I often ask myself why I keep my positive pregnancy tests. I know it’s a magical moment and everything. Sometimes I come across them when the box of Band-Aids tips off the shelf again, and I remember that I was feverishly cleaning the house that day. I stopped and held the broom in my hand and thought about it. I went and checked the test.
I’m also not quite sure why I have a bike hanging in my garage that has a flat tire on it, except for the fact that a little boy once rode it. Actually, he learned to ride it with no training wheels when he was only three years old. He liked to skid the best and shredded the tire that day we were all the way down at the park. I had to get us home by putting him on my back like a baby koala bear and riding my bike hunched over, pushing like mad.
I have a box in my basement of junior high notes. We used to fold them back then in a special way, where it all fit together like the envelope and the message all in one. The longer the note was, the more fit you were for popular society. Rebecca Blood once wrote a thirteen-pager to me. It was a beautiful experience to unfold page after page after page. That particular note contained approximately thirty-seven promises about the mysterious and magical world of friendship with her and everything that awaited me. I could borrow her Esprit sweatshirt, for one. She was also going to set me up with Griffin, because he owed her. When she handed it to me in the hallway of the junior high, she pressed it into the palm of my hand. I could smell her bubble gum. She was close enough to hug me.
I have some ticket stubs. A music festival I went to, riding in the back of Ryan’s Plymouth with no air. I was wearing that long brown sundress and black army boots. It rained and then the sun beat down on us again out in the open field, with the music drifting. I had to tie my unruly hair into braids. On the way home that night, I tipped my head back and fell asleep with the summer air rushing around me.
Jon has a box of stuff in the basement, too. It has his letter in it
from football in ninth grade. It has a couple of report cards and baseball cards. He still says to people that he has a Jeter rookie. He has cassette tapes down there, too. In one box he has Patsy Cline, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Reba McEntire. He has his old fishing licenses, a lure from his grandpa’s collection. When I first went into his room, he had a framed picture of an old fiancée on his wall.
I kept some pictures, but I kept them too long. It was a phase of life that I was storing away. I eventually wrapped them in newspaper and silently climbed the stairs to the garbage can.
There are letters in a box, too. From my mom my freshman year of college. She was telling me not to break up with my boyfriend from home, who was waiting for me. She told me the sad story of my aunt who didn’t marry up with her high school romance guy. She told me that she had hopes for me that were wrapped up in her own regrets.
My grandmother’s Bible is going to go in that box. I got it when I was in her apartment after she died. She was an old lady by then. While she was still around, I prided myself on visiting her, calling her. After all, she was my grandmother and she was in a small apartment in assisted living, where they assist you in dying. But with dignity, by dusting your knickknacks and throwing away crumbs from the counter that you can’t see anymore.
I went there and recorded an interview with her. I asked her questions about the dairy farm she grew up on and her childhood. Her pets kept her company out there. Her mother had a secret pain about not having more children; her father played a lonely violin at night. She was a dark child, teaching her crow to speak by clipping its tongue and holding its body to her face while she talked slowly and deliberately. Once a young man serenaded her from below her window. She refused him by crouching in her room, mortified. Anyway, he wasn’t a good musician.
She married a farmhand after an awkward courtship spent going to dances with her parents. There were years of children and moving and war. When peace came, the days stretched out and she played piano for fun and the organ in front of the congregation. She started to lose her hearing. She picked up a bottle and put it down again fifteen years later; her life had become completely blurred. She put the bottle down, she made her life a sacrifice. She picked up that Bible and never put it down again.
She cramped her whole life into assisted living. She had no tent with her, but she camped before. She had no piano with her, but played, before. No animals but tended many. No serving dishes but piled them high with food for crowds at the lake. No daughters, raised four. No husband – buried after fifty years. Nothing saved, everything told and remembered in the dim light of the apartment.
Melissa Heglund is a wife and a mother of two young children. She has lived in Minnesota all her life and enjoys reading, cooking, life with dogs, conversations over coffee, and playing her ukulele.