Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Mirror From Church Street

 We've landed on the other side.  We are on the other side of the country; we are on the other side of a life lived in California; I, personally, feel I'm on the other side of even understanding what's next.  We've flipped it all.  I've tried to take it step by step and not get emotional or too sad or too happy or too anything because every feeling is temporary and I'm aiming solely for temperate.  So far, it seems to be working.  I'm treating the whole move like I'm getting the best of all worlds.  What could be better?  Again, so far so good.

One month ago, on the California end, after these four guys loaded all our boxes, furniture and 50 years of memories into a van and drove away, we never heard from anyone again.  We had pretty much decided our stuff was gone.  And, while we weren't horribly upset (again, taking things as they come...), we did feel we were owed an explanation.  One never came.  But, our stuff finally did, a little over two weeks after we arrived.  The day these two young boys and a man named Misha, released our boxes into this house, RK and I sat down on the couch and readily passed out.  You might think that strange, as we hadn't done any obvious physical work that day, but the tension we'd been holding onto for weeks now was palpable.  So, when the relief of the whole thing being 'over' kicked in, we could do nothing but fall asleep.

Slowly, we're unpacking boxes.  It's not slow because of thought or comfort or we're taking it all in, but it's going slowly because we didn't actually bring any real furniture with us.  When we unpack a box, we don't have a shelf or a cupboard or desk to put things on.  Maybe we didn't think that through.  I'm also used to the life of second hand furniture, where I used to visit the thrift store daily, or walk home and see great furniture on the street corner.  Now, as new homeowners, we're aiming for a little more grown-up vibe.  I don't know that it'll happen, but it's what we're after.  In the meantime, I'm unpacking what we did actually bring.  

I have repeatedly said during this move, 'if anything breaks, it's OK, it's just stuff!'  I joke that I have so much stuff, the breakage would actually be doing me a favor.  So, after opening box after box, everything in tact, this broken mirror was a surprise.  Not a shock, but a kind of deep breath memory surprise.  This mirror collection of mine is large:  Some came from flea markets, some from family, some I don't even remember where they come from anymore, but some come with a story tied to a time, a time that extends much further than me.

For me, this mirror belonged to our neighbor in San Francisco, who we never got to know but to wave and say 'hello' when we saw her.  Then, recognize as she struggled with what we assumed was a pretty serious illness, coming home one day with a shaved head and a winding scar on her skull from front to back.  She quickly went from friendly to fragile.  We never passed each other on the sidewalk again, but we could see she had help.  We would see her from across the street, out our third floor window, as someone carefully guided her from the car to her front door.  And then, suddenly, she was gone.  

One day, walking past her home, there was another woman in the garage standing amongst stacks of boxes and I stopped to talk with her.  She told me my neighbor had been her mother and she had passed away.  They grew up in that house on Church Street.  There were three girls in her family, she told me, and a family that lived two doors down had three boys of similar age.  The running family routine was to try and set them all up, for years.  It was sweet to hear they were all still friends.  Her parents were Russian Jews, very involved in the community, professional matchmakers, they held movie nights for young people to meet.  There was actually a closet inside the house, stacked with all the old film reels, she was planning on donating to the community.  She told me she was getting her parents house ready to have an estate sale.  We talked for quite awhile about how that feels, what you keep, what you let go of, how it feels to hold their things when they're not longer here.  I told her I would come to the sale because I'd like to support her, and have something to remember her mom by and then she'd know something of her family stayed on Church Street.  She invited me to come in with her at that moment:  She thought the sale might get crazy and crowded and wouldn't it be nice to walk through it together now?  I agreed and followed beside her as she told me more family stories.  Eventually, we turned a corner and entered a small dressing room and I saw this mirror hanging on the wall.  Maybe I mentioned I collect mirrors, I don't remember, but, for her, this mirror held a thousand memories of childhood.  She told me about being a little girl, watching her mom get dressed for those movie nights and seeing both their reflections in that mirror stuck with her.  She took it off the wall, handed it over to me and said 'thank you'.  

Though it was 15 years ago now, I clearly remember coming home with the mirror, telling RK who it belonged to, confirming all of our conjecture about our neighbor and explaining the fascinating history of this family, who we never really knew, but now carried with us in this reflection.

Today, there is a heartbreaking war raging in Ukraine, each day is infused with an extremely heavy feeling of helplessness; with these unknown, hurting people on my mind, opening this box and finding this particular piece shattered made me forget my cavalier attitude towards breakage and, instead, found me quietly crying into my coffee over the things we lose every day.