I stood in the closet next to Soung. We looked around at her clothing. They hung from hangers, sighing. The great contrast between aged skin and aged clothing became painfully clear: One becomes wrinkled over time, and the other becomes smoother. There were shoes tucked away and a few hair ties draped around the door handle. She once walked through there, figuring out what to wear before heading out for the night. The carpeting below our feet held indentations of previous footprints. I wondered if any of them were still hers. I thought about cutting out a square of it and taking it with me as one might a fossil.
(After she died, I tried to convince myself that I had less of a right to miss her.)
Soung lifted one of the shirts from the hanger. She held it up to her nose and inhaled deeply.
I reached toward the back of the closet. While my decision seemed logical, I was most likely in search of the clothing she rarely wore and therefore would harbor no smell. And it didn’t.
Soung pulled out a sweater and then a t-shirt. We picked up faint scents, and like sleepy memories, I wasn’t sure if they were real or my memory wanted them to be. She pulled out a pair of pants, a dress shirt, a suit jacket, and a sock. Each time, we inhaled deeply, absorbing whatever we could.
The night I found out she had died, I took the train to D.C. to be closer to Soung. We had dinner and talked. We played pool. We took a cab home at 2 AM.
“I wish I saved a voice mail. Had I known, I would have saved them all. I really want to hear her voice once more.”
“Why don’t we call her phone?” I asked.
“But what if her mom answers? It’s really late.”
“We’ll call from my phone. It’s a San Francisco number. I’ll just say I have wrong number.”
I dialed her number and it rang several times.
“Hello?” A voice on the other end sputtered to life. I hadn’t expected anyone to answer. I figured I’d receive a “Mailbox is Full” message. Before anyone heard the news, they called and called and called. Up until that moment, I had never thought about all the overflowing mailboxes, maxed out answering machines, or voicemail boxes.
I immediately panicked and hung up the phone.
It turns out; I had flipped the two last numbers. I had called a complete stranger at about 2:30 in the morning from the darkness of a D.C. cab. What do you say to that someone, that voice on the other end? I woke up a complete stranger in the middle of the night just to hear the recorded voice of my friend. That stranger will never know they answered a phone call meant for a dead person.
The living is heartbreaking sometimes.
That night, when we finally laid down to sleep, Soung told me that my side of the bed might still smell like her.
“I haven’t washed the sheets since she spent the night during the snowstorm last week.”
I took great comfort in that pillow, but we never tried to call her again.
Soung pulled a scarf she had knitted down from its hanger. She used to knit. She wore scarves all the time. Soung inhaled deeply. I could tell immediately this one held a lot. I watched Katrina’s smell fill Soung’s face. I saw it move up into her nose and then through her cheeks, which flushed with the introduction. Her eyes began to water; she had discovered her all over again.
I wanted some. She handed me the scarf and I inhaled but not as deeply. I wanted more and more and I wanted it to last forever. It seemed like the right thing to do was to save it for others.
We moved through the closet in search of more and more of her. We picked up each piece of clothing and put it back in its place when we were finished. Oh, how I missed her.
Could this be the only thing we have left?
I woke up sweating.
I hate forgetting. I hope that I never forget.