As desperation mounted in the search of Where Can’t Biff and Bash Reach Yet, the hutch felt like a safe haven. Shelves at my eye level, and a long wide ledge higher than that for sticking the drumsticks and plastic tools they use on each other’s heads. Candles were shoved in there, writing utensils, sharp things and long things that could become weapons. Even Blondie started shoving toys up there, or asking Bo and I to stick such’n’such race car “way up high where my brothers can’t get it.”
Then my boys discovered the joy in ladder-building. Nothing is safe on any edge ANYwhere.
Thank God wee arms can’t reach too far. To create more space in the depths of the hutch, I dump piles of papers and old toys from the hutch shelf onto the table. Blondie is happily surprised in finding an old magnetic dress-up set she thought lost months ago. Then: “Mommy, what’s this?” She holds out a blank card.
Cheery thing. Blue-white check, two pastel, happy owls sharing a sparkly red heart. “Whoo’s nicer than grandparents like you?” “Nobody, that’s whoo!”
I take it, primly set it to the side. “It’s nothing.”
Bash notices. “Owls! Two owls! They are hugging!” I rip it from his hands before he can bend it. Primly set it aside again. Glare at my son for daring to bend a nothing.
Biff looks up from the Tinkerbell math game to see what the fuss is all about. “W.H. O. O. Spells? Spell?” Very keen to learn, that one.
I have to answer, don’t I? “What’s an owl say?”
Bash, voice high and syrupy-sweet: “Hoot hoot!”
“That’s what it spells.” Which of course it doesn’t. I look at the garbage can, the card, the garbage…
Blondie goes on tip-toe to give the card another once-over. “But what’s it for?”
“Valentine’s Day.” I can’t help but look outside at all the raking we’ve yet to do. Now that Bo found some kid-sized rakes, the kids can work with me for a change and clean up our yard before November gives out.
“What’s Valentine’s Day?”
“You know what it is, Blondie.” Why am I getting so heated about this? But I am. I snatch a cookbook from Bash when his only crime is touching the cover.
“Why was it in there?” She asks, pointing at the hutch.
“One. Two. Three hearts.” Biff pokes the card with his pudgy finger.
How did he get it down?!
I yank it away and just…hold it.
“It’s Thanksgiving time, not Valentine’s Day time.”
“So why do we have that?” She points to the card. The entire planet is fixated on this one card and the weight of this, of IT, almost makes me answer:
Mommy got your grandma and grandpa a card for Valentine’s Day, but forgot to send it, because Mommy always forgets things, forgets little things and big things, and then Grandpa died. So now she can’t send it, because it says ‘grandparents,’ and the merest mention of Grandpa makes Grandma and Mommy cry, and we don’t want to do that to Grandma, do we? Yes, Mommy’s crying, let her cry.
Bash shoves Biff off the chair for a shot at the Tinkerbell math game. The distraction gives me just enough time to dodge the falling weight and say, “Because we can’t send it until another Valentine’s Day.”
Satisfied, Blondie returns to her prodigal toy. I scold Bash, he whines, “Go on timeout! Go to my room!” and he does so with the flair of a teenage girl. Biff discovers a raisin I missed in yesterday’s clean-up and tries to eat it.
I know I didn’t answer the question.
Hell, I can’t even answer the question for myself.
Why keep it? Why not throw it away?
I see that card, and I see the last chance I had at sharing a bit of love, of appreciation, with my father before his heart failure. I see the last chance stuck in a pile of papers like it was nearly two years ago. It was lost and forgotten then. I seem to lose it now, on purpose, forget it on purpose, just to remind myself of what I didn’t do.
My grief demands strange pieces to linger in the here and now. My father’s Facebook feed still shows up online. His handwriting on random post-it notes in books I borrowed long ago, or that Mom’s returned since then. His voice in a recordable storybook. I cry whenever my daughter opens it. I sometimes wish my sons would erase it, cast his ghost out of this house. Yet how dare I wish to destroy what is a warm reminder of happiness from my daughter’s past. How dare I.
I shove the card into the drawer with other cards—forgotten baby congrats, retirement wishes. Out of sight, out of mind. But never out of me.