In the process of packing up the house in anticipation of our move, I’ve unearthed boxes that have been stowed in the
farthest, darkest corners of the garage. Boxes that haven’t been opened in more than 17 years. The boxes contained things that belonged to my first husband – who, as I’ve written before, died of a drug overdose in a stranger’s front yard in June, 1999. A lot of photos, including his old school photos dating back to early grade school. Collector coins his dad foisted on him every year for Christmas. A video tape of his first (and only) skydive. An old blanket. Old cards. Books from his childhood. Old schoolwork. His wallet, which was on his person when he died. Belongings found in his truck after his death. Our wedding rings.
I boxed this stuff up after he died, and wrote on the boxes: “KELLY’S STUFF – SAVE FOR KEVIN.” Kevin was two when his dad died, and I believed that it was important to save mementos for Kevin because Kevin would want them someday. I assumed he would long for some connection to the man who contributed half of his DNA.
As it turns out, though, Kevin has no interest in any of this stuff. He has no memories of his biological father, and he mostly feels contempt for him, knowing that he was a wife-beater, a liar, an unapologetic manipulator, alcoholic, and drug addict who couldn’t or wouldn’t get his shit together, even for his baby son. It’s true that I’m responsible for Kevin’s perception of his father, but it’s all based on pure truth, and if I have any regrets about being brutally honest with Kevin about Kelly, those regrets have only to do with how it has possibly shaped Kevin’s self-perception, and not with anything I may owe to Kelly’s memory. I didn’t set out to poison Kelly against his dead father, but I always answered his questions with total honesty, and by the time he was an adolescent, he had a pretty clear picture of what life was like for me and for us when Kelly was alive.
After all these years, I still carry around bitterness and pain and anger towards Kelly for everything he did. I don’t dwell on it, but the hard kernel of it in my heart swells when memories come to the surface. I struggle to dredge up any happy memories (though I have no doubt there were happy times; it’s just that what good there was was way overshadowed by the ugliness that went on for so many years).
So, I don’t want his old stuff. Kevin doesn’t want it. And it occurred to me today as I tossed most of it into our rented dumpster (with the exception of the coins and the books, which are going to Goodwill) that there really isn’t anyone left who cares about these old mementos. Kelly’s biological mother is long dead, his dad is dead, and his one living brother has made not even the tiniest shred of effort to know or connect with Kevin – his nephew! the one child of his dead brother! – in the more than 17 years since Kelly died (which tells me that he also doesn’t care). The one living person who might care would be Kelly’s step-mother, but she’s got plenty of mementos already, and anyway, she cut me out of her life years ago. So into the dumpster Kelly’s stuff went.
Maybe it reveals me as cold. On some level, it strikes me as sad that a person lived for 33 years and died, and his memory is fading to black. But mostly, I feel like, well, this is what happens when you live like a son of a bitch, leaving destruction in your wake.