By: Kendra L. Vanderlip
1. A small gold pocket watch in my jewelry box on a delicate gold chain. I never wore it past the year my father gave it to me when I turned thirteen. It has a cardinal on the front and a small bouquet emblazoned on the back. Its battery no longer works. Yesterday, I came across it when I was putting back some earrings. A thing not noticed for many years. Until it mattered. I dangled it through my fingers, wondering if I should persuade it to stay. It’s next to a larger version he used to carry with a chain that doesn’t clip to anything. The battery doesn’t work either, and suddenly, I don’t want to keep the two watches together.
2. The blue gray of my eyes, the way they seem bluer when I’m sad and grayer when I’m angry.
3. An ammonite given to my husband several years ago, along with a cherry wood-finished pocket knife. Since my father’s death [a month ago], the ammonite has been polished and placed more prominently on his desk.
4. The resiliency learned from traumatic events.
5. The doomsday box, gifted to us last Christmas, unearthed only a day after his passing. It was hidden behind some cleaning materials in our closet, and I snapped my hand away the second I saw it. Inside, two large silver coins with certificates of authenticity, to trade on the black market when everything crashes, a water tight container with tall thin matches to keep warmth in the dark, an old Starbuck’s After Coffee Mint container with a lock and key to symbolically move on from our forgotten lives, a miniature cracked crystal orb so we could gaze into the future, and a knife to fight off the dangers of tomorrow. I can’t open the box. Not now.
6. The bluntness of tone I take when things aren’t going the way I want them to.
7. The one family photo I have from my brother’s graduation. My father and I stand shoulder to shoulder, proud smiles across our faces, except my brother, who looks less than amused at it all. I run my finger over the blue cloth frame, stained and dusty from lack of care. My father’s arm thrown casually around me, and my hand reaches up to clasp his. He never did look comfortable in a suit.
8. The way my voice echoes with a certain authority, like his used to command before he was sick.
9. A Facebook profile no one can access. When his memory worsened after all the traumatic brain injuries, we wrote down passwords for him, and he would forget them, reset them. Now, the password is lost to us. His profile picture the one he demanded I take of him almost ten years ago, moments after my brother swore into the army. A basic headshot in his favorite hat, in front of wall with nothing but cheap wood paneling. I remember his refusal to smile for the picture. His FB wall decorated with patriotic American fanfare and NRA propaganda. His friends posting hellos and queries of health, unanswered questions echoing on the internet.
Where’s my old friend?
Just checking up on you, let me know if you need anything
Saw this, and it made me think of you.
10. An interview I recorded on my phone last summer that I forgot I still had. I was trying to prove how he couldn’t remember things, to build sympathy where sometimes there was none. I asked him about the time he cut off my air in a chokehold and caused me to pass out when I was fourteen. He told me he remembered it well, and he justified why he did it. When I explained he had remembered it wrong, he quickly changed his story to wanting to teach me to be on guard all the time. These things made sense to his him, with his TBI’s (Traumatic Brain Injuries) and failing mental health. I can’t bring myself to delete the recording, but I don’t know if I can bear listening to it either.
11. The way that no one angers me like family, and the way I’ll throw myself in front of my family to protect them anyway.
12. The line of pill bottles on my desk. A family history I’ll never be able to escape. Every time I swallow my pills for depression and anxiety, backlight in our Memphis apartment with our one large window, I see my father surrounded by cheap wooden paneled kitchen cabinets and the one small window in the background, swallowing his with a faded Marine Corp cup of cold coffee he likely forgot, nuked in the microwave, and forgot again.
13. The fineness of my hair, and the way it falls when the wind kicks it about. He used to wear a black brimmed hat covered in pins and emblems to control it, but I never learned to have an appreciation for accessories the way he did.
14. The necklace he gave my grandmother. A gold Dutch coin with a queen on one side, she wore it as a necklace for years before she died. When they were both younger, their relationship was only fists and angry words. I’ve only worn the coin once or twice since her passing but will sometimes marvel at the weight it carries around my neck.
15. The careful placement of words, because sometimes you have no control.
16. The caution I carry towards everyone, even those I love.
17. A pile of his writing my mother found in a drawer and mailed to me last week. My father, the dark and melancholy poet, filling yellow legal pads with his sad poetry. A life packed full of darkness / the terrors still living in my dreams. His words thrum under the manila folder. I tiptoe around so as to not disturb them.
18. My mother’s voice on the other end of the phone, hollowed out by the space left open by her husband’s passing. She lives in a house packed full, a hospital bed they waited three weeks before coming to take, a basement tank full of piranhas she can’t catch, an army of stone and wood turtles with no home anymore, except for the one I bought him in France, which will eventually live in Memphis. She stays in the house, not willing or ready to move away for fear of losing him entirely.
19. My reflection in the mirror. The ghost I’ll never escape.
Kendra L. Vanderlip was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She received her MFA from the University of Memphis, and her BA from Grand Valley State University. She has worked in multiple positions for The Pinch, most recently as Managing Editor. She was selected as a Mentee in AWP’s Writer to Writer program for the Spring 2018 session. She has work in Whiskey Island. When she is not teaching at the local community college, Kendra can be found at home with her husband, watching terrible reality television and cuddling with her four cats.