Whenever I tell someone that my husband and I went to high school together, I’m quick to point out that we weren’t high school sweethearts. Pat, always ready with a joke, will tell you that he didn’t even like me that much during those days. An impossibility, of course, but the truth is we’ve built our relationship on compromise, laughs, and most importantly to me after 8 years in New York, a common understanding of where we come from. We know that fish frys are eaten on Fridays, that the Penfield Patriots will always be the Chiefs, that the Park Ave Fest --- in Rochester, that is --- is the first weekend in August. There are inside jokes and stories that date back to middle school, way before “Pat and Ali” meant anything. We know these things inside out, these truths about our past and present, but there has always been a piece of my husband that I couldn’t grasp. When Pat was 19, just shy of his junior year in college, his father died. Suddenly, tragically. And in the blink of an eye, his whole world changed. His dad was his rock, his role model, his mentor in sports and school --- in life, really --- and one day he just wasn’t there. For 10 years, I’ve tried to understand, but the truth is, I didn’t. I couldn’t. And suddenly I do.
There’s a desk in our apartment that Pat has had for all the years I’ve known him. For most of those years, it was nothing to look at – scuffed, with old hardware and a shape too antique for my taste. What it lacks in looks, however, it makes up for in sentimental value. It belonged to Pat’s dad, and so it has moved with him from college, to several apartments in Rochester, and then to Brooklyn in the back of a U-Haul van. Two years ago, when we moved into our new condo --- our first “real” home together --- I was determined to get rid of that desk. We don’t have the room! I want a NEW desk, one with drawers that close properly! Let’s store it at one of our parents’ houses! I tried every argument in the book, but in the end it was my mom who saved the day. She first told me to shut my mouth --- and then volunteered to refinish it for us, to transform that desk into something new. It was a compromise, and I begrudgingly agreed. For weeks, my mom labored over the desk, meticulously following each step in the refinishing process and updating me nightly on her progress. Anyone who knew my mom knows about her penchant for "winging it," and so her commitment to following the directions here was both shocking and touching. In the end, the desk was reborn into a better version of itself. Now shiny and smooth, it has since provided a place for Pat to spend endless hours studying for the CFA exam, and is my home base several days each week. I like to think that my mom and Pat’s dad are laughing together somewhere at the humor and irony in that.
As it turns out, I now find myself surrounded by my mom’s things. On my right ring finger sits her amethyst ring. Strangers stop me to take a closer look at the ring, guessing that it must have belonged to someone special to me, while family and friends recognize it right away. I take my mom's pearl earrings out at night and put them back in first thing in the morning. My history of losing jewelry --- earrings especially --- haunts me, but somehow I don’t let these out of my sight. My mom’s purses line my shelves, and with each trip back to Rochester, I know I’ll return with more tangible reminders of her.
In the end, they are just things, like I told Pat for so many years. They don’t replace the memories or the laughs, and they certainly don’t soothe the tears. But then, they are more than that, too. They are a constant reminder that our parents are never far; perhaps out of sight, but never --- ever --- out of mind.