Anne Mei and I visited Laura’s brother Paul on this Memorial Day 2014. The two of us have become experienced travelers and could pack lightly for an overnight trip. I was using a small travel bag of Laura’s. I don’t remember when she bought it. Now I use it mostly for going to the gym. The material is starting to fray and it will have to be replaced eventually. Since there are no particular memories attached to it, I probably won’t keep it when it’s of no more use.
Old bags left around in case they might be of use some day sometimes detonate like land mines. In the first year after Laura died I was looking through my collection of plastic bags for something to protect some papers from the rain. I found the perfect one, a heavier white bag like the ones you get for your laundry in a hotel. Then I saw the label. We got this bag at the National Cancer Institute during Laura’s third and last visit. She was in terrible pain because of the rash she had developed, and the ointment they put on the rash had stained her clothes. They gave us the bag to carry her clothes home with us. Just seeing that bag brought back that awful day.
Part of the nightmare in our second journey to and from NCI was my having to handle a rolling suitcase and a large shoulder bag in addition to helping Laura through the crowds, up and down the stalled escalators, up/down the stairs of the train cars. Before our next trip, I decided that I needed a good backpack to hold all our stuff and to keep my arms free for Laura. After much research on the internet, I found the perfect bag at Eastern Mountain Sports. Laura and I went down to the store at Market Fair on Route 1 to buy it. Within a week Laura’s condition deteriorated to the point where it was obvious there was no way she was going to be able to travel by public transportation down to NCI again, even with my hands free. When I returned the backpack to EMS, the clerk became quite excited because the model had become so popular that it was scarce. For what became this final trip to NCI, the search for a bag transformed into a search for someone to help me drive or to drive for us. First Laura’s colleagues raised money so we could hire a car; then, Paul and Louise Lutz volunteered to share the driving with me. We didn’t need luggage for a one-day trip with three drivers.
Both Yehuda Amichai and Keilson’s unnamed narrator focus on their parents packing for transport—doing what they have to do, practically, some false hope, but mostly just doing something.
Have I mentioned that my father, in the wisdom of his hands,
knew how to prepare parcels for transport,
packed tight and sealed tight
so they wouldn’t come undone along the way like me?
So much death in everything, so much packing and transport,
so much open that will never close again, so much closed
that will never open. Amichai 171