As the car pulled away from the loading zone Jacob was in business mode. My attention was divided. Jacob’s voice was stern and flowed from one conversation to another. When he wasn’t talking he was texting. I’m a successful professional organizer and yet I’ve never been as glued to my phone as my brother.
My brother was talking about business deals, the stock market, his golfing plans as soon as the weather improved. The grieving process had started for me. I had flown from my comfortable immaculate apartment in Savannah to still-chilly-not-Mother’s Day-yet Syracuse to mourn my dead sister and clean out her 3 bedroom house.
Jacob looked over at me occasionally. He furrowed his brow. Did he not recognize me? Did he expect me to be as addicted to my phone as he was? Did he realize what he was avoiding? I exhaled loudly and cleared my throat.
“I’m glad you’re here. I’m sorry I’m so busy right now. I have the funeral arrangements to deal with too.” His mostly salty gray hair glittered in a ray of sunshine through the window.
What is wrong with you? When did you become so insensitive and unaware of your actions? I screamed these words in silence. I stared blankly at him.
You get 5 points for asking that. My lips curled into the softest of smile. We use to play a silly game of giving each other points as proof we cared or were having fun with each other.
“I’m ready to go there and start working.” I wasn’t going to fight with him while his driver, Alexander, listened.
We pulled up to the house we grew up in. Jules had bought it in 2000. Our mother’s tulips still came up in the spring. My favorite colors were the pink and yellow ones. I’d collect a few and add them to the daffodils that came up near our porch. I didn’t think I’d be coming back to this house. I didn’t think I’d be coming back; how do I do this without her greeting me?
Alex stopped the car at the end of the driveway. He came around to my door and opened it then fetched me my bags from the trunk. I smirked making sure my brother saw my impressed expression. Jacob needs to learn some gentlemanly cues from Alex. I stared at the precipice of our home 50 feet from me. I started walking towards her, towards my past and only faintly heard my brother call that he’d pick me up at 6pm for dinner.
One foot in front of the other. My vision was blurry from crying.
Here I am, tell me everything.
“She’s dead,” he said in a numb tone. He had prepared himself for this and knew what he had to ask me to do.
I stared into the picture, now a memorial, on the folders. My vision blurred as tears rolled down my cheeks. My promises to reconnect with her were empty now.
“When did she…” I took a steadying breath, “when did this happen?”
“Two days ago, we think. The place was so full of stuff that they had to bring in a dumpster to remove the body.” His words stung so much because he didn’t understand her illness.
I wiped my tears and massaged my right temple. My sister was dying in a room and no one noticed for 48 hours.
“You’ll come clean it out so we can sell it, right?” There it was, the sentence I knew was coming.
“Please. We need you here. You’re the only one who knows how to do this. She’d want you to do it.”
I exhaled. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath.
“I’ll let you know when my flight lands.”
It was going to be my most challenging organizing project yet.
I would learn her secret in the process.
March 6, 2015 – I died today. An old Polish neighbor we had growing up once told me in broken English, the moment we are born, the way we die has already been determined. Well screw that! I want a do-over. I’m in a void, not quite there, not quite here. It doesn’t really matter how it happened. What matters is that I never got to tell her.
I was taming the paper tiger when my phone rang. Filing is the task everyone hates. You’re either paper or you’re electronic. When processing the mail or filing you’re weeding out the bills and important tax documents and making sure each decision you make is the right one. Second guessing is the bumper-to-bumper traffic of organizing. I’ve always been a paper person myself. I was feeling accomplished in the moments before the call. My folders were organized by color: red are bills to be paid, with the due date scheduled on the calendar. Green is banking statements and financial documents. Blue is client lists and correspondence. Yellow is event planning and marketing materials. I was holding a picture of us taken in our childhood bedroom when my phone started ringing. My vision was glued to the background of the image. We’d been getting along well most of the day until I couldn’t find a book I wanted to read. My side of the room was always neat, clean and well-organized. Her side was a tornado after an earthquake had hit. My face was sour and tight with subdued rage. Her eyes were puffy and her nose red. She’d screamed and cried. I was angry because I couldn’t find what was mine in her mess. We had an arm around each other and our expressions declared it was forced. I had 2 more rings left until the call would be sent to voicemail. Jacob was waiting for me to answer. He wouldn’t leave a voicemail. I placed the picture in front of the folders. I couldn’t decide which folder she belonged in. I made a silent promise to call her and remind her about that day, this time hopefully only with shared laughter.