One of my very favorite comedy films of all-time has always been The Jerk. As I continue to pack, lift, go through piles, clean, organize, fill boxes and bags, and generally prepare to move out of the apartment my husband and I shared our life in for 7 years, I feel a little bit like Steve Martin’s character, Navin, as he left his mansion and his lovely wife Marie (Burnadette Peters.) My dad and I used to quote this scene constantly when I was a kid, and I can still watch it a hundred times and it always makes me laugh:
Navin R. Johnson: Well I’m gonna go then! And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need anything. Except this.
[picks up an ashtray]
Navin R. Johnson: I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game. – The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need… And this remote control. – The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need… And these matches. – The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball… And this lamp. – The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need. I don’t need one other thing, not one… I need this. – The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I’m some kind of a jerk or something! – And this. That’s all I need.
Navin R. Johnson: The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, and this magazine, and the chair.
Navin R. Johnson: [outside now] And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.
[Shithead growls at him]
Navin R. Johnson: I don’t need my dog.
About 13 months ago, I lost my husband when he had a sudden heart-attack. Four days later, I was staring at him in a casket, delivering a Eulogy I wrote, and getting in our car and driving home, alone. A week after that, the foreclosure went through on the home that my parents shared their life and their marriage in for 45 years. The home that my brother and I grew up in. The only home I had ever known. That same week, I had to sell my husband’s car, because at 14 years old with 145,000 miles on it and always in the shop for repairs, it was no longer a safe option for me.
And so there I was, just a year ago, sitting in Don’s Pontiac Grand Prix – his baby – in my parent’s driveway, sobbing, trying to feel him one last time as I desperately wrapped my fingers around the steering wheel like claws, trying to somehow bring him back through his love for his precious car. I walked into my parent’s house, which was technically no longer their house, stood in the emptiness, and just cried. Waves of emotion bombarded me and my heart sunk into my chest as I closed that door one last time. Something had ended. Life had been stolen. There were things I could never get back. It wasn’t fair.
Fast-forward to this week. It’s happening all over again. Don has been dead for a year now, and I’m saying goodbye to the only home we have ever known as a couple. We never lived anywhere else together. We never got to own a home, or have kids, or reach our goals. We weren’t there yet. It was only the beginning – until it was the end. Our life was here, in this crappy, dusty, tiny apartment. We had dreams. We had a future planned. We also had no money, no savings, and no idea when we would be able to get out of New Jersey like Don wanted to so badly. And in 10 days, I will be leaving, alone. And let me tell you – it hurts like hell to go.
Moving is a goddamn nightmare. Moving while grieving is a hellish nightmare. Moving out of New Jersey is an impossible, hellish, awful, terrible, evil nightmare. After all this time, I am finally starting to see why my husband hated this state so much. “It’s a pain in the ass to do the simplest thing here”, he used to say. “They are ass-backwards, and things that should be easy, you gotta break your damn back to accomplish. Why is EVERYTHING so difficult here?” He never understood why you couldn’t miss your exit, and just turn around. Or why you had to pay money to simply park your car in a space. Or why they never fixed the potholes that would ruin his car. He could never grasp the concept of the jughandle, the mafia-mentality, or “The Jersey Shore” obsession. “The beaches here suck”, he would say. The bike and golf clubs that he used all year long in Florida – stayed in our storage closet here, barely used. The lifestyle was different. He didnt like how everybody was on top of each other here. It’s always crowded. Filthy. Old. Moving from Florida to here, his car insurance doubled. HIs rent doubled. There were so many more expenses here than what he was used to. It was stressful just to live. He was always working his ass off, yet we never got ahead. He loved NYC, and he loved me. He knew I needed to be here, so this is where we were. But he really hated New Jersey. I used to take that personally. Now, after jumping through hoops trying to move the hell out of here, I truly understand.
The place I am moving into comes complete with a roommate. It also comes with a beautiful king-sized bed, dressers, nightstands, couches, desk, and everything else you can think of. It is furnished, and so I cannot take much with me. Because of this, for the past month, Ive been trying to figure out ways to get rid of my bed, 2 sofas, Entertainment Center, kitchen table, coffee table, and annoyingly large dresser. I put them on Craigslist. Freecycle. I even made posters and put them up in our building, and then walked them into the mom and pop stores all over our neighborhood. The items were all listed as being FREE, provided you come get them and carry them out of here yourself. Good luck finding a parking spot. It’ll never happen. And if by some miracle it does occur and you park within a mile of the place without issue, have fun trying to fit the ginormous items through the small doorways, and down the 3 flights of stairs. Nobody showed up. Nobody wanted my things. For FREE! Okay. Fine, assholes. I will donate them. Surely a woman’s shelter or The Salvation Army would be honored to have these items, right? Wrong. Turns out the Salvation Army only has one guy available to pick up donated items, and he isn’t free until mid-September. The shelter doesn’t take any items from families who have cats, due to possible allergies. (Seriously?) Well, Kelley, you may say- why not just leave the furniture on your curb? Surely someone will come and pick it up! Not in good ‘ole New Jersey! In my neighborhood, you are not allowed to leave any large items or furniture in the basement or on the street. If you do, you will be fined. And then killed. The town will come and pick up your items for you, but only on Tuesdays between the hours of 12:45pm – 1:17pm, and only on partly cloudy days, and only if it’s not raining. Or sunny. Or hot. Or cold. And they wont come up the steps to your apartment to get the items. They will only pick them up on the curb. Oh, and they will only pick up 3 items at a time. Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of dumb-ass racket are you people running anyway? How is this convenient or logical in any way whatsoever? And what the hell am I going to do with all my crap??? Eventually, I had to let my friends know that I needed help. And when I did that, they came running, and the process of getting rid of my things began. So did my extreme emotions.
