Friday, June 29, 2007


Travels with BB (Part Three)...


"Jesus," I whispered.

"Holy fuck," BB breathed.

We were in the back lot of the wrecking company that had been responsible for towing most of the cars involved in the accident that killed our parents three weeks earlier. In the interim, all the other vehicles involved had been claimed and towed away from the lot. Sitting lonely in a spot well away from all the other cars and trucks, my parents' Jeep--or its remains--was the last one.

As we learned upon signing in at the office, our timing was most fortuitous. Unbeknownst to us, my parents' insurance company had made plans for the Jeep to be towed to another lot that very morning.

"We tried to collect everything from the accident site," said Justin, the young man who had been assigned to escort us out on the lot. He talked as he worked, pulling back the blue tarp revealing the wreck, "but, well, a lot of stuff fell out on the way here. And there'll be a lot more that'll go missing once the new wrecker comes to get it. So this is probably as good a time as any to look through it all."

BB and I had nothing to say to this. I reached in my waist pack and pulled out the first of several pairs of latex gloves, snapping them on. BB was chainsmoking his fourth cigarette. Looking at the Jeep, every side of it open to the elements, I could see how futile it would be to find my grandmother's bracelet. The car looked as though it had been turned inside out, its contents festooning everything from the front grille to the cavities where the rear brake lights had been.

As if to confirm what he was seeing was real, BB reached out a tentative hand, touching a small, damp clump of wrapping paper that was hanging from a jagged edge on the rear of the car. It was suspended by a single, pathetic pink ribbon. There were several such clumps; my parents always came bearing gifts. This time, they would have had Communion gifts for Thomas, baby gifts for the Éclair, birthday presents for the Brownie. Now, between the force of the crash and the rain that had fallen off and on the past few weeks, all that was left of these presents were exploded bits of box and paper and merchandise.

Justin began pulling things out of the wreck as best he could. At the office, we'd been told in no uncertain terms that we were not to touch the wreck--there was too high a risk of us getting cut and the company didn't want to be responsible for that. But BB and I pretty much ignored that imperative and Justin never opened his mouth to shoo us away. He was a young man and pretty well spooked at the idea of us being there. I understood how he felt. When you're young and invulnerable, it's easy to be rattled by the presence of people who have suffered a death. A chasm separates you from them, and at that age, that's exactly how you want it. You don't need anything or anyone around who might belie the idea that you're immortal.

I circled the Jeep several times, just looking. I have to say, though, it wasn't the sight of the wreck that was disturbing, so much as the smell: The sweet aroma of motor oil. The musky scent of damp and mildew. The unmistakable metallic odor of blood, which I could detect instantly, despite the fact that emergency workers had coated the inside of the cab with some kind of phenolic or chlorinated powder to absorb the fluid. Until my own dying day, it's a scent that will stick with me as the smell of death.


Industrious Justin had created a growing pile of clothes and ruptured suitcases to one side so I turned my attention to that and began sorting through. My mom had been planning to stay the summer, so most of the clothes were hers. I picked through the suitcase, finding a burst bag of cosmetics, exploded pill bottles containing vitamins and calcium supplements and blood pressure meds. Tucked between one layer of clothes, I found another clump of wrapping paper, this one slightly more box-shaped, protected as it was by the clothing. Hardly daring to hope, I opened the package and out fell porcelain shards of a religious statue. I think it was a statue of the Virgin Mary, but really, the impact of the accident had shattered the statue so badly, it was impossible to divine the identity of the religious figure.

"Anything?" BB asked. He was holding my mother's sewing machine, or what was left of it.

"No," I said. "No bracelet, anyway."

"Well, you better go around the other side of the car and help Justin," he said. I stood up, knees and back popping as I did. I suddenly felt old and creaky and not at all sure I wanted to see what Justin had. But I went anyway.


Around the other side, Justin was trying to leverage the driver's seat and grab a box jammed behind it at the same time. When he saw me coming, he put his whole weight against the seat, moving it just enough for me to grab the box behind it and pull it free.

