This afternoon, I decided to tackle a running list of chores around the apartment – putting away laundry that had sat around clean and folded, changing the bed sheets, and of course, dealing with the five cardboard boxes of bone china given to me by my late grandmother.
Since my parents brought me the packages over Christmas, I had piled them off to one corner, in part because I had nowhere to put them, but also because subconsciously I did not want to admit that my grandmother was gone and have the china be a reminder of that part of my life that was no longer there.
And so, the boxes became part of the apartment décor, serving as a bohemian side table where I could put the crystal lamp I discovered on the stoop of my last apartment.
After clearing some junk out of the top-most cupboard in the kitchen (which had been unceremoniously shoved full of costumes, curtains, a hot water bottle, and the boyfriend’s left-over dental school scrubs), I had a checkered surfaced ready for the china.
I opened the first box. Newspapers from my home in Ohio were wrapped around the white china, which was painted with delicate, pale-pink rosebuds and leaves. I looked at the date – November 23, 2009 – around the time that my grandmother, Lois, was moved from her lovely apartment in a retirement home into the assisted living section. The beginning of the end.
Piece by piece, I layered the china in the cupboard, careful not to bump the boxes, which I had precariously perched on the top of the ladder. (One thing you can certainly say about tenement apartments is that there is plenty of upward mobility).
I was reminded of my grandmother's elegance. She came from humble beginnings and grew up on a farm in Madison, Ohio in the midst of the Great Depression. But she always had taste and class. Growing up, I don't think I ever saw her in jeans - or even trousers. It was always a clean-pressed blouse with a golden brooch, and a Pendleton skirt. And of course, sensible heels.
Her china, to me, is a reflection of that. The gold-plating catches the light just so, the roses in their greyish pink hue were ladylike without being overbearing.
On my fourth box, I happened to notice the shipping label glued to the outside. It had my grandmother’s name, Lois Dunlop, and her address when she was still at her apartment, living with my grandfather. It was for an order of coffee.
Suddenly, tears pooled in my eyes. The address was printed by computer, so mundane, so commonplace, and yet – she would never get another package shipped there. Then the guilt flooded in, as I thought of all the times I had the opportunity to send cards and letters to that address, and how many times I didn’t.
Next to the boxes filled with china are also several bags I brought home from the office – bags containing my office tea mug, bags with my books, bags full of unused business cards and antibacterial wipes. Several of my editors and co-workers didn’t even bother saying goodbye on my last day, and by the time I packed up at the end of my last night shift, my desk looked as sterile and unused as the day I started.
As if I had never been there at all.
I was reminded of a quote by Joan Didion as I sat at my desk the last night, waiting for some sort of recognition from my place of employment, acknowledging that I was leaving and that I had spent a year and a half there.
‘It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.’
Coming into it, I wouldn’t have imagined that’s how my last day at MailOnline would be, and I couldn’t imagine what a bittersweet pill memories of lost loved ones could be either. I would have imagined it differently; in my mind, things would be different.
So my belongings from the office will end up at a new office, the china that once was my grandmother’s is now in my kitchen cupboards, looking far too beautiful and out of place for my scrappy existence.
Tomorrow, the boxes and bags from my grandmother and from the office will both be at the street corner, waiting for the New York City Department of Sanitation to whisk them away to landfills unknown. That is the cadence of life, I imagine - things enter your life when you least expect it, and exit in ways that will break your heart.
That because Lois can no longer use these plates and cups and saucers, they were given to me to use. Because I no longer have use for my old office goods, they, too, will be passed on to parts unknown.
Onto new chapters, new challenges, and new(ish) flatware, and goodbye to all that.