The cigar box with childish treasures, under the bed, away from a little brother’s reach, a milk crate upside-down nightstand for a broke college student, one cardboard box to carry my office things out when they didn’t need me any more, dozens of boxes to move a lifetime of accumulated stuff from house to house, more each time, things and more things and ever more things. Boxes and more boxes. They haunt me.
When my mother died, all they gave me of her was a little box, about a foot square. She was living in Mexico and had decided, when they told her about the cancer, that she would be cremated. It’s a really big deal to bring a body back into the country, but if you are cremated, you’re just a carry-on. When we placed the box in the tiny, square grave next to her father and grandmother, I kept thinking: this should be more. Before we put the dirt in, we added another box, this one just about three inches across. It was her beloved cat, Prissy, who had hated everybody but my mother and who had died a while before. Her ashes went in, too, Momma’s only request.
Some months after Momma was gone, I got a box from Mexico. I couldn’t open it for nearly a year. It just sat in a corner of my living room, scaring me. In the box were some family pictures and things she had saved, like every birthday card I had ever given her, my French honor society medal, and a copy of the speech I gave to the congregation when I converted to Judaism. She took almost nothing with her to Mexico, having gotten rid of nearly everything she owned except what would fit in her car. So I was surprised by what came back. Inside that box was a little box, with a few pieces of jewelry, and her watch. I think the watch touched me the most of all. It sat on her wrist every day of her life. It was there all the years she worked as a bank teller, for little pay and less respect from the company, so she could raise her two kids. She was so beloved by her customers that they used to stand in her line while other tellers were open, just so they could give their deposits to her. The little box that holds her watch is one of my treasures.
I am surrounded by boxes… bank statements and personal financial crap that I probably don’t need. Stuff for Goodwill. Paper to recycle. Books to donate. Art junk I keep meaning to do something with. Things still not unpacked from the last move, 16 years ago. Boxes and boxes and boxes of meaningless crap. And only a few tiny boxes with anything important in them. Who will want any of it? Will it mean anything to anyone, after I’m gone?
Years and years before my mother-in-law died, she went on a binge of giving stuff away. Every time we went to visit, we left with a box, pressed upon us as we went out the door. At the time, I didn’t understand it. When we’d get in the car, I’d ask my husband, “Why is she giving everything away?” Now, I know. She wanted it, any of it, to matter. She wanted to matter.
So, if I start handing out weird crap at random, just take it, okay?
When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds,
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.
You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.
~ Merrit Malloy