The cardboard fell apart as soon as it was free of the car. Justin and I were suddenly enveloped in a flurry of baseball cards.

My Dad had mentioned that he had picked up a few cards at a flea market and was planning to bring them, knowing that baseball cards were Thomas' latest obsession. But Dad had downplayed exactly how many he was bringing. In addition to the box I'd just removed, we found another tucked behind the driver's seat. And Justin informed us that there were at least two more large boxes in a small shed on the other side of the yard. In the end, I packed more than 30,000 sports cards into the back of my car, nearly all of then intact, but each covered with a film of grease and slivered glass that would require careful wiping with a treated cloth of some kind. Well, now I know how I'll be spending my idle hours this summer. And fall. And winter, I thought.

Within about 30 minutes, it was apparent that Justin had removed all the items he could without having to resort to a crowbar or a metal saw. BB and I stared dumbly at the sizable mound of torn clothes and misshapen items that were my parents' possessions, everything looking at once familiar yet bizarrely foreign.


"There's still the items in the shed," Justin said, stirring us from our morbid reverie. BB followed him across the lot, smoking the last of his first pack of cigarettes, while I finished loading the back of my car with what few items we were claiming--the baseball cards I'd pulled from the back, the Jeep's twisted license plates, a dented brown valise that contained my Dad's mileage logbook that he kept for tax purposes and a few important-looking papers we thought we'd want to sort through later. Each item was wrapped in a black garbage bag. But when I got in the car and closed the door, that strong smell of oil and blood and death still filled the cab. Suddenly my vision was swimming and my fists clenched so hard I left bloody nailprints in the palms of my hands.

For three weeks, I'd managed to lock down any trace of emotion about the accident, knowing that I needed to function and not trusting myself to risk feeling anything that might hinder me, might keep me from doing what needed to be done. But you can tamp down a great hurt for only so long and it seemed I had reached my limit. I sat there for half a minute, my body in spasm, in a veritable seizure of unchecked grief. Tears ran fast like a flash flood, down my face, over my chin and neck, soaking the collar of my t-shirt. My lips were pressed hard together to keep my teeth from chattering. My nose was suddenly congested and I couldn't breathe. After 30 seconds, I realized that if I didn't rein it in now, I might not be able to stop.

"Knock it off, knock it off, knock it off," I hissed to myself, the only mantra I could manage at that moment. I hyperventilated til I felt dizzy, then I finally caught my breath and just like that, it was over. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, started the car and rolled it across the yard to the shed.

There wasn't much waiting for us there: just the other boxes of baseball cards, a ripped garment bag containing the oil-soaked remains of my dad's one good suit, and a small tote bag.

"Hey, look at this," said BB, pulling a bent notebook from the tote. I blinked, then recognized my Mom's handwriting and realized that she had brought her recipe book on the trip. It fell apart as I thumbed through it, recipe cards falling out of their plastic sleeves. Here was her recipe for banana bread, for pie dough, for the buttermilk chocolate chip cookies she used to make for us when we were kids. Her Lovely Self would be awfully glad to see this, and I was pretty happy about it myself.


But if such episodes in life can have a high point, that was it. In short order, we disposed of the rest of items, consigning them to the Dumpster at the back of the yard.

It was getting on toward 11 o'clock and we needed to get back on the road. We peeled off the last of the purple latex gloves, shook Justin's hand and thanked him for helping us with our unpleasant task, then walked to the car. BB surveyed the back, checking the garbage bags I'd packed to confirm one last time what we were taking and what we were leaving behind. He paused as he looked into one bag.

"Hey, this is trash," he said to me, and showed me the contents. BB had filled a bag with the damp clumps of wrapping paper from the dozens of sundered gifts that had been in the Jeep and I had unthinkingly tossed them in the back. He took the bag out of the back of my car and started to walk it over to the Dumpster, then something made him stop. He cocked his head to one side, then reached in and pulled out a small clump of torn paper, and I saw from its single pink ribbon that it was the fragment of wrapping paper he'd touched when we first saw the car. Now BB turned the soggy clump over and over in his hands, squeezing it experimentally. Suddenly he swore and began pulling the wadded paper apart. A second later, I saw a swatch of green velvet in his hand. I walked over and on closer inspection, saw that it was a small, damp drawstring bag. BB pulled it open, and there, dented and crimped, but shining in the May sun, was my grandmother's bracelet.


