I read an article by one of The Times-Picayune’s columnists last week, and it echoed how I feel. An elderly woman who lost everything to Katrina was talking about all of the things that she lost and misses. She said that every time she thought of more things, she would tell herself, “Release them. They’re gone.” That’s how I feel. I miss my stuff. I know that people are right when they tell me to look on the bright side—at least I have my health, my family, my job. And they're right, and I am incredibly grateful. But, at the risk of sounding selfish, sometimes I just want my stuff. I don’t care about the material stuff--furniture, cars, etc. But the sentimental stuff--I want it back.
My heart hurts over Emmeline’s belongings in particular. I think of all of the hours I spent while pregnant--washing and folding tiny baby clothes, decorating, dreaming. And looking forward to the rapidly approaching day when a baby—our baby—would arrive. I was so pleased with how her room turned out—the soft, mossy green color of the furniture, the big cushy rocking chair that my mother had turned over to me, a remnant of my own childhood. The monogrammed blanket. The silver rattle from Mexico. Now everything in the room is covered in mold and rats have taken up residence in E’s crib. Release them, they're gone.
Of course, my sadness applies to my own stuff, as well. Just when I think I’ve come to terms with everything we lost, something pops into my head that’s gone and that I want back. I told Kenny over the weekend that he could throw out of all of my books. I mean, really, what use are they to me now, when the water that was in our house for over two weeks caused the bookcase to tumble and send all of the books into the water? They’re just books, I told myself. Release them, they're gone. And then I lie in bed, thinking of the poetry journal I kept as a child. And of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. My mother gave me and my sister that book as children. My favorite was—and is—“The Bagpipe Didn’t Say No.” My childhood copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Where the Redfern Grows. Now I want to go over there—to “the house” (how strange that at one point it was “home”) and dig through the books lying in the piles of debris in our front yard, and see what, if anything can be salvaged. Release them, they're gone.
My journals. Twenty years worth of writing—mostly, I'm sure, they were the silly and most definitely not profound thoughts of my younger self, but still, a record of my past. Release them, they're gone.
Everything in my cedar chest. A small box of my grandmother’s belongings—she died two days before Emmeline was born and never got to see her. The bow bouquet from my bridal shower. The newspaper announcement for our wedding. High school yearbooks and all of their associated “best friends forever” pronouncements from long-ago friends. Particularly funny and/or sweet love letters from long-ago boyfriends. Release them, they're gone.
Photos. The photo of me and my father in the chapel where I got married, poised to walk down the aisle. I loved that photo—taken from the interior of the chapel, filled with dark wood, with the last bit of evening sun streaming into the church from behind us. The only recent pictures I had of Charles, whose sudden death still sometimes shocks me, even as the five-year anniversary of it approaches. Release them, they're gone.
Cookbooks. As stupid as that sounds, I miss my cookbooks. I loved thumbing through them, planning the dinner parties I wanted to host and the meals I wanted to prepare. All of the ragged, dog-eared cooking magazines I've been carrying around for years. I was going to make Marcella Hazan’s lemon chicken the other night and realized that I no longer have the recipe for it. Release them, they're gone.
Kenny and I have said a few times that we sometimes wish the house had just burned to the ground or been slabbed, taking everything with it, so we wouldn't have to deal with sorting through the mess left behind and saying goodbye to all of those things. I suppose if that had really happened, we’d be heartbroken. In its current state, at least we've been able to salvage some items—Christmas ornaments, a few knick-knacks, the clock that was a wedding gift that stayed on top of a table, even as the table floated around in the living room and everything else on it slid off into the water.
And although we’re lucky to have the things we've salvaged, the compulsion to salvage more is there. My baby blanket covered in mold? It’ll be fine—just wash it in bleach! The dishes my grandmother gave us as a wedding gift that were submerged in water and sewage for two weeks? They’re fine, just wash them! (But don’t eat off of them.) All of the pages of that book are stuck together? At least I’ll still have the book, even if I can’t read it. I know these thoughts are pointless, but sometimes, the urge to hold on to my possessions is strong. Release them, they’re gone.
Going into that house breaks my heart. Every time I walk in, I see something else that reminds me of our life, pre-Katrina.
It was just stuff. But it was the stuff that was important enough to me to drag around for years, from house to house to house. Although they were just possessions and didn't define me, they did, in some way, define my past and how I came to be the person I am today. And I miss them. Release them, they're gone.