I suppose you could say that phase one is completed or that it is the end of an era. The dumpster is full to the brim and only still sitting in the backyard because of a torrential downpour.
The wet driveway could not stand the weight of all those memories.
I can still see my daughter pleading for the porcelain doll that is in that dumpster. A small supplicant, “Oh please Mommy, she is so beautiful.” Now parted from her hair, her clothes mildewed, she is a forgotten doll. And the person who pleaded for her has a far more nuanced grasp of what is beautiful. Still she was abandoned, wrapped in a quilt and left in a trunk that staved in, in a shed that collapsed in a long, wet winter. I left her there seven years ago in what seemed at the time a safe place.
Other forgotten and worn out things were left there in the shed.
“Don’t throw out Georgie Amy.” That is what Sarah said when I told her I had found him in relatively good condition. He is one of those cloth monkeys that you could buy anywhere for a few dollars, with long blue and yellow striped legs and arms and brown corduroy overalls. She had carried him everywhere and tended him with stitches for imagined injuries; one of his overall straps undone in what I think was the hip-hop style of the day. She must have dragged him around nearly into adolescence. He had survived. In my chattering mind, I wondered why. He was not specially wrapped and placed in a trunk.He simply sat on the peak of the doll house roof. He was no porcelain doll. He was made of fabric and the woes and weather could have so easily taken him down. But there he was sitting on the dollhouse tucked under the crumpled roof of the crumpled shed.
The doll house survived too. It needs considerable attention and repair, but it is in one piece. I have dragged it from house to house. My father made it for me.
My ex-husband, with whom I am sharing this shed emptying chore, and I see things differently. He believes that things happen suddenly, the roof falls, the mower stops running; the computer is suddenly running slow. I think they proceed in tiny increments, the result of a million small in-attentions.
Isn't that what neglect is, cumulative inattention. Moments piled on moments of looking the other way, noticing something else, the mind’s magician drawing your eye away leaving a reality unseen. And so life goes on and Georgie Amy sits on the doll house under a roof that slowly, inch by inch, fails until one day in a storm it falls.
The grape and wisteria vines have helped it along. They have escaped into the tree tops and coiled their branches on top of the roof. The flowerbeds around the house with their loose and welcoming soil have played host to many black walnut and redbud saplings, all too close to the house; all needing to be removed, some ten feet tall. Nature has reconstructed this small holding in the absence of my annual housekeeping and she is riotously able.
I get called into the thicket between the other two sheds on the property. It is an unholy alliance of privet, honeysuckle and wild roses with an old picnic table rotting under it. The vines are slippery and prickly and easily defy my efforts. My friend reminds me that gloves would relieve me of the small wounds and frustrations the thicket so generously offers, but I usually wade in on my way to get a tool from the shed for some other task and cannot resist poking at it with my clippers, like popping bubble wrap it satisfies some ill-defined urge. One day I will put on my gloves and clear it out entirely.
The pergola is free of its choking burden of vines. No doubt they will return. But for now they are small tangled foot notes and the structure is calling for paint. Time passes.
The old couch that the dogs slept on for seven years in my absence is in the dumpster. They weren't permitted when I was here. That was my place, where I slept through evening television after a day’s work, my family taking bets on how long I would stay awake. The two remaining old dogs need reminding that the couch that has replaced it is mine and not theirs. A pile of books and an end table perched on it, when I go to bed are enough to make this point with them. The books are right, it takes about a two weeks for a dog and maybe a person too, to form a new habit. Now they are content sleeping on the sheepskins on the floor.
Birdie, one of the dogs follows me from shed to dumpster to shed and back all day long. She is ancient. I have nicknamed her Skeletor. She has that skinny misshapen look that some dogs get near the end. If I had any courage I would help her pass over, but she is dogged in her task. She pays mightily for it, as I have cursed at her on more than one occasion when I have nearly tripped over her carrying an armload of moldy memories. But she has also given me the chance to chatter to her and to myself as I travel back and forth. I’m not sure why she is doing this, loyalty maybe, but sometimes I think that it is how she occupies her fading mind with purpose.
So it is all in disarray. The drip, drip , drip of inattention has created a kind of fertile chaos in the natural world and a musty, moldy sludge in the shed and house. And it all goes into the big orange dumpster that sits in the driveway in the rain.
Two tons of things we really never needed. Two tons of times gone by. Memories of sweet faces.
But here is good news. There is a garden where the old shed used to be. Wendell Barker came and rolled up the crumpled shed with is bob cat and put it in his truck one night. Four yards of good compost/topsoil mixture arrived and filled the empty space. In just two weeks, the tomato plants have doubled in size. The climbing rose on the front porch had regained some space and sun and bloomed.
I guess it is now and always has been the axiom, the guiding principle of my small place in this vast, truly endless existence, that attention to detail, to the beauty and the chaos we all swim in, can repair neglect. That is why in the end, I do not lose heart. That is how I occupy my chattering mind with purpose. This is why there are now ten jars of dill pickles waiting in the frig.