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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vin


The thyme in the raised bed is mostly brown branches with few green leaves left. I see that the weedy thyme is spreading and encroaching on the budding red strawberry plants. I pull out some of the dead branches and throw thyme away in the green garbage.


My husband and I spent two days last week sorting and packing my sister’s house. She sold it after breaking up with her husband, who was a difficult person to live with. She was angry and sad as we packed up her life. When my sister married her husband 35 years ago, they must have had dreams of a happy future that would go on until the end of their time on this earth.


The house is above a hilly canyon at the end of a road, where there are no houses on three sides. Across the road, you can stand and look down into a vast green valley, where hawks and ravens soar above the tall trees. The location was beautiful, but my sister’s husband slowly drove the house into the ground. The house was damp, dark, and dusty. There were broken pipes and cracks in the foundation. In one back room, there was a hole where the floor had eroded and was replaced by a mound of dirt from the hill. This house may have been nice once. It had to be. It was near Los Angeles with a beautiful view of the mountains. A sign in a back bedroom read, “Marilyn once slept here.” In the 1950’s Marilyn Monroe had come to a party there from nearby Hollywood.


This had been my sister’s husband’s childhood home. On a stepstool in a closet, I handed her endless photo albums, slides, and memorabilia that went back in his family to the early 1900s. We found his old Harley Davidson motorcycle jackets and helmets; saw photos of him as a baby, child, teen, and newlywed (from his first marriage); pulled out his old saxophone (he once played in a professional band); and boxed his extensive book collection including series by Tony Hillerman and Joseph Phillip Farmer. There were pictures of family boats, cars, and his parent's many travels to China, and Europe. As we sorted through years of paraphernalia, I wondered, “What happened to him?”


Their lives were larger at one time. There were years of her riding behind him on his motorcycle, traversing the lake on his boat, and camping in his camper attached to his truck. He had some redeeming qualities. He was a success as a project manager in city construction projects before he retired. But he always had a short temper and he succeeded in alienating more and more co-workers, family, and friends over the years.


As I dusted off old albums, I heard the song from the musical Rent in my mind. I started humming, ”500, 2500, 600 minutes…how do you measure, measure a life?"


While the crumbling house was being assessed and put on the market to be sold, they both had to move out. My sister was invited to stay with her son and his family, who live in the same town. Her husband, who had been banned years ago from that house (for cussing at the grandkids) was not allowed to move in. So his daughter from his first marriage took him to Arizona to live with her “until the house was sold”.My sister refused to go with him telling him, “No, I am not leaving my son and grandchildren.” With him gone, it became clearer to her that she never wanted to live with him again. As we took a break from packing her house into boxes, I heard my sister say, “I feel like my old self again”.  I saw her eyes light up and watched a smile dawn on her face as she took a full breath. This made me teary. The circles she moved in had become smaller and smaller over the years, and toward the end, they hardly went anywhere or did anything.


I don’t know if her husband ever realized how he had alienated so many people, and that in the end, his second wife would leave him.


Driving home after crawling two days through the detritus of his life, my eyes were wide with shock and my upper lip was lifted in disgust. His house is like him. In the car, I played the song, “Seasons of Love” that introductory song from Rent, and heard, “How do you measure a life?...In truths that she learned, or in times that he cried. In bridges he burned, or the way that she died! The line that stopped me in my tracks was “In bridges he burned”.


That night I dreamt that I was like him, pushing against others, critical, prideful, and never satisfied. No one in the dream liked me. They pulled away. I woke up with a shiver.


Weedy brown thyme encroaches on the strawberries.

The berries keep low to the ground as thyme hovers over them

And takes away their light.

They shrink and pull into themselves for so long, they can’t remember another life.

Until thyme is snatched by fate and thrown into the bin.

The strawberry plant blinks at the sun, that she had forgotten how much she missed.





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