(James, Maggie, and Mark Ludwig at one of our wine parties, Dec 2003.)
When Mark died, I got to witness first hand how vicious, greedy, callous, and shallow people could be, people whom I thought I knew well – very well. Mark, like most of us back in those glory days, had lots of toys: big TVs, a pool table, extra refrigerators, a big fancy gas grill – all these things were now declared homeless. But people weren’t shy about laying claim to them. In fact, they came out of the woodworks with greed in their eyes while not being afraid of using shifty measures to acquire things they suddenly deemed theirs. Since Mark didn’t have a significant other, there was no one who really could have spoken for Mark. It was a disgusting free-for-all. It was nasty.
There was name-calling, accusations, theft, and flat out warfare tactics. At one point, two girls locked themselves into Mark’s house (that he owned) and decided it was their job to go through all of Mark’s personal possessions and divide things up as they saw fit.
Months prior, Mark had borrowed from me a pressure washer that Maggie had given me for Christmas. While it wasn’t fancy or new or expensive, I loved that power washer. But Mark needed it to clean off something to prep for one of his parties (one of many that I attended) so I was happy to lend it to him.
I had heard about the two girls who had taken over sorting through his stuff so I went over to his house to retrieve my power washer. After I rang the doorbell, one of the aforementioned girls answered the door, but just barely cracked it open so she could poke her head out. Seeing the look on her face and feeling her attitude when I asked about the power washer, I turned around and never looked back again. I never saw that power washer again.
Later I heard that things were way worse than what I saw. Some people even laid claim to the money Mark had in his bank account. I said, “Laid claim.” I meant, “Demanded.” It was ugly, nasty and I vowed to never be a part of any of that, even if it meant that I’d have to sacrifice something that I really cared about to avoid being a part of a nasty experience at the end of someone’s wonderful life. As difficult as it may be, I’ll never willingly let stink trump beauty. Call it ideology.
I’ve never forgotten the terrible lack of humanity and the overabundance of selfishness that I saw during those difficult days. I was scarred. It was hard enough living through the shock of the sudden loss of a best friend but to watch vicious vultures gnaw at the remains of what was once a huge life being lived by a wonderful man - it crushed my soul.
Five years later, Maggie died.
Maybe I’m oversensitive. Because of what I saw, I have an enormous minefield built up around her clothes, her shoes, and her jewelry. It’s bigger and more explosive than you can even imagine. The mental picture of people treating her treasures like a rummage sale boils my blood beyond reasonableness. But I can't keep her stuff around here forever. Maybe I just don’t know how to merge appropriate homage with practicality.
These aren’t nice shoes that you might like to wear one day with that little slinky outfit you bought. These are the shoes Maggie wore on our third date. This is the dress that she wore to San Angelo to meet my family. These are the jeans she paraded around the house wearing, beaming because she knew that I knew that she knew she looked fantastic. These “wardrobe additions” or “estate sale bargains” are some of my life’s fondest moments. There’s no haggling on the price, if they were even for sale!
These are also anchors to my past, a past I’m hesitant to let go of, a glorious past that I’m still mourning the loss of. Despite my absolute, genuine, totally committed, and even enthusiastic anticipation of moving forward and living a grand life after Maggie, it's not any easier to drop off my favorite miniskirt of hers at Goodwill. Or her favorite pair of flip-flops. Or her fancy heals that she loved to wear that made her about an inch and a half taller than me.
So it all sits. The shoes sit in boxes in the foyer. The clothes still hang on her side of the closet. And I struggle with what to do. I’m definitely ready to do something but I cannot allow a feeding frenzy to take place. Such a display would sicken me beyond any recoverable point and bitter me to anyone who participated. At the same time, that closet is filled with thousands of dollars worth of clothes, maybe tens of thousands. I'd feel a fool to just give it all away. I don't know what to do. So it all sits. And I feel like a fool.
But I’m not a fool who gives up. It may take another month, or maybe another year, but one day I’ll do what needs to be done. I’ll keep pushing myself to move forward. Maybe that sacrificed power washer served more purpose than I realized. Maybe it set a standard for what is truly important – the stuff, or the life around the stuff.
Hmm…. maybe Maggie’s clothes really aren’t that important any more.