I was caring for my orchids. Glancing out the window. The son of my deceased neighbor was carting the remains of his belongings to the dumpster. The son who had not been here to visit his father for twenty years. At least. The son no one knew hardly anything about since he left and went to live on his own. First with his mother and then…? Then I used to see him at the dog beach with his dog. He never said hello. I thought he didn’t know who I was. It didn’t really matter, I just thought, oh, there’s my neighbor’s son. All grown up and very tall. Then last summer when I was picking up the little girl from summer school I saw him. He was a teacher at the Lab School. I knew that. His father had told me. He also said that he learned, after the fact, that his son was married and there was a grandchild. A boy. He had never met either. The wife or the child. I thought that was odd. Sad and odd. There was a prolonged estrangement and then he had died and here he was, the son. At the memorial arranged and organized by my neighbor’s girlfriend. She had been here every day. I sat with my neighbor of thirty five years a few times. He was just as ridiculous and cantankerous as he had been when he was well. Then he died. Right here at home just like my mother. Then his girlfriend came and cleaned and cleaned and arranged and got it all together for a memorial. All the neighbors came and some of the former coworkers. We all took books and records and things we thought we might like. The son was there. I didn’t know what to say. I could hardly say, where have you been? Ask what happened. Who can say what happens in a family? Who can judge? I had been estranged from my own mother for a time. But when she was ill I came. I came and I stayed and I am still here. It seems like water under the bridge now. But of course there is such a longing for her, my mother.
So here was the son carting what was left of the life of the man he was born to. He had a wagon and he wheeled it back and forth from the apartment to the dumpster. I saw later. Later when I took my own garbage out on my way to pick up the little girl from school. There were photo albums and movie cd’s, boxes of those cards you save for a special occasion. Someone’s birthday or the death of a friend’s parent. The dumpster was just full to the brim with things from a lifetime. All the paper clips and odd pens and pencils, scraps of paper, odd little tchotchkes that we keep around because someone brought them from a far away trip. I have these things. We all do. We water a neighbor’s plants or feed the cat and they bring us an odd little thing that does nothing. I once had my neighbor take in my mail. I had gone to Thailand. I brought him back a cool little whistle thing from Bangkok. I had bought it in the night market. It was made by one of the Hill Tribe people. He said, what IS this? Like I was supposed to have brought him something he could understand or use. He was so ridiculous. Everyone else knows to just say thank you. Just ask how the trip was and say thank you. Geez. Here I was explaining the thing and blowing into it to show how it worked.
The dumpster full of my neighbor’s stuff made me sad and worried. I started to think again about how I don’t have any instructions written down anywhere. The stuff in the dumpster caused a whole day of existential anxiety.