"I don't fucking believe it," BB said, and man, he spoke for the ages.

I can't even begin to calculate the odds of that mashed parcel remaining attached by a single ribbon to the very end of the wreck of my parents' car, or of it being the first thing my brother should lay hands on when we arrived. But when the Brownie lost her heirloom ring a few weeks later, the knowledge that we were still one bracelet to the good made it hard for me to feel too sad about the ring's loss.

Before my parents had left New Hampshire, Mom had turned the bracelet over for cleaning to a local jeweler who also specialized in the restoration and repair of antique jewelry. Since he was already familiar with the bracelet, BB thought it made sense to give him the job of trying to uncrimp it after the accident, and I had a hard time arguing the point. Thus it was that I was persuaded to let him take it back to New Hampshire when it was time for him to leave at the end of that week.

Our drive to the airport that day was once more filled with awkward silence, but a different kind of awkward.

"You all right?" I finally asked, as we reached the airport garage and I found a parking space.

"Yeah, it's just...funny. I didn't think I'd feel so bad about leaving when the end of the week came. I figured I'd be fucking sick of you," he said.

I was strangely touched and said so. "You know, you can come and stay any time you like, for as long as you like," I said.

"Yeah, yeah, maybe this fall. Too much to do this summer," he said and I nodded. For while our journey to see where my parents died had signaled a kind of end to things, in truth our troubles were just beginning. Soon enough, the probate court back in New Hampshire would confirm us as co-executors of my parents' estate, and before the summer was over we'd have to conduct an inventory of the house.

"I'll fly back when it's time. We'll do it together and get it done in a few days," I assured him, as we reached the security gate at the airport.

"Yeah," BB agreed. "Okay." And without warning he dropped his carry-on bag and swept me up in a bear hug that made my ribs squeak and caused flashes of light to explode behind my eyes.

"Call me when you get there," I gasped.

"Yeah, whatever," he said, dropping me to the ground as suddenly as he'd picked me up. Then he turned without another word and marched off to the security station. I waited for a few minutes, thinking that once he was through the checkpoint, he might turn around and wave. I even half-raised my arm in farewell when I saw him at the end of the checkpoint. But instead of turning to me, BB spotted the Burger King stand a few feet in front of him and made his way directly there, leaving me standing in the corridor, feeling foolish and alone.

Well, maybe not alone, after all.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

You made it through, admirably.
I'm very glad you found the bracelet.
CHRIST! I can't come up with any other response.......

I think you are a stronger man than I......

When house inventory day comes let me know, I will be there if you need/want
ok I took a deep breath. The house comment.. for those who don't know. I'm MM's cousin so I'm not just offering because.....
Holy crap. I'm so happy that you found the bracelet. I don't know how you stopped he flood of tears. You are much stronger than I ever could be.
Glad your journey had a happy ending. Well, not happy exactly, perhaps, but it was great you were able to find the ring, and see where it happened. Thanks for sharing.
So very happy you found the bracelet--a miracle, no doubt. I'm thinking there's still a chance the ring will make it back too. I want to say something about what it feels like to be able to read your personal story here, but I can't find the right words. Thanks for sharing.
MM, I was really, really, really hoping that this story would end with that bracelet. And I am so glad it did.
Oh my god, MM.

The horror I felt when I saw those pictures was so overwhelming, I can't even imagine the depth of your feelings.

Everything I've been trying to type for the past few minutes has just sounded like trite platitudes.

"I'm sorry" has been said, and saying it again doesn't seem to have a purpose.

And you know that we're here for you...the fact that you're posting is proof of that.

I don't know what else I can do, though, other than go through those motions again.

I'm so sorry.

