The long, expansive access ramp juts out from the midcentury rambler’s facade like a metallic tongue, beckoning me and the other circling vultures inside.
Nearing the front door, I hug the railing as a white-painted headboard bursts across the threshold, followed quickly by the footboard. The couple shuttling the bed frame makes their way to a battered Chevy Silverado as I scoot past the mattress and box spring leaning idly by the door.
Just inside, the hallway is plastered with signs reading “50% off!” My eyes dart to every fixture and shelf, each of which sports a peel-off orange price tag. This is the first estate sale I’ve ever been to, and I’m struck by its emotional heaviness.
I’m so used to seeing antiques and keepsakes wholly divorced from their context; but here, scattered among bedrooms and basement nooks, along patio edges and kitchen counters, everything is laid bare with trace amounts of significance. A couple stands behind a cash register in the living room, and I soon learn they’re part of an auction house group hired to sell off as much of the contents as possible, before the rest is donated to charity. They suggest I check downstairs in the basement, and I wind my way past other oglers coming in through the front door, and down a narrow carpeted staircase.
In the basement, tables upon tables are stacked with tools, drill bits, cigar tins, and every other sort of appliance part imaginable. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smell of oil and leather, and make my way to an open patio door. Outside, three large wheelbarrows and massive metallic tubs are lined up like prize cattle. In a nearby shed, a few boxes of broken parts sit among an old push mower from the fifties; I briefly entertain the mower, but then counterbalance it with utility, and exit – flies swarming in the dank air behind me.
Back inside, I find a small dinette chair covered in oil-soaked slip covers, a handful of old stoneware pickling crocks, a lamp, a handmade rolling cart, and a hanging bamboo tea light holder – all of which I pile upstairs near the register.
On my last circuit around, I stop in the bedroom farthest from the center of the house. There, in a corner, stands a potty chair walker; the only other furnishings in the room are a partly deconstructed twin bed, and a Kmart shelf with old hat boxes piled on top. I don’t know whether or not I’m supposed to be in here. For a moment, it’s just me and the potty chair, and the bright pink shag carpeting.
I delicately remove one of the closest hat boxes, peering inside at the crumpled tissue paper forms shaped into half-spheres, having cradled spherical glass ornaments for decades; two lone ornaments wobble on the shelving unit below, residual glitter flaking off. Along the interior box rim, I can barely make out a name – something with a “G,” maybe George.
Suddenly, one of the register operators pokes her head around the doorframe, and I shove the hat box back on top of the unit, give her a slight smile, and cast my eyes down to the shag carpeting – away from the walker in the corner as I shuffle out the door.
After paying, the auction group hands me a receipt, a bright stamp reading “Please Call Again” – ever the reminder of death and endings coming to pass. On my last trip out, I notice a mirror hanging by the door – reflecting so many memories and lives and futures as the past collides with the present, fleetingly out through the door.
With the backseat piled high, I adjust my rearview mirror and quietly assure the former resident that I’ll take care of all of their things, realizing in the same breath that everything on Earth is merely rented.
About 12 hours later, a liter of saline fluid drips into the IV plug at my wrist, the dancing light of early afternoon filtering between the slightly opened blinds. The room is dark and silent, and I fade in and out of shallow sleep, readjusting myself on the papery tarp cascading across the pleather examination room recliner.
Whenever a nurse or doctor comes in to check that I’m not dead, I rally both eyes to focus, and my speech to resemble something slightly more robust than a jellyfish slopping through a vat of peanut butter. Every single time I assure them I’m alright, and supplement my verbal affirmation with a thumbs up – the quintessential sign that things are not alright.
Later, in moments of hydrated lucidity, I startle myself awake reeling from the feeling of waking up in an alien place.
I catch my breath, and try to breathe.
In and out.
In and out.
Life has gotten terrifyingly weird. No one really knows where they’ll be in a few days, a couple months, a year; everything I do now feels like it’s on borrowed time.
The week a KKK-underwritten demagogue was elected to the highest office in our nation, I was planning a fundraising party, and had to keep smiling. But It’s hard to be festive when you feel like your country is on the brink of collapse.
Even still, in the scary days ahead, we must rally and fight to build the brighter future we know is possible – that we’ve been fighting for all along. It’s hard to do – to push back. But, to pull out a Trekkie reference, “We will do what we’ve always done. Find hope in the impossible.”
Things will be getting worse before they get better.
And I must recognize every morning, that while I feel like I’m waking up in the middle of a dystopian novel’s prologue, I do have a voice, and can do what I can to rewrite the narrative.