May 1, 2012 — I have lived the life of someone else for nearly a decade. That life was Emma’s, organizing her finances, her pension and Social Security, her doctors, her medications, her healthcare aides and communicating with her friends: not much time for recreation. Emma lived her own life – fashion model, secretary, toy poodle breeder, artist, hostess, traveler. Now she is gone – off on some journey, and I experience the sensation of awakening slowly from a dream.
Thank goodness my friends and family are around to connect me from the past perfect (before Emma became ill) to the past tension (Emma’s protracted illness) to the present – oh, wait, I don’t have to take Jetta out, prepare for an aide to come this morning, put medications into a little dish, launder Emma’s bed sheets.
I have one close family member linking me all the way back to the far distant past, to my Mattel employee days of the late 1960s when I was listening to Joan Baez and Beatles music. That is my daughter, Kellie. Then Emma was not much older than Kellie is now. Kellie was younger than my two granddaughters are now. I used to bring her home toy samples. Gentle Ben was her favorite. I worked in Mattel’s Dolls and Hot Wheels Product Planning Division and then later in sales. In sales, one of my roles was dressing the Barbies, preparing them as models and for their glam shots for the sales catalog the buyers from department stores such as Sears would see. As an adult with hands the size of palmetto palm fronds, I begrudgingly bent, twisted and stuffed those Barbie arms into the sleeves of those tiny little dresses. At least it was easy to figure out where the dress went and where their shoes went.
Today, department stores, offering their quality apparel, furniture, fine linens, china, crystal, silver and other items, the stuff of Emma’s generation, sold by refined sales personnel, are relegated to the past. Big box stores replace them, vending their cheesy wares, rung up by inconvenienced employees.
Just so, there was the fifteen-dollar build-it-yourself bookcase Kellie and I bought in the flat box at Walmart the other day, while she was staying with me after Emma’s funeral. For something made out of cardboard, like the backing you’d find on a writing tablet, and particleboard, the box sure was heavy for having only three shelves and being as tall as a five-year-old. Kellie carried it for me. She brought it into the house and we took the pieces out of its box. We sat there in the middle of the living room floor staring vacuously at boards, piles of little screws and nails all around us and an instruction sheet of drawings only, no text, clearly missing the step 1 1/2. My friend Jackie called. She had recently restored the historic building she bought downtown, almost single-handedly, with a little help from her dad. “Do you mind if I come over?” she said. “Come quickly,” I implored. She facilely laid all the pieces out in order, pointed to what got screwed or nailed to what, and I followed suit, hammering and screwing everything together with the hammer and screwdriver from the toolbox my stepfather gave Emma when they got divorced in their 70s.
After assembling the bookcase, we indulged in piles of crackers, gourmet cheeses, gallons of wine and protracted conversation.
Midway through the wine, Kellie showed us her series of iPhone photos, demonstrating that she is much better, with the help of my two granddaughters (The Three Kellies), at arranging “Pole Barbies” than bookcase parts, uninspired by Miley Cyrus’s pole dance at the Teen Choice Awards. Utilizing the girls’ vast Barbie collection, they had placed their undressed Barbies around and among their staircase spindles and lounging along the upstairs banister, in provocative positions.
Ah, the pleasures. Life goes on.