All of it is gone now, because of my aunt.
There was a pile of hats that got bigger each year, starting with the baseball cap I bought in Martha’s Vineyard back in ’01, to the cowboy hat that my brother gave me when I was in the hospital three years ago, to the Colbert Report hat — signed by Stephen Colbert himself — that a friend of a friend got for me.
There were photos, some of them stuffed into an oval off-white and colonial blue box, dating back to when my kids were in preschool. There were broken earrings, loose coins and a dead energy efficient light bulb that I have no idea how to dispose of.
All of it is gone from my dresser, because of my aunt. Aunt Nancy died last month after a brief yet harrowing battle with a rare form of gallbladder cancer that took her from us in just six weeks. And it left my family feeling like we’d just been hit by a tank or one of those Storm Chaser mobiles that can withstand 250-mile-an-hour winds.
But it also left us feeling as though we had no control over anything anymore. I’d beaten cancer. Why did it have to take her?
Overwhelmed with grief and survivor’s guilt, I decided to concentrate on one small area. Just one small space that I could control and make a little better because anything more seemed too difficult.
So I put the hats in my closet. I cleaned out the baskets, and threw the stuff inside away or moved it elsewhere. I organized the box of greeting cards, and filed all those pictures in my photo collection except for one, a picture of my son’s friend at age four riding his bicycle in our driveway. I gave that one to his parents at our soccer game this weekend.
Finally, I took the bag of rocks that I’d collected this summer at Sunset Beach in Cape May and poured them into the jar I’ve been filling since I had cancer three years ago. Every summer, I add a new set of smooth white, orange and gray rocks that we collect on the beach with the idea that I will keep on filling up jar after jar during the long life I hope to live.
As I poured the bag in, down to the last rock, I realized that I’d just filled my first jar. I placed it back on the dresser, which I dusted, and stepped back to admire my work. For the first time since, oh, we moved here, my dresser was neat and organized. And for a moment, I felt like everything is going to be okay.