The night my mom came back from the hospital, I installed myself in my childhood room next to hers and decided to finally tackle the unwieldy bookshelf, a tall, white, unsteady Ikea number, which looms over the head of the bed (unattached to the wall of course).
I started by removing the knickknacks. The wooden red devil face mask, which came from…where? Did I bring it back from Morelia after that spring quarter abroad my freshman year? That would be consistent with the book near it on the shelf, Distant Neighbors, which was assigned reading for that class (Span 4x5x was it?). Worth rereading? Not sure.
I pulled down three soccer trophies. Only one of them is somewhat special me. I was eight. We were the Cheetahs. We wore purple and white and made it all the way to the final, championship game. In overtime, I broke free, my thin body streaking down the field, my thick, helmet-cut blond hair flapping in the breeze. The goalie ran out to stop me. I shrugged, laughed, dribbled around him and buried the ball in the back of the net to win the championship for the Cheetahs.
I toss that a trophy into a plastic “Maybe” bin.
There is also a large Peewee Herman doll sitting on the shelf, but I swear that’s not mine. It appeared at some point…I suspect my sister. I’m not saying Peewee didn’t play a crucial role in my life. He actually did. When my dad died, my brother, sister and I watched his first movie and laughed and laughed. Then we watched it again. And again. It has been woven into the fabric of our sibling jokes ever since. “I like you, Dotty, LIKE.” “I can’t hear you, the connection’s really bad [sounds of static].” And, of course, the laugh itself.
After the knickknacks, I go to the books. Some Tintin comic books (why haven’t I rescued these already?!), a bunch of Latin American Studies books, books in Spanish, random novels which have floated in from other sources. Amid all the madness, I pull out a tattered copy of Notebooks 1935-1942 by Albert Camus. This is clearly from my dad’s books.
Camus started a literary notebook when he was 22 and these notebooks are filled with bits of dialogue, ideas for novels, plays and essays and stories, favorite quotes, and descriptions of the view outside his window on travels. In his twenties, Camus was already incredibly wise. By 29, he had published The Stranger. By 44, he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As I read, I am lost half the time but still moved by the beauty of his thoughts. As an added bonus, my dad, gone now 30 years, has underlined favorite passages, which we get to both enjoy now together. Here’s one:
Over the next few nights, while my mom recovers from a fall and broken ribs and a collapsed lung, I return to my bed in the wee hours after checking on her and flip open this book with the crackling old cover, and read these words, “and this great sob of poetry makes me forget the truth of the world.”