The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.
I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.
There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.
That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.
She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.
I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.
In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.
That nothing lasts forever.
I live in the only house our little family owned.
After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.
“I want to keep our house, daddy.”
Okay, son. Okay.
My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.
I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.
I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.
I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.
Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.
Our triggers aren’t always predictable.
That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.
We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.
Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.
Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.
Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.
School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!
Our hometowns are prisons.
Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!
Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.
When people die.
Nothing lasts forever.
When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.
It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.
Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.
Then it was gone.
I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”
Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.
We were so young.
Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.
We had no idea that life was just happening.
What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.
It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.
It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.
It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.
It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.
It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.
I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.
She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.
There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.
I pulled out old toys. I remember these.
Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.
In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.
Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.
I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.
You don’t miss the things, really.
You don’t even long for the past.
But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.
All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.
This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.
So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.