KEEPSAKES

The saltwater stung my lips as I sped down the highway, edgy from the bitter gas station coffee I’d pounded throughout the ride, rushing to meet the body of a man who was already dead. My mother beat me to the coroner’s office.

“You don’t want to see that,” she told me. “His body looked so small. It didn’t even look like him,” she said.

His apartment was littered with sentimentalities: a box of old photos scattered across the dining table; a hideous porcelain lamp with a base shaped like a bowl of fruit that had once graced the apartment he shared with my mother; the dishes from my parents’ marriage, an institution that had been abandoned fifteen years prior. I took a three tiered black metal basket and the black bear statue I gave him for Father’s Day when I was six.

As we drove the cat to the shelter, I sat in silence. My mother tried to comfort me with all the reasons that this was the best decision, but we both knew that this dusty drive to the shelter was a funeral march. The old tortoiseshell, weary and violent after being neglected and abused by a decaying alcoholic, was not likely to be adopted. Her name was Stripe. She was my seventh birthday gift from him, and twelve years later, we were dropping her at her execution.

That evening, we returned to our cheap motel. As we pushed the door open, the radio played a song in Spanish–the lyrics were about loving the dead.

The first night in the motel, some men were ogling my mother and I as we moved our things into the room, and the anger inside of me flared something fierce. I nearly started a fight when I asked if they had something better to do than stare at us.

“Honey, I can’t protect you,” she told me, as if it was news.

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POSTSCRIPT: WHEN YOU’VE RETURNED

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My first night in Sacramento is spent lying awake in the dark listening to the rain fall. My legs keep getting caught in the sheets; the sound is comforting, but I cannot sleep. Everything feels wrong. I’ve lost even more weight in the last two months; the clothes in the closet were already slightly too big, but now everything is unwearable. When I last left this place, the heat was still in the hundreds. Now, a deluge.

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