbor’s driveway. that house.
you learn that the only child, a son, was a doctor of pediatrics who taught at usc and at children’s hospital in new orleans, and that usc is responsible for his archive of material–including much of the detritus of his personal life. the house belonged to his mother who died in april at the age of 92 and had left it and its contents to your friend, a niece. and then, like one of the old art books — “the complete works of michelangelo” for instance, that weighs in at around 100 lbs. and is the size of a fiat 500 — her life starts to unfold in front of you. her habits, her ethics — high achieving, community service-minded, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, librarians, and all of them magnificently beautiful and proud.
it’s all laid over with the passing of the last member of the family, a fine film of dust and dirt–from time and the neglect of a 92-year-old; that brittle, musty odor of stored linens, and old memories, past lives and loves. you find yourself, with your bag of melancholy sitting on the dining table next to the morning’s uneaten donuts and krullers, wondering about your life and its end and what will those you’ve tasked with cleaning up the last of your life will find and feel as they excavate your life for goodwill, for resale, for the dump.
on the drive home, the back of the car filled with artbooks and tschotkes that have been tasked to you to find new homes for, including your own, “just take it,” she said pushing the last box into the hatchback, wiping her brow, blue latex gloves grimy with a day of cleaning, you turn to each other and vow that as time goes by you’ll start to de-accession, so on that day in the future, when your friends have gathered in your home to sort through your life’s work all they’ll find is the plastic bag of melancholy sitting on the dining table and your love.