What I remember most about my dad was all the boxes.
Every few weeks, my dad loaded up his car with recyclables: boxes heaped with yellowed newspapers, boxes stacked within other boxes, boxes of glass bottles clinking against each other as if toasting to their imminent end.
The recycling drop-off center was an industrial garage a few miles out of town. My dad drove inside the building, parked his car next to a dumpster, and told my brother and me to start tossing recyclables wildly into their respective containers. The din was tremendous, a cacophony of objects doomed to meet their re-creators.
For all the times I’d helped my dad unload the recycling before, I still was surprised by the heaviness of the boxes, and I inevitably dropped each one on the floor. Even the smallest box was a bigger burden than my spindly arms could carry—I staggered unsteadily under its weight.
My dad, looking up from across the room, started laughing. He walked over and hoisted the box I was struggling with onto one shoulder and carried it away easily. I felt suddenly unbalanced once the weight was gone; I felt empty-handed, useless.
I busied myself with the glass bottles instead. There was an inexplicable satisfaction in throwing a bottle into the air, watching it fly over the side of the container, and hearing it shatter into pieces in some unseen glass graveyard.
One by one I threw the bottles, until there were none left to throw.
On the way home, I stared out the window, my eyes glazing over the passing scenery outside, the recycling center already long forgotten from my mind. I never gave it a second thought. I never wondered where the recyclables went or how they would be used in their next lives.
I never considered how destruction could be a catalyst toward creation.
* * *
She looks like him, pale and frizzy-haired, walking on toothpick legs up the overgrown sidewalk to her grandpa’s old house.
She hasn’t been here since he died.
I open the door and wait for her reaction—tears, a gasp, some quiet expression of grief. But she’s surprisingly calm; she says nothing. She knows why we’re here.
The house echoes with emptiness. She walks inside slowly, almost cautiously, and sits down in the living room, looking around at this strange place. It’s only been a week, but everything’s changed. My brother was here a few days ago, cleaning closets, moving furniture, sorting through as much as he could while I was still in the hospital. Now piles of photos, books, and clothes line the living room and hallway, waiting to be packed up and carted off.
We spend the morning in near silence. In a few hours we’ve put everything into cardboard boxes labeled for sale, donation, or trash.
After sitting on the floor for so long, my body aches. I leave her to explore the photographs stacked on the table and carefully rise to go to the bathroom. The door clicks closed behind me. I lift my shirt and gingerly remove the old bandage from my abdomen, crumpling it into a plastic bag in my purse; there’s not even a trashcan here anymore.
The incision looks fine: raw, full of sutures, but healing. I run two fingers over its rough surface, knowing I shouldn’t touch it but unable to resist. Underneath this scar lies the only thing of his I have left, after all.
When I finish applying a clean bandage, I look at my reflection in the mirror. It’s then that I see myself through his eyes, that same wide-eyed girl, bigger now but staggering again under an intangible weight. I stare at the mirror for as long as I can stand to; then I pull away, a lump suddenly forming in my throat. You were supposed to help me. You weren’t supposed to die.
Her voice breaks my reverie. “Mom, is this you?” She sounds so small. Quickly wiping my eyes, I open the door and go to her. She’s looking so closely at the photos in one of the albums that her nose nearly touches the page. I look at the photo she’s pointing at: an old one, my dad and me in our front yard, raking leaves into a pile larger than I am. I simply smile.
She turns the page. My dad glances up at her from each photo, his face rooted in memory, his eyes permanently fixed on hers but unseeing. Time passes in the photos as he poses with his daughter, his baby granddaughter, his growing granddaughter—and then time stops.
One by one we turn the pages, until there are no more photos to see.
She closes the album, stands, and walks to one of the boxes lining the wall, placing the album gently inside. It’s unspoken between us, but we know it’s time to leave. It’s time to pack up this house, these memories.
My doctor told me not to lift heavy things for six to eight weeks. By then I’ll be strong enough.
Until then, she helps me carry the boxes.