Dear Reader: This is the first in a series of works I will be posting reflecting back on what it was like to pack up and let go of the last home Kari and I (and Chris before he went to college) lived in with Jesi. I hope you enjoy reading them!
I cried the day I unmade her bed. It was a Sunday, cold and bleak for early May. The air was heavy and my mood added to the weight of it. I remember pressing my lips closed as if to allow any breath of air through them would be to let go entirely… and I knew I couldn’t risk that… I remember carefully, deliberately lifting first one, then a second pillow-pet off the covers. Placing them on the box opposite her bed. I remember pausing before I continued to remove the pillows, at first the one she lay her head upon and then the body pillow which lay along the wrought iron back of the day bed she had slept in. I remember feeling the soft cotton thread of the pillow, imagining I could feel her by touching where her head had been, although it was over two years since she had lain there. I touched it gently at first, then less cautiously, pressing it slightly as if I might reach her into her through the heart of the pillow. When I got no sensation in response, no satisfaction, I placed it aside and continued with the task. I reached for the soft brown throw with its red embroidered edging which covered the end of the bed. Inside my head I heard her saying it keeps my feet from hitting the cold iron bed frame mama. But something stopped me from moving it just yet so I reached instead for the colorful patchwork quilt, one of the many gifts she received from charities, this time from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a camp for kids like her who suffered from life threatening blood diseases. I picked up adjacent corners and carefully bought them together folding the quilt in half, and then again until it was folded into eights. Then I placed it in a box I had bought in for the purpose of holding her bedclothes. I paused before I went back to the foot of the bed, and running my hand along the soft fleece of the throw with red embroidering I quickly picked it up from where it hung over the wrought iron frame, folded it and lay it in the box too.
The unmaking of her bed continued like this, through tightly closed lips with slow deliberate breaths in and out through my nose, in the silence of the empty apartment. Until I came to the sheets.
Sheets became a special part of Jesi’s day when she was in hospital “recovering” from her bone marrow transplant. They had to be changed and washed every day, and because I could give her so little of what a teenager deserved I gave her two things: colorfully designed sheets, a choice of three different shades, green with lines made up of hearts and leaves and triangles; purple and blue flowers, each with long straight stalk with carefully placed leaves at regular intervals growing out of either side of the stalk; and pink with flower petals, hearts and other shape doodles, the peace sign being the most notable to me as it, together with the hearts epitomized what Jesi loved and believed in most, even before her age reached double figures. All these I had changed, taken home and washed each night with the other thing I was able to give her: colorful hospital johnnies which serendipitously seemed to match one or other of the set of the sheets. (I remembered how Jesi and I had made a big thing of which hospital johnnie to wear with which sheet set so she might look best). They too had to be changed and washed daily to prevent bacterial infections while Jesi had no functional immune system. But the sheets Jesi liked best at my apartment had stripes of yellow and orange and red squares. They seemed thin and soft and I had always wondered why she preferred them over the sturdier, crisper cotton sheets I had bought for her myself, for these too had been a gift as had the others from Childrens Hospital. It would have exasperated me to have woken with them trapped around my legs each morning the way I remembered seeing them wrapped around hers.
It was these which I now pulled back, revealing the place where she had slept. A body which no longer existed on earth.
For these, I unravelled a clean plastic garbage bag. I planned to take them back to Alan’s house where I had been staying for all the months Jesi lay in that hospital bed and for all the months since she had passed, to wash them and fold them and put them away. The life I had shared here in this apartment with Jesi and Kari had to be put away in boxes, ready to relinquish the lease on the apartment I knew I could never live in again.