Amongst Artifacts of Someone Else’s Existence


Each night I sleep in someone else’s sheets. I don’t know that person. I don’t know who they belong to or when the last time someone besides me or Jon rested their body on them. I don’t know where they come from and I don’t know if they are clean. I don’t even know if they belong to anyone at all. Maybe it was a guest bed. None of this even bothers me.

For many nights in October through December, I slept on my sister’s couch with her cheetah-print snuggie. Up until just recently, she and my aunt were living together, along with my niece. When my aunt found a place closer to her work, they ended their lease and my sister was not sure where she was going to live. That meant I was unsure where I was going to be sleeping every night. The RV wasn’t ready yet. What to do?

And then star dust sprinkled down from the cosmos, and timing had a way of doing something perfect. I was presented with the option to stay at a three-bedroom house with a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, and located just up the street from the forested shoreline of a lovely Seattle park. Woowee. Was there a catch?

The parents of my boyfriend’s old boss had just recently been moved into a nursing home, so their home was going to be cleaned out and then put on the market. Because the family wanted to keep the utilities on while they prepped it for sale, they were looking for someone to stay temporarily for only the cost of some utilities. My sister could save some money on rent and have some more time to find a place, and I could park the RV out front and work on it. My office is just down the road and I would get to sleep in a bed again. So it was an offer we couldn’t pass up. My sister and I agreed and here we are. It’s been two and a half weeks.

The Dolphin loves the new view

When we first got here, I was secretly whirling through fluffy clouds of happiness, as I unloaded my car for the first time in months. I pulled out my camp cookware and put it on the stove. I went grocery shopping and actually got food I could put in the fridge. My own empty fridge. For the first time, I unpacked my new food dehydrator I got for Christmas. I walked out to the big backyard. I bought a shitty shower curtain from the Dollar Store in a color I never would have bought for my own bathroom. I flung my pillows up on the sheets. And I hopped in that bed and slept a sound night of sleep. I moved right on in. Sure, there were forty year old crumbs in the drawers, some damp smells here and there, photos of someone else’s family on the mantel, old-fashioned curtains, a cane in the corner, a sign on the front window that said “Caution: Oxygen in Use. No Smoking” and some other interesting things. But for me it has been a place to temporarily call home and I felt instantly comfortable.

My sister on the hand had a tougher time at first. She was a bit reluctant to do this whole thing anyway. I watched her tiptoe around with hunched shoulders for the first few days, cautiously opening cabinets or drawers or doors as though a rat might pop out at any time or she might contract an old person illness if her hand lingered in any one place for too long.

Here, there is no cable. No television or internet. We are eating off of my camping plates and the silverware and dishes of my niece (who is not even two). Last night I ate my spaghetti with a bright pink plastic kiddie fork. I boiled the noodles in my tiny backpacking pot on the stove. Our belongings do not go in closets or drawers, but instead scatter across the carpet or on counters. It’s too temporary to unpack. For me, this is the kind of existence I live for, and after living from couch to couch for the past three months, this feels almost like a resort. An older cabin. But my big sis just came from the comforts of her own home, so this is a bit of a downgrade, view and all.

It’s interesting, though, how quickly adjustment can happen. For just yesterday my sister was in her room trying to find something to wear for a job interview. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard her say “do you think this old lady would mind if I wore her clothes?” My, could she actually be considering it? I found her with the door of the closet open as she admired one of the mature sweaters inside with a genuine look of consideration. Of course in the end, she didn’t wear the lady’s clothes, but I think my sister is starting to feel a bit more comfortable here.

journeyfoot ozzie
Oz-Man

And I am too. You get to know the walls of a place after so many nights and days together. It’s a bit of a relationship that forms. Here I am tonight, alone. It’s rare my computer to be without internet, especially when I am working on it. But it’s kind of nice. To be disconnected. In my cabin. My cabin retreat with views of Mount Constance and the orange skies of each setting sun. I’m listening to some of Seattle’s finest, The Moondoggies. I just had some sushi. My favorite guy in the whole world is sitting here with me [see photo]. And I am writing like I used to.

This place, these walls, they are holding the air that I breathe in this moment. And how can I not think of the lives that were here before? And for a long time. Since the fifties. Before I was ever thought of; before my parents were ever thought of. At that one point in time so many years ago, that man and woman moved into this very house and changed their entire course of history. This is where they raised their daughter. I don’t know if they had any other children. That was a significant point in the history of these people, and this house represents it. This house.

I see the old wood burning stove with wood still stacked in the metal basket, and wonder on how many cold Sunday mornings that stove was filled with a crackling fire. I can almost smell the coffee, cooking bacon and maple syrup. Where did they place their Christmas tree each year, or was it always different? What room did the woman choose to read in, or where was the man’s favorite spot to sit?

I can see certain things are newer than others, indicating items that had been replaced at one point. A purchase they had to consider. A product to choose. Was there an argument over which style oven or what color carpet?

And now, for these two people somewhere out there, all of these things and those choices no longer really matter. How many times did the man mow the lawn over the course of that half century? How many flower bulbs did they plant together? How many birthday parties did the back yard hold in that time? Or barbecues, family holidays. All of those instances that were once so significant in that moment, as well as all the ones that were not… Everything is all just a memory now, if it is at all.

There are papers with notes still on the fridge. Old cookware from a different time period sits in dusty shelves. These artifacts of a life are special. I think of my paperwork in the files I keep. They seem like such important documents, but one day they’ll only be important to someone sentimental or nostalgic. Maybe someone like me. My granddaughter perhaps. These intimate reminders of someone else’s private existence leaves me feeling the same way I do in a cemetery. It is a welcoming feeling.

Charleston, SC | 2011
Charleston, SC | 2011

I have a fondness for cemeteries that started when I was young. The graves on the east coast are much older than those on the west, and graves seem to age like a fine wine. The old, forgotten ones are the most special to me. I have stood in front of many of these tombstones, always figuring out how old the person was at death before contemplating their existence in this world. This person loved someone, just as I love people now. This person, even though they lived hundreds of years ago, woke up each morning and went through the motions of life just as I do. There was heartache and excitement and joy and pain and sorrow. And now nothing. Some graves say something about the person being a wife or a husband, father or mother, a child. It’s easy to read it casually and not think too much about it, especially when the person lived long ago.

But death is always significant, especially for the families of the deceased. These graves hold the bodies of real people that each had a birth and then a death, events that at one time were very significant to someone, if not many people. And these graves mark that significance. Just like this house, and the leftover items inside.

One day the tangible things won’t matter to me. My RV will be long gone. All the hard work I am putting in now will be a memory. All my clothes. Even the cool new dehydrator. Even….Ozzie. New people will move into this house and make it into something of their own; a piece of their history. The walls will still be there, holding up the air breathed. It just won’t be mine. And then I won’t even matter. I’ll just be another forgotten headstone, because all the people who loved me will also be gone. One day, hundreds of years from now, maybe a person will stare at my gravestone and calculate my age when I died and think about who I loved, or how I spent my time alive. By then, this house will have probably crumbled.

It’s so impermanent. All of it. But these tangible, lifeless “things” are symbols of our significance; artifacts of our existence. The houses, the graves, the journals…. Those objects live on for others to enjoy. New meaning is given to them. New life forms within them until they, too, become dust. And there is nothing sad about it.

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