The poster

At a garage sale in our neighborhood, Steph saw a poster that she liked, and we bought it. Not sure who's the artist that created it, but it's a colorful image of a bridge over a pond, perhaps far in the future or on another world — the trees are unlike any trees on Earth, and the background includes 4-5 unexplained spheres. We both like science fiction, and the poster is absolutely sci-fi lovely.

Our intent was to have the poster framed and hang it in the living room, but for temporary storage I put it above the doorjamb in our office, wedged against the ceiling. Just until we could have it framed.

It's been at least ten years, and that poster is still in our office, wedged between the doorjamb and the ceiling. Stephanie never mentioned the poster after the day we bought it. After we stopped going into that room very often, she probably never saw that poster again. We kept the dialysis supplies in that room, so I was in there seven nights a week, carrying out heavy boxes of fluids to set Steph up for the night. In my daily visits to that room, though, I stopped noticing the poster at all.

Today, I'm clearing stuff out of that room, turning what was "our office" into my new bedroom, and finding unexpected traces of Stephanie among the flotsam and jetsam. In the dust behind her keyboard, a single Tic-Tac rolled out, and a tiny pink pill Steph used to take; so tiny that the pills sometimes slipped from her fingers. We used to find free-range pink pills every time we vacuumed or swept.

On the floor in the corner, here are two very old, very dry peanuts still in the shell. That was one of Stephanie's favorite snacks, so she must've dropped these two nuts, and they bounced too far for her to easily pick them up. So there they sat, for years.

In another corner, there was a faded box of tiny lancets, for painfully poking her fingers to test her blood sugar levels, back when she had diabetes — so, perhaps ten years ago.

In the dust behind what was once my desk, here's a bright red Christmas stocking with Stephanie's name on it. Not embroidered; looks more like it was spelled with Elmer's Glue and then the glue was spangled in glitter. On any given Christmas, the "Steph" stocking might have held mini-chocolate bars or tiny bottles of whiskey. Haven't found the "Doug" stocking yet.

And here's Minky's old litter box, clean and empty, but — why did we keep it, when we promoted her into a bigger litter box circa 2005? Most of this stuff has to go.

And everything, big and small, is a memory. Wiping away coffee stains from Stephanie's desk, well, that means she spilled some coffee as she sat there, however many years ago. Old books one or both of us read once. All of Steph's DVD collection; rock'n'roll, mostly. The manual for a piece of electronics that we junked ten years ago. Baxter receipts, for dialysis supplies. And here's a big, ugly, green, and thoroughly stained plastic trash can; it was in our kitchen in San Francisco and Kansas City, but Stephanie deemed it too unsightly for use after we'd moved to Madison. So why didn't we recycle it fifteen years ago?

Since there are so many memories in our office, cleaning and clearing it is taking much longer than it might have. But I ain't complaining. The green trash can, and most everything else in the room, is all headed for the trash, the recycling bin, or Goodwill, but I'm glad for the chance to remember where all of it's been, and how each individual item interacted with the woman who once sat at that desk — that lady who made the sun shine and the wind blow and the rain fall.

And the poster above the doorjamb? How I regret never having it framed for Stephanie, and that after buying it Steph was never able to enjoy it. Yet another of my many failings, all the ways I could've been a better husband. There's never a day when I don't kick myself for something kind I didn't do, something sweet I should've said.

And in really looking at that poster for the first time since we bought it, Steph was brilliant to buy it. It's beautiful. And it's very visible from the desk, where I'll be spending most of my awake time when I'm home, so the poster will stay where it is, wedged against the ceiling, above the door. The only thing to change is to remember to notice it, admire it, appreciate it ... instead of just taking it for granted.