Last Big Things

Across the street, a woman walking a dog with her partner called out, “You need any help?”

“Nah,” I said, my fingers clutching the mattress side strap through the plastic. “This is a matter of sliding, not lifting.”

“You sure?” she said, because after all I am a woman with gray hair and wrinkles, a woman who was dragging an extra-thick twin mattress out my front door in the early evening.

“I got this, thanks!” I said, and the mattress, succumbing, popped out the door and started bumping down and onto the sidewalk. I shoved it over to the trash cans that were already out for trash pick-up the next morning, and went back inside to pet the cat.

It was after the weekly family dinner. My grown kid and the grandchild and son-in-law had gone home, and I had gone down to the basement to slide the mattress up the cellar stairs, through the house, and out the front. I had the feeling this mattress deserved my full attention. I didn’t even tell my kid I was going to do it, though they guessed I had something planned for when they left. They would have helped. But I wanted to honor the occasion by doing it myself, and to prove to myself that I could, before I hit the age where that kind of thing could result in a broken hip.

See, the mattress was the Last Big Thing, the final important object to leave the house since my husband died, almost exactly six months to the day.

It was going out in the trash, wrapped in plastic. No one wants mattresses, even when they’re only a year old, because of the possibility of body fluids, dust mites, and bedbugs, even though the brown stain on this one was from when my dying husband spilled a bottle of Ensure, not from blood.

I had gotten rid of everything now.

It took trips to Goodwill, to the dump, to a charity called The Diaper Project that was willing to take two cases of Depends. It took hiring junk removal companies who overcharged, to take the few things that I couldn’t throw out myself or donate. I got rid of clothes, furniture, and everything we had to pick up to get him through being terminally ill during a pandemic. I used Buy Nothing to donate everything he and I had acquired that I didn’t need any more. I kept photos of him, and some of his possessions, and I missed him every day, but I was not going to try to carry the weight of all his things any more, not when it wouldn’t do any good. Not when it would make things harder down the line.

After I got the mattress out Thursday night, and after my shower, I got dressed in my jeans again and slept on top of my coverlet under a quilt.

That’s what I do when Things Get Big.

I used to sleep that way in college, when my damn fool parents let me go away when I had just turned seventeen and was already an active alcoholic, when they were getting ready for the divorce, when the world was going up in flames during the Vietnam War. It’s what I did when I was first getting sober. I slept that way while my husband was dying in our house, and while I was taking care of him, and after he finally died, too. My brain seems to need the reassurance that I can leap out of bed and be ready to run.

The mattress was gone by noon yesterday, because I have been putting some of the Big Things out once a week instead of all at once, because sanitation workers can handle all kinds of things if I don’t expect them to do it all at once.

Sleeping on top of the coverlet wasn’t because of the mattress. It was because the day before that, Wednesday, I got rid of the Next-To-Last Big Thing, and that Thing was a doozy, as my father would say.

The Very Big Next-to-Last Thing was my little car.

A car costs money just by existing, what with insurance, parking permits, registration, inspection, repairs, anger, and anxiety. It wears out the world and causes waste. It requires attention, protection, and fear. Giving it up signifies dependence. It is a Very Big Thing.

But big things come at a cost. Not too long ago, for instance, I heard a weird noise, and went out. Two guys in ski masks were removing catalytic converters on my block. I scared them away before they took mine, but I’ve had my share of break-ins. I don’t need that worry any more, and I don’t need the transportation, not really. I live in a city where the transportation is decent, and I have a senior citizen bus pass. I’m not actually too old to keep driving, not yet, but why should I wait?

Therefore, Wednesday, I drove the car to the dealership where I bought it eight years ago. I knew what its Blue Book value was, and how much CarMax had offered me for it, but I also wanted the sale to go quickly and I wanted to catch the train home. I’m not a complete patsy, mind you (I think even my father wouldn’t say “patsy.” Maybe my grandfather). When the car salesman offered me four thousand less, I told him, “That’s not acceptable.”

“Well, what do you want for it?”

I named a figure and he almost levitated from his chair, repeating my number in mock horror. I looked at him with interest. He was a neat guy with a Turkish name and a shock of graying hair.

“You could cry,” I said.

“I will,” he said earnestly, and then he said tentatively, “How much money do you need?” as if he was going to bargain me down further.

What I needed, more than money, was to get rid of my car and catch a train home, and to stop paying for insurance or worrying about an eighteen-wheeler deciding to hit every other car on the street when it got detoured, like last fall. I gave him the same figure.

The salesman looked at me. He knew and I knew that it was a reasonable figure. Then he got up and went into the back, and got me a check for the number I had told him, which was less than I could have gotten for it, but you see, if you are willing to slide instead of lift, you can move mountains. I would have been perfectly happy to donate the car to charity if he hadn’t been willing, because that would have been easier and still would have saved me money.

Facing that I’m getting older is hard, don’t get me wrong. And spending months purging everything sounds extraordinarily difficult, now that I think about it. But possessions are heavy. They are weights. Each object–my husband’s desk, my massive bureau, the vinyl gloves, the incontinence bed-pads, the electronics–carried the weight not only of physical mass but of attachment. Giving possessions away was easier, one at a time. I don’t get to avoid doing the hard things, but accepting they have to be done is freeing. A long time ago, someone told me, “The only way out is through,” and that’s when I found out that putting things off until I can do them properly takes a lot more work in the long run than facing them and doing them bit by bit.

Yeah, I’m aware I didn’t actually do it the easy way. Wrestling a mattress up the cellar stairs is dumb as hell. It was lonely, and a little scary when the thing got stuck on the landing and I was between the mattress and the banister. But I did it myself, instead of having to accept someone else doing it for me, you see. That will come. But for now, I could do it myself. Now it’s gone, the Very Last Big Thing.

Or at least, the very last big thing for now.

3 thoughts on “Last Big Things

  1. Sarah Meneely-Kyder says:

    A great read, Delia! I’ve thought of you often since Steven’s death. You sound just like you and I love you for that!
    Hope this doesn’t seem too corny.
    Wayne and I are okay. Aside from a fall on ice that fractured Wayne’s left hand (dominant) and a momentary fainting spell well up our hill on my daily walk that resulted in a bruised R hand, but no fractures. I was a bit dazed and just lay there. A single car came down the hill, and the driver stopped to assist me. He could have been Jack the Ripper. He wasn’t. Kind soul that he was, he got me into his car and drove me to my front door. He made sure that I was safely inside.
    There are some very kind people out there. You just have to fall flat on your face to find them.
    Much love,

    1. DMT says:

      Your falls sound pretty epic! I’m glad your hand was only bruised–and it’s good there was someone kind around – it’s been my experience that people are quite often kind. On the bus especially, people have offered helpful advice and assistance. The other day I was walking in the city, saw a wallet on the street, and realized after a moment of cognitive dissonance that the young man who had just passed me must have just dropped it, so I ran after him with it. He had headphones on and two other people had to get his attention to get him to stop. Poor Wayne, though! Injured hands are so frustrating. But falls are part of the deal. I wished Polly a happy seventieth birthday the other day and she wrote me, “I tried to get up from my chair a few minutes ago and ended up on the floor. (I did a good roll backward, all is well.)” So she still sounds like herself as well 🙂

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