Friday, August 8, 2008

**Warning: This post is kinda sad and way personal**

As I slowly pack up my apartment, I am trying to purge anything that is not necessary. I have historically had trouble getting rid of things that I think might be useful someday, such as the box full of old phone cords, cable connectors, AV cables, an AC adapter for a CD player that is no longer in my possession, the stack of 20% off coupons from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and a drawer full of really old, crusty make-up.

Last night, I tackled the three drawers of my nightstand. I don’t think I’d opened any of the drawers since I moved to Baltimore last September, so I psyched myself up to toss all of its contents. The top drawer was no problem, expired Tylenol, receipts from the past year from Safeway, the Long Term A lot at BWI, and the gas station around the corner. I was feeling great. Second drawer, not as much to purge there. I discovered the past three seasons of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD, a box of band aids, and a book. I packed those in appropriate boxes in my spare room, which is now serving as a packing haven full of boxes, bubble wrap, and miles of packing tape. I was sure the bottom drawer was either empty or full of useless junk as the top drawer was.

But when I opened this bottom drawer, I saw a stack of paper. On top was a legal pad full of my dad’s distinctive scrawl. It was some notes he had written for me while I was job hunting the summer after I graduated from Scripps. Suddenly, memories of that summer flooded back to me. The day after I arrived home, a brand new graduate thinking I was prepared for adult life, my mom took a vacation. She went to San Francisco for three days to visit friends. Doesn’t sound like a very big deal, except that that week was the first week for my dad’s new chemotherapy regimen, which meant helping him into the car at 7am, sitting with him for the five hours he had to sit in the infusion room and distracting him from what I now understand to be the excruciating pain that cancer patients feel during chemo. The rest of the day was spent making him as comfortable as possible, bringing him meals, and trying to ignore the fact that we all knew he was dying.

I didn’t realize until that week how hard the past year and a half must have been for my mom. I knew that having cancer had taken over my dad’s life, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it had taken over hers too.

I spent the rest of the summer interviewing for jobs all over the great state of California. I made three trips to San Francisco, four to Los Angeles and two to San Diego. In between, I did everything I could to mentally escape from what was happening at home. It was the only time in my life that I wanted to go out every night, the only time that I wanted to be with a large group of people. I partied way too hard, refusing to admit that my escape tactics were not working. I started my first job at the beginning of September. I went home as often as I could to spend time with my family, knowing that soon we wouldn’t be a whole family anymore. When he died two months later, I thought none of us would ever recover. That was four years ago and I’m finally beginning to come out of the fog. And finally, sometimes, I am able to smile when memories of him pop into my head instead of cry. Like whenever I look across a parking lot, having forgotten where I parked, and I see my vanity plate “Go Mouse,” I smile and can almost hear him yelling it across the soccer field when I was five, or when I took SATs, or when I got my first real job.

Sitting there last night on my bedroom floor, I read my dad’s notes, his interview tips that have become second nature after four bouts of job searches. I don’t need to keep that legal pad, but I have a feeling that in every nightstand I have, long into adulthood and old age, it will sit quietly in the bottom drawer. And every time I move, I will be reminded of that summer and maybe eventually, I will sit on my bedroom floor and smile.

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