She sits on the bed, heavy, filling the room with her scent. The smell is almost too much. Dust, mold, cobwebs, the must of a room that's been unused for so long. I can't see her, but I can feel her presence. Her panic weighs down on me as I go through bag upon bag bearing warnings for my grandfather with labels scrawled half crazed not to touch, not to toss. Bag upon bag of pages ripped out of magazines covered in images of puppies on porcelain plates, ceramic angels with hymns painted across their wings, envelopes with telephone numbers to televangelists and estranged family members, pictures ripped off of "have you seen me" fliers in hopes that she can reunite a missing child with their parents, coupons meant for me that she saved 10 years ago and lost in the mess... well meant gifts for her grandchildren, household items still in their packaging waiting to be placed in hope chests for her granddaughters... baby clothes for grandchildren and great-grandchildren she'd never had the joy of snuggling close and tickling under their chins. More and more bags... bags of mending, bags of soiled clothes, bags of crayons broken in twos and threes, bags of homework she'd kept from her children and her grandchildren she'd housed and raised. Then there are the boxes... Bibles that needed repair, shoes without mates, pans missing handles, Tupperware with holes burnt into the sides and discolored from over microwaving. enough blankets scattered across the room to keep an entire shelter warm. Dispersed throughout are toys and small trinkets, memories of the childhoods of my Uncles and Mother. Christmas gifts she'd intended to give the year she passed. Potting soil littering the carpet and windowsills from seedlings jostled off their ledge and out of their planters.
The emotional tidalwave that comes with the responsibility can be overwhelming. I can understand why I'm not getting any help. I can't understand why they're not speaking up, why I don't hear even one excuse as to why they're not here by my side FACING her. She is there with me as I choke on the dust and as I wipe the cobwebs from my arms. She is there as I wipe the sweat from my brow. We don't have to speak to one another to know the other is there. I don't have to explain my actions to her as she's already listening to my actions. She doesn't want me in that room just as much as I don't want to be in there.
As much as she hates it, I have to do this. Not out of loyalty or responsibility to her children, not even to save my Grandfather the trouble, but more for me to be able to understand her. To try and decode all the scraps of unintelligible writing written at 3 in the morning on the edges of old newspaper after having dreams of Jesus walking through mountains. To try and make sense of the neglect she showed her body and her house. Although I was the oldest of her eight grandchildren, I had the least time and patience because I had seen her during her moments of clarity... I KNEW her and didn't like seeing how she could just throw her health and sanity out the door because one day Jesus would heal her. I feel guilty knowing that my cousins and Sister didn't know the woman I once knew. Ashamed that I couldn't let her speak to me a little longer because I was done having that conversation with her, the one where I was living in sin or the other one where she couldn't agree with how I chose to worship God or worse yet, how I could even consider walking the path of Buddhism and still claim to have accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I remember the hurt in her eyes when I laughed at her after she realized I still wore my "om" necklace after years earlier my Mother whispered to her that she was sure it was just a phase and not to get too worked up over it. I'm sure she was delighted to find hand carved statues of buddha himself whenever she came down to sneak up on us. I always knew when she'd come down while we were out of the house because every last one of them would be turned facing the wall.
While I have many moments where all I can do is just stop my progress and walk away to clear my mind of all the many emotions that become cluttered, this is my last chance to find her amidst the mess. The last chance I have to feel her eyes shine on me when I DO find something of familial value. Photos of her that I'd never seen before when she was 20 and life still had so much in store for her, music box "radios" that perhaps my mother might have twisted and turned the knobs of much as my own Son does now, dolls lovingly sewn back together after years of affectionate snuggling and abuse, and a treasure trove of cards, letters and "baby's first..." booklets. That's when it all becomes worth it. That's when all the madness and cacophony of misunderstood ramblings all come together and it all just makes since for the first time in my life.