there at the back of the closet

by bam

every time i reach in my closet, there it is. often when i reach for one of the ones underneath, it falls on my head.
it’s the first thing i saw, draped over the back of the last chair he sat in, that cold snowy night when we walked back into the house. without him.
really without him.
forever without him.
and there it was, draped. flung. i could see–still can–the cock of his wrist as he flung it. he was just off to tennis the morning the pain came to his chest, to his heart.
my mama, a long-time knitter, of socks when he was off in the army, and blankets for each of her babies, and that sweater for him, for the love of her life, she’d made it. knit, purled, and cabled. i remember the cable was rather a triumph.
and i remember, that night when he died in the midst of a blizzard, the first thing i did when i walked in the house was i reached for the sweater. reached for its cables. its V-neck in red, cream and blue. i took it and wrapped it, and i dropped on the couch.
i had no interest in breathing. did not want, for a minute, to ever take in a breath from a world he wasn’t a part of. i sat there, wrapped in the yarns of my mother and father, for as long as i could. then finally i had to. had to take in a breath, fill my lungs with air that felt missing of something. something essential.
ever since, that sweater, the soft woolen yarns that wrapped me, that shielded, kept me warm as i shook in the wake of unstoppable grief, i’ve carried it with me. moved it from apartment to apartment, to house and to house and to house.
now it sits, at the back of my closet, just out of my reach. but not wholly. if i stand on my toes, and then on a shoebox as well, i can swipe. barely graze it. make it fall on my head.
mostly, it’s just there for the glance of my eye. i wouldn’t be home without it. but now, now that the grief has been washed like a stone at the cusp of a river, now that it isn’t so sharp, not so rough, not so riven with crags, i needn’t grab it and wrap it and rock under the warmth of it. the spell of it, really.
but i do need to know it’s there at the back of my closet.
it keeps the soul of my papa there in the thread of my everyday.
i keep bits of the people i’ve loved all over my house. there’s my grandma lucille in the very top drawer of my dresser. there are her black leather gloves. and maria, my landlady-sister-my teacher of so many things, she is flung over a chair right here by my side, in the old square of lace i always leave out. just because. because there’s no point to put it away.
i have a friend whose mother just recently died. she keeps all her letters right there in the drawer where she keeps all her bills. she needs them nearby. for now, at least.
it’s what we all do. we stitch our whole house with knots of our past, of our heart, of the communion of souls no longer among us.
today in the church i grew up in, today in the church a part of me loves while the other part of me is rather not so enchanted, today is all souls’ day, which really is back-up to the day just before, to the day of all saints.
the souls, apparently, are not yet of the same status. the saints get the first of november. the souls get the second. officially, the souls are defined as the faithful departed. they’ve not proven their sainthood.
oh, all right, then, i’m not going to argue. i am merely the messenger here, letting you in, on the way things are working.
the point is, today is the day for remembering. well, i remember all of the time. because i set up my house like some sort of history trap. it’s a minefield of memories. and i like it that way.
i like to be reaching for that old irish fisherman’s knit. and have my papa fall on my head. or at least the arms of the sweater he wore as he hollered and ran for the net. we can all hear it now, how he let out that shout that made you think someone had died. only it was just him, and the ball that he narrowly missed, before awaking the dead, had any been buried just underneath the court where he played.
i take one look at that sleeve, or the V-neck, and it all rushes back. the good and the bad. the times when my dad in that sweater made me squirm, roll my eyes, want to hide, slink out of my seat. and the time when that sweater, without my sweet papa, made me weep.
it’s all in a swirl. it’s the sweet and the sad.
that’s why the world comes in octaves. our hearts play the notes, low ones and high ones. but without the old knitted sweater, there at the back of the closet, i might not remember the song.
and that would be an unbearable silence.

do you lace your house with snippets of those you have loved? do you find yourself reaching in a drawer for a trinket, stumbling first on something you stop and hold onto, just for a minute, a something you cling to, a something from someone no longer? how do you honor the souls of the ones who you loved?