For me, there are certain things that have personal black-market value. These treasures embody wisps of memories.
I found one of these in my grandmother’s bathroom. I wanted it for years; its existence delights me. Periodically, I would try to steal it and she would catch me and tell me no.
Since losing her in the fall, I have slowly sorted her belongings. I started with the closet we shared – it was bursting with her Bob Mackey tops, jewel-encrusted denim button-downs, lightweight whites and suede coats, and further jammed with my collection of black bottoms, dirty sleeved jackets, and American Apparel Ponte dresses.
Her clothes, either with her scent or wrapped in plastic, I moved onto a clothing rack and wheeled into another room.
When it came time to clean her bathroom, I set a thirty-minute timer and opened two plastic bags. Wading through shelves of miniature bottles of hairspray, mousse, discolored agèd shampoo, I experience searing grief. But, even in death, she assuaged the pain by leaving me gifts to warm me with her touch; a reminder to keep moving forward.
I reach for a yellow Solo cup balanced inside a red Solo cup.
“No!!,” my grandma would tell me. “You can’t have that! Honey, don’t you have your own?”
I grab the cup – it is filled with eyeliner pencils in blues, greens, browns and purples, eyebrow pencils in varying thicknesses, a small pair of sharp scissors, lipliners, rogue roll-on perfumes and a Sharpie. Everything is covered in a dusty baby-powder film and I stop myself from pulling out the treasures. I want to leave this undisturbed for now, as uniquely organized as she intended.
I clutch it to my heart. She left me this, I think to myself.
She left it for me.
I quickly move it to my bedroom dresser. I think of her gathering her eyeliners, expensive and magnetic, then looking at a cup in the bathroom and thinking Well, this will work. I smile.
She and I both love things. Finding them; curating them; arranging them. I think of tassels. Of ceramic bunnies and golden lion statues. Plates with no purpose except to be stood upright on an end-table.
My grandmothers favorite.
Some days, in grief, I find myself filling up carts with sweaters, plush blankets, makeup palettes, jackets and jeans; discounted Lily Pulitzer dresses, crepe tops and bohemian embroidered shirts. I try to justify it as being very human; who doesn’t want more?
But eventually, my fun fades and I come-to thick in a department store hypnotically repeating a behavior to recapture a feeling. The emptiness in my chest becomes inversely proportional to items in the cart, and soon I am wheeling my wet eyes through Bed, Bath and Beyond or Macy’s, wondering what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
This weekend, I went shopping with my best friend. We meandered through aisles of ceramic pastel pineapples, inspected mesh bags of pinecones, smelled candles with inconsiderately-stuck price stickers, and consciously plucked the good, bad, and sublime.
My best friend, my grandma, and I used to spend afternoons doing this. We three perfected the discerning back-and-forth banter while methodically deciding what to take home.
Walking the store, my best friend and I piled a gray plastic carriage with patterned tights, Ellen Tracy cardigans, wooden soled-shoes, beach cover-ups, and white pants printed with tiny navy-blue birds; garments spilling over the sides.
Then, we reached the judicious moment to review our collection. With my grandma, we always left with something. However, this time, with a giggle, we look at our items, picking each up and inspecting, and with a look, unanimously decide we don’t want any of it.
We are both okay.
Instead of joining the queue, we push the cart to the back of the store and ditch it in an aisle of mass-produced canvas art. With our heads clinked together, she and I slink out through the sliding glass doors laughing.
Together, we said no to the unnecessary. It feels like we cheated in a game and won. But we didn’t. We simply left behind that not worth taking home.
I think friends make it easier.
Later, I am alone, slowly pulling out one pencil-cosmetic from the cup at a time, careful not to disturb its place.
I think about leaving the brimming cart, the freedom of it. Of looking, laughing, trying on, and ultimately, only keeping the memory.