Somebody asked me if we were going to put up a headstone. Since we got back from New York, I feel like I’ve been sleepwalking through my days. It’s been hard to get out of bed, especially now that we’ve turned the clocks forward and it’s dark again. I was a farmer, I’ve never had trouble getting out of bed. But that question, it was like I felt the air go out of me.
I have three boxes of her stuff, her papers mostly, stacked over there against the wall. Finn and I looked through some of the photos she had. A couple of photo books of people we didn’t know. Friends from college. Girls smiling, boys hamming it up for the camera. College stuff. Photos from small, crowded rooms. Finn said probably at parties, or dinners. I guess she liked to throw special dinners with friends. I had never seen any of this. We wrote letters all the time, at least often, but she never talked about her life or her friends that would connected to what was in these books. Finn had met a few of them but didn’t remember their names. Obviously a lot of favorite memories but they’re already lost, blanked out.
There was also a scrapbook with all the pages empty but an envelope inside it full of pictures and things from here. Pictures of her friends from high school, kids sitting around fires in the summer, pictures in snow from winter. The programs from two plays she was in. A newspaper clip from when she went to state finals in track. Ribbons. A pressed flower. A lot of pictures of her and Finn, her and Sarah Fischer, her other good friend.
I’m sure there are other things in the boxes. We just emptied what was in her file drawers into some boxes. I thought I would be spending time going through it, trying to find answers, and understand. I thought that about her computer too. It’s been sitting on my kitchen table since we got back. I can’t even turn it on. I was going to look through it, to see if she, y’know, wrote a note. Or wrote anything about maybe killing herself. I’ve sat down in front of that blank screen, ready to turn it on, and I can’t. I feel like it’s staring me down. I think, what’s the use? It won’t bring her back.
We took the pickup out there so we could bring everything back. We had thought we might have to pull a trailer with stuff. But it wasn’t much. Papers, mostly. Her computer. I gave Finn her camera stuff. She only had a little furniture. A futon mattress. A worktable that looked like a family of artists must have owned it. I couldn’t imagine that any one person could have been that messy, could have splotched that much red, orange, spring green all over one table. Finn thought maybe Laura had done it. I said, But she wasn’t a painter. He said, No, but it was the kind of thing she would do, find some way to make her work table special, her own place. He said he had seen it once, when he had visited her a year or so ago, while they were both finishing school. He said he remembered the color splashed all over the table but he had never thought about it the way he was thinking about it now. He said, “Then it seemed to fit in with her little room. Now, it’s like we’re trying to read it, look for clues about her, and it.”
There were some other things. An old armchair that must have been a little tattered, it was covered in woven blankets that looked like they had come from somewhere, like maybe South America or Africa. Bright colors. Not long after we first came in to the apartment Finn sat down in it and seemed to completely settle in it, like aaaahhh, like it was his favorite chair. He said when he had visited they had sat up talking late every night, and she always let him sit in that chair. Sitting in it brought her back for him.
Her old roommate is a girl named Marika, she’s a black girl from New Jersey. It’s just across the water from New York City, at least the part we came through, but she talked about it like it was a place far away. While we were there, she sat in that chair a lot too, watching TV. So we decided to leave it. I think some of the stuff in kitchen was hers, too, but there was no point in taking it.
We were going to haul those things, the bed, the table, the desk chair, back here, but Marika said we could just put them down on the street if we didn’t want to. People would take them, she said. I didn’t believe it but we carried them down anyway. By the time we came back the next day, it was all gone. Finn told her that here, we’d put them in our sheds or our barns or just leave them in the yard and maybe in twenty years we’d find a use for them. She said, There are enough people out there, there are a lot of people who need these things, a bed, a table to work at, a chair, right now.
We didn’t know what to do with her clothes. There were some nice things hanging up. We asked Marika if she wanted anything. She said probably not. Laura was tall and she is short. She dresses up very beautifully. Laura didn’t, from the look of her closet. Then she remembered something, a scarf. Finn pulled out a gray scarf my grandmother had knitted that I had passed down to her. She said she used to borrow it on the coldest days, when the wind blows hard down through the streets. I said, That’s what it was knitted for. So we gave it to her.
Finn thought maybe we should save a few things. There was a very nice blue outfit her mother bought her when she was in high school. She must have worn it to something special because Finn held it up on the hangar for a long time. He seemed surprised when I wondered what we would save it for. He packed a few things in a box and we took the rest to a second-hand store, one of those charity places. That box of clothes is the one on the bottom of the stack over there. I can’t imagine why I would ever want to open it.
It’s like this question about the headstone. I guess I never really thought about them before. I wonder why you put a headstone somewhere if there’s no casket going under it. All these things in boxes and a headstone, it won’t let us hear her voice again. It won’t bring her over for dinner. She isn’t here. What would a stone do. But somebody said, Well, when you put a coffin in the ground, the person isn’t really there any more either. There’s just a body. And after a while, there isn’t even a body. Probably not a coffin either. Just some bones. So is a headstone like the identification tag for the bones?
I think about my faith, that I’ve had all my life. That we’re going on from this life, to a better one, with our Lord and maker. I gave up so much of what I had, my farm, my marriage, practically my community, because I didn’t believe Laura was not going to go on to that life, just because of who she was. I think that’s where she’s gone. I’m not sure she’s gone, but I think she’s with the Lord now, and probably much happier than her miserable old father. Pretending she’s in the ground, in an old cemetery around Jericho, North Dakota, seems like giving in to all the people who said she was a sinner, someone less than them.