The door takes a few moments to open. I hold the handle with one hand, shaking the key in the lock with the other, trying to manage the bundle of mail tucked under my right arm.
I move into the dark apartment, keeping the mail and other items I have with me in balance until I reach the kitchen counter. The apartment is quiet, and it’s unusually quiet all through the building. Normally I’m here late in the day when the endless noise of residents, especially the kids, echoes loudly on the metal steps.
This is not a life I would have chosen, nor one I even understand. It is my sister’s life, or, now, the remains of it. I’m here today to honor her request.
“You’ll know,” were her last whispered words.
How would I know? I never knew much of her life. I could have accepted the women she chose to love if she herself could have found comfort in it. But it was the drugs and the disappearances for months upon months that I couldn’t cope with.
“Doesn’t matter,” I say to myself. It is the positive days over the last year that I want to remember, the knowledge that she had cleaned up. And even though I knew she didn’t leave her old friends from the street behind, she was trying to live every day clean, sober, and with hope.
“What’s the task?” I question, looking around. I glance down at the mail now sprawled across the white counter, letter after letter with various names, but her address. I start to sort them, first looking for the mistake: a different apartment number or street address; anything that would indicate the new direction these letters needed to take. It becomes evident that most were addressed to clearly different people at this address. “Why?” I question. Turning, I start my walk through the apartment with some of the letters in hand.
The apartment is neater than I remembered, almost as if she knew what this last trip to the hospital would signify. What catches my attention are the carefully separated stacks of mail, each sitting on two rolls of toilet paper, leaning against the wall. I never understood her repeated requests for toilet paper when I would ask what she needed. Now, I get it.
My sweet, sweet sister was giving her homeless friends dignity. A place, an address where those who cared could send mail. The toilet paper, such a basic human need, was a simple gift she could give to those friends who helped her during her days on the street.
My eyes tear trying to balance my grief, my pride, and my love for her departed soul. As poorly as she lived, she thought of those who had less. She knew their lives, their souls in ways I could never begin to understand.
And now I know my task: I need to match faces and names and finish her final delivery. But how to find those who live without walls? The park! Of course, the park, where so many times I had gone looking for her. I grab some paper bags from her kitchen and use a bag for each separate pile.
Carrying as many bags as possible, I load them into the trunk of the car. Returning for the final bags, I could swear that in the brightness of the day above her apartment building, a light streamed across the blue of the sky, out-shining even the sun. Her light, I would later call it; her beautiful light.
In memory of Judy Woods, Denver, CO March, 2014.
Diana Creel Elarde is a writer and a business consultant. She recently published her first book, A Star in My Hand. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.