I remember so much. How can I possibly write about this? My head is filled with memories. Of you. Of us. Of our family. “I remember” can fill pages upon pages.
I remember when we got your orange bag. Like most years, my mom was visiting and this time we took a trip to Maine. We were so excited to go to LL Bean. Knew we’d want to get new bikes there, and we did. Matching bikes. Purple. That year we did a lot of biking. 2013. I remember how we’d leave the bike carrier on the car and after I’d get you from work, we’d go biking. I have that beautiful photo of you on your bike, beautiful fall foliage in the background, a perfect match to your glowing red hair. That was the year you started to grow your hair.
I remember how as we browsed the store, we decided to look at bags. You had a beautiful brown leather sling bag, but it was so heavy. Too heavy for you. Your back would always start hurting from carrying it. Because you’d have everything for every eventuality in your bag. Your motto always was, ‘better be prepared than sorry.’ From your girl scout days. Even during your hospital stays, we always brought tons of stuff. Anyhow. So we wanted to get a lighter bag for you. And there it was at LL Bean. This cool orange bag. Light fabric. Many pockets. Perfect for you. From that day on, that bag became your constant travel companion. We called it your ‘mom’ bag because of all the things you put in there. You were always so meticulous organizing this bag. Everything had its place.
When exactly did you stop carrying that bag? Did you have it at Cooley Dick? At Brigham? I think so. At some point, you must have hung up this bag on the hooks next to our front door. Not knowing that you would never use it again. And there it hung. For months. Untouched. After your death. Every day I would walk past it. Every day I still walk past it. Hanging there. One of the things you left behind.
I remember that late summer day last year, more than eight months after you had died. All of a sudden, I had the impulse to look into your orange bag. I took it from its hook. The two little Lego key chain figures: Princess Leia and the Green Hulk. During our trip to Germany in 2015, we’d gone to the Lego store in Cologne and you had picked them out. The weird head with its pop-out eyes. Shannon, your oldest friend from childhood days had given it to you when she came for our 10-year re-commitment ceremony in May. When we went up the dome of the German Reichstagsbuilding in Berlin, you clutched it so fiercely in your hand because you were afraid of heights.
Memories flooding me just holding this bag. So many stories connected to it. You connected to it. This orange bag.
I remember opening it slowly. Not knowing what to find. You had emptied it out somewhat. But some of your things were still there. Echoes from the past. A pen. Your purple magnifying glass – so that you could read the small print of food labels. Lip balm. Tissues. Some panty liners. A nail file. A small tin of Nivea crème. I remember how you always had a large jar of Nivea in your office and would freely share it with your grad students.
Then, I found your car keys. I had wondered where they were. A handful of rubber hair bands attached to the carabiner. I remember how you last drove our car a few days before Thanksgiving. Then you asked me to drive. Because you felt so sick. Next, those rubber hair bands not needed anymore. Your hair gone. A rainbow band. And then, the keys for our bike locks – labeled ‘Kik’ and ‘Wen’.
Finally, I pulled out a folded sheet of paper. The printed out copy of our tickets for opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. December 18, 2015. And, I remember how excited you were about seeing this movie. How we never ever bought tickets for opening night. This was the one and only exception. And, I remember how you told Flo to go see the movie. Because December 18, 2015 you were dying. I remember the horror of the day before. When they had to stop the chemo just when they had begun. I knew then that all was lost. All hope gone. You even had your photo taken. With that horrible cpap mask on, joking about sounding like Darth Vader. Flo went and watched Star Wars. For you. So that he could tell you all about it. The next day. Let you watch the movie through his eyes.
I remember the next day, December 19, you had barely survived the night, your first panic attack, the oxygen level in your blood dropping dangerously low again and again, I remember going home, so many people in your hospital room, being there for you, fighting alongside you, TEAM WENDY, and I went home, so exhausted, hoped you wouldn’t die while I was gone and you didn’t, and while I was gone, Flo told you about Star Wars, and it maybe took your mind off the fact a little bit that you were dying. The next day you were dead. In my arms, you took your last breath.
I remember all of that and more when looking at your orange bag.