Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 9, Number 1
Copyright © 2014
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
|How to Go Through Your Dad’s
Things After He Dies
Essay by Vivian Wagner
1) Read everything. Including the journal devoted to Verna, the mother of
a friend of yours from high school. It’s called the Verna Journal, and you’ll
realize with a mixture of horror and fascination that your father dated Verna
a few years ago, that they went to McDonald’s, that he was feeling very
close to her—until the last page, when the whole Verna thing is left weirdly
ambiguous. Also read sticky notes with reminders to himself about trash
pickups and medications, highlighted printouts of your Twitter feed,
annotated copies of your essays, notes he took on phone conversations
with your sister, and lists of numbers that you study with the care and
diligence of a Torah scholar, because he didn’t leave a suicide note, but you
start to realize that everything he wrote is a piece of one.
2) Wash your hands regularly, because your dad never cleaned his house,
and he never had a cleaner, and there’s a thick layer of grime on everything
that you won’t even realize is there until you start smudging the Verna Journal.
You’ll need to use the soap in his bathroom, which he used a few days before,
and that will be difficult but necessary.
3) Donate large items—sofas, military-issue filing cabinets, strange dolls that
contain, stuffed in their dresses, recycled plastic bags. With reasonable notice
and indication that it’s in the wake of death, the Salvation Army will back a
truck up to the garage and load all of these things perfunctorily, as if you’re
a Chinese factory after a particularly productive shift. Donate small items,
too, such as glass roses, fish lamps, and cute kittens in conch shells, though
be prepared for a long discussion with your sister about the merit of donating
such junk. Tell her it’s not junk. Explain, for instance, that the conch kittens
might be just what someone down on their luck shopping in a Salvation Army
store is looking for. Your sister, as she almost always does, will relent.
4) Finally, throw away everything that you can’t either read or donate.
This seems harsh, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is after you get started.
You’ll fill large industrial-size black plastic bags with cigarettes, lighters,
empty vodka bottles, full anxiety medication bottles, inhalers, women’s
clothing catalogs, gun brochures, and fishing line, and the plastic bags will
begin to pile up like a geologic form in the front yard. You will then take
these bags, like offerings, to the dump. Release them to the earth, turn the
truck around, and drive away. Because that will be the only thing left to do.
Vivian Wagner’s essays and articles have appeared in The Pinch, Zone 3,
O: The Oprah Magazine, the Kenyon Review Online, and other
publications, and she is the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings,
and 8,000 Miles of Music. She lives in New Concord, Ohio, and teaches
at Muskingum University. For more information about her, visit her website
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