I'm here if you need anything.
Oh my God. What a terrifying site, what incredible strength, what an amazing miracle.
for once, a happy ending. wow. absolutely amazing. i hope there are a few more happy endings in your lives in the near future, you certainly deserve them after all you've been through.
Oh my gosh! I gasped out loud when I saw the bracelet. I'm so happy for you all that you were able to salvage some things.
Bracelet, recipes, baseball cards... all good things to hold on to.

We're still keeping you all in our prayers - BB included.
I've seen wrecks before but without anything quite like the connection I feel to those pictures. A disturbing reminder that vehicles are not nearly so solid as I perceive them to be most of the time.

I'm so glad that such a difficult task had some true rewards. Thank you for sharing the tale.
Er, I should have said, the bracelet, not the ring. Sorry, I was reading at work and typed too fast.
Amazing. And, thank you.
I would call it yet another gift from a pair of parents that loved you all more than you'll ever know. That's the only explanation I can come up with.
Your parents have gifted you & BB with so much - love, strength, character, purpose, and each other - why should they stop now? Great story, thank you for telling it. P.S. I was ok until the hug!

No maybe about it. You are not alone. Thanks for sharing this story.
Wow, that's great MM, you found the bracelet. The angels must have been watching over it.
You are definitely not alone! I'm so glad that you found the recipe & baseball cards, and the bracelet.
But, what a tough job to do. Blessings to both you and BB. Lizardmom
I am really happy you found the bracelet.. Thank you for sharing the pictures of the car... I am sure it was hard to see it afterwards...

Lets just hope that maybe you will find that ring... somebody is out there watching out for you and your family...
I'm finding it nearly impossible to type anything coherent at the moment. Holy fuck about covers it.

I'm glad you found the bracelet. I think what really put me over the edge reading this, though, was finding your mother's recipes. Oof.

Thank you for sharing this story.
These are tough times. The pictures were heartbreaking. I'm glad you have so many memories of your parents and that you've written so much of it.
MM, wow... um... I'm totally speechless...

I'm so glad you found the bracelet. And for all of that with BB. Still thinking of all of you and praying for your family.
My mother's recipe cards and her tattered black address book did me in. There's something about her handwriting that is so personal.

I hope the bracelet can be fixed.
thank you for sharing the good and the bad.

I have my grandmother's wooden box of recipe cards. I can imagine the hours of time over the years that she puttered around in the kitchen with those very cards propped up, guiding her. I love looking at the things and knowing that she looked at the very same spot.

thinking of you, mm.
I still have chills. The tears in my eyes finally spilled out when you found the bracelet, and they continued through your surprise hug with BB. They abruptly ended when he made a beeline for the Burger King.

Incredible story, MM.
my insides froze solid when i saw those pictures. i have no idea how you stopped the flood, 'cause i'm not at all sure i could have.

as horrible as it must have been (and i know i have no idea), i'm glad you went - not just for the bracelet or the baseball cards or the recipes (although each may have made the whole thing worthwhile), but for the opportunity to spend time with bb - i think you both needed it.

i hope, some day, you can share what is going on with bb and the blog - i miss him.

in the meantime, i'm still sending warm thoughts your way.
Those pictures are truly horrible. So sorry again for your family's loss.

What a miracle to find the bracelet. I'm so glad you did!
I cannot imagine going through that. Glad you found the bracelet though.
I'm pleased that you are writing again and that the bracelet was found. Two treasures... there are more to count, but I don't think I need to. You know what they are :)
Wow. Thanks for telling us the story.
Oh my. Those pictures...I'm still blubbering like a little baby here. It used to be that your stories never ceased to entertain me. Now "touch" is a better word. I'm so sorry you guys had to go through that, but I'm so glad you found the bracelet. Thank you for sharing your story.
WOW. I have pictures of my mother's crash, very similar.

I'm touched that you found remnants of "who she was".

Blessings to you.
I am dumbfounded by the whole story. You are an everyman. This is an everyman story. Of life and unexpected unvidicated death. Of glimmering miracles..and thru it all your snippets of humour.

I find it hard to come here sometimes now....but I always do.

The thoughts of many are with you.
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