Thursday, May 21, 2015


For nearly 20 years, my parents kept my brother in a cardboard box in the garage, on a shelf in the tool cabinet next to a battery charger. In a strange way, one hardly knew he was there while at the same time his presence was felt every hour of every day. Or maybe it was not his presence that was felt, but the lack of his presence. Something was there and gone at the same time; always there, always gone.

Sometimes, my mother would tell my father that we should take him somewhere – somewhere that he loved – but those conversations went nowhere, for silence seemed better, more bearable, and so that would be the end of it for maybe a year or two. During that time, I grew older, got married, had children of my own, and sometimes I would tell my mom that we should really do something, that the time was long past but the case still appropriate, and she would speak to my dad again, but the box would stay there, in the cabinet, on the shelf, just next to the charger for when the car battery went dead.

In 1995, my father died, and the mortuary sent his ashes in a box to the house, just as they had done with my brother. My mother put this box in the drawer of a file cabinet in the bedroom that used to belong to my brother, but was now used as a guest room, although no guest, as far as I am aware, had ever stayed there. Mostly, my mom used it for a sewing room, and as a Christian Science reading room. My father and my brother were the same now, both there and not there, and the not part of the thing made the there part all the sharper.

I visited often. And sometimes I brought up the matter of the boxes. Now we can get this done, I said.

Get this done? she echoed.

We can take take them someplace, I said. Together, now. Someplace they liked in life.

I don’t know, she said. It’s not the same now.

It seems the same to me, I said. More the same than ever.

She told me then about Mary Baker Eddy and the philosophy of Christian Science. She said that life, illness and death were illusions, not real, and that there was nothing in those boxes, nothing at all.

But they seemed too heavy, to me, to be nothing.

Five years passed and many things changed, people came and went, and I moved back into my parents house to take care of my mother after she developed cancer and then Alzheimer’s disease.

She died in early January of the year 2000. She was 75 years old. My father had been 80, my brother 30. A small funeral was arranged in the chapel of the same mortuary where my father and brother had ended up. It was quiet, but nice. And after the funeral,  the mortuary sent a  box containing her ashes to the house.

I placed them together on the dining room table. Three boxes. One hundred eighty-five years worth of ashes. Three boxes of nothing but illusions.

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