Carrying Him With Us

Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it. L. M. Montgomery

“But what will you do with Jimmy’s room?” my friend asked. “Box everything and store it? Recreate it in the new house?”

When Dan broached the idea of moving to Lake Tahoe with Molly and then with me, one of his first questions was, “How will you feel about packing up Jimmy’s room?” Independently, Molly and I both arrived at the same answer. If we had space in the new house, we would recreate Jimmy’s room. But if we didn’t, we would scatter his belongings like ashes throughout the house. Bookcase and desk here, dresser there, posters and bobbleheads in the bonus room.

Our broker and his house stager insisted we eliminate the evidence of our lives in preparation for the listing photos. Clear the shelves. Remove all but a few of the art and framed pieces throughout the house. Stash the smaller pieces of furniture. Thin the books. Take down Bob Marley in Jimmy’s room and the pictures of him playing sports. Pack up his knickknacks and anything on the dresser that might prove tempting for small pairs of hands touring the house with their parents.

After two frenzied weeks of clearing clutter in preparation for listing the house while hunting for a new home, the skyrocketing prices and limited inventory in Incline Village put an end to our shared vision of a cozy cabin in the mountains. But the traces of our conversation remain. It was a gift to discover the three of us were of like mind … feeling okay about leaving the last house Jimmy lived in, the one where he drew his final breath. Realizing that we carry him with us wherever we go.

Despite deciding to stay put, I still haven’t mustered the energy to put everything back out. Yet I don’t feel Jimmy’s presence any less as I sit in his quiet, sunny room working. It’s enough to see Brian, his regal three-foot-high stuffed Emperor penguin keeping watch on the bed and the shiny red and blue soccer, basketball and baseball trophies on the bookshelf.

Jimmy was a deliberate soul, much like my father, and chose each of his possessions carefully. Bored on a phone call one morning, I found myself inventorying his books, remembering when and how he had acquired each one. A panoply of titles and subjects from George Carlin to Harry Potter to Shakespeare and Ayn Rand. Intermingled with the books he read on his own are the ones we read together – all three of E.B. White’s books (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swans), The World of Pooh, tattered copies of the Paddington Bear books, carefully preserved from my childhood.

In the early months after Jimmy died, I went from the surreal feeling that he was just away at college or upstairs napping in his room to the harsh reality of knowing he was gone forever. But over time, Jimmy has come back to me. As the rabid intensity of my grief has eased, I’m less afraid to conjure him up … as a toddler, squatting on his spindly sturdy legs collecting tadpoles from a black water pond. Playing Super Mario Bros in the bonus room of our Oregon house, reclined in the comfy chair he helped choose. Pitching for his sixth grade baseball team. These memories have become mine again. I will forever be hungry for more, but I am comforted by those I have.

As his life drew to an end, Jimmy told me, “I look at older people, and I think you are lucky to have lived for so long.” There were days I’ve thought he was wrong. That this life is too hard, too gut-wrenchingly painful, too unfair to want to stick around for. But like so much of what Jimmy taught me, I’ve learned he was right about this, too.

You can never have enough of this world. The velvet night skies shimmering with starlight. The coyotes singing to each other in the field next to our house. The neighborhood dogs joining the chorus, and Buster barking his response. The imprint of a bear paw on the hiking trail. The peppery taste of the basil still growing in our garden. The crisp smell of fresh mint flourishing next to it. The tears I still shed. The uncertainty and wonder of this sweet life. The memories of a boy who loved it dearly and is here with me still.

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