First up, our good friend and Don’s long-time EMS partner on the ambulance Meg showed up and tore apart the two sofas. She literally took box-cutters and a mallot, and destroyed the damn things. Don would have really appreciated that, and found it awesome. Me? It was really weird watching the couches that we bought right after our wedding, the couches he always sat on when he strummed his guitars – being turned into sawdust. “They are just things”, Meg reminded me. And she was right. I just have to constantly remind myself of that. Meanwhile, I took the mallot to the dresser, and showed it who was boss. Two 7-hour days later and our lungs filled with dust, we had accomplished something. We had bonded in our violent destruction of innocent objects. We were one. (Okay, that last part is ridiculous. It’s late and I’m just tired. We weren’t one.)
Next, my friend John came over and helped me go through Don’s hallway closet, a project that, if I had done by myself, would have left me frozen by intense emotion at the discovery of each new item found. With him there, I was able to control that, continue, and talk about it with him instead of crying in a corner alone.
Today was the biggest project of all. Two gay men, a married guy driving a church-owned box-truck, and a widow – all working together as the weirdest moving company ever, to get all the pieces of junk that was once my furniture out of the apartment and into some dumpster somewhere. In preparation for all of my friends arrival, I woke up this morning and moved what I could into the living room so they would have easy access to it all. Then, I stopped. Looked around. Another empty room. Just like last year, standing in my parent’s house. Once again, it all hit me. The flood gates opened up, and I broke down. An hour later, I cried again, this time while talking to Rebecca on the phone about the details of today. That time, I was overcome with gratefulness. Thankful for the many ways friends like her have helped me. So I cried.
Just hours later, my crew arrived, and we were eating the pizza I ordered, and drinking the soda and bottled water I provided them – a tiny thank you for all they were doing for me. And then we got to work. Bobby, Jay, Ben, and me. Slowly removing the pieces of my life into a truck donated by Ben and his wife Rebecca’s church. It was messy. It was funny. It was strange.
When we found an empty trash bin outside and Jay came up with the idea to “borrow” it for a few minutes so that we could use it to put all the many loose pieces of wood from our couches and Entertainment Center and dresser that had been hacked to pieces the days before, I suggested that may be considered stealing by our neighbors. Then Bobby came up with an Ad slogan for our new fake Moving Company:
“Need movers? Have no values? Call us! We are QuestionableMorals.com! We have no conscience – Right or wrong, we get the job done!”
Later, when we removed our mattress and bed frame, we discovered Don’s gun in a case underneath the bed. This wasn’t a surprise to me, as I recall him telling me he had brought it up here from Florida. It sat under our bed for 7 years, never coming out of it’s case. Don was in the Air Force, and he enjoyed skeet shooting – even won some trophies for it in competitions. So, it was some sort of skeet-shooting rifle. When I told the men that I wanted to open the case and look and see the gun inside, again we started creating fake future newspaper headlines:
“Widow Accidentally Shoots Herself with Dead Husband’s Gun. Gay Friends Watch in Horror.”
Or my favorite:
“Young Widow Found Dead After Gay Friend Accidentally Mistakes Gun for Microphone. Local Church Held Liable.”
(Not to worry. Later in the day, I phoned the local police station and informed them of the situation and that I found my deceased husband’s gun while packing. An officer came over and made the gun go bye-bye.)
Today I cried. Today I laughed. Today my friends were amazing, as they have been throughout this neverending nightmare of losing my wonderful husband. Today I stood in our living room, and saw my never-reached future and my bittersweet past. I saw the things that we bought together and used together and lived in together – carted away. You would think that the emptyness of the rooms would make the place seem more impersonal. It didn’t. It just made me sad. Made me think about 10 days from now, when I close that door forever, when I walk out of here for the last time, and how I won’t be with my husband when I do that. None of our things made it out alive. Our couches. Dresser. Tables. All the small and big things we owned together – gone. Cut up and thrown into a truck.
The only thing that made it – the only thing that is coming with me – is his chair. His silly, stupid, dumb, horrible, wonderful chair. I made fun of it all the time. He loved his chair. He brought it with him from Florida. His La-Z-boy chair. The chair he napped with the cats in. The chair he took care of me in for a week when I threw out my back. The chair I sat in the first time I flew out to Florida to visit him, when we were dating long-distance. I sat in his chair, and his cat Isabelle jumped right into my lap. Don smiled and said: “She loves you. She doesn’t usually do that. She loves you, Boo.” It’s the chair that I called ugly on more than one occasion. And now, as if Im being punished for mocking it so openly, I am left with it.
As I leave this apartment and move into this new one, I am 40 years old and I am starting my life all over again. I am left with no husband. No money. No health insurance. No security. No safety net. No plan. What if my new roommate hates me? What if he regrets letting me live there? What if he dies like Don did? Then where will I live? What if my cats freak out and hate it there and he kicks us out? What if I get sick and cant pay my bills? What if I lose my job? What if I can’t think of any more panicky questions? What if ….
And so, as I attempt to fall asleep tonight in my husband’s favorite, lame chair that is now my lame chair – I am reminded again of that classic scene in The Jerk. And when I leave here in a week and a half, I will need to remind myself that, like Navin, I don’t need the Entertainment Center. Or the dresser. I don’t need our couches. I don’t need anything.
Except this chair. This chair … and my kitties. And I don’t need anything else. Not one other thing.
I do need friends. I need my friends. So this chair, my cats, and my friends .. and that’s all I need ever. And I dont need one other thing.
But as I close the doors on New Jersey and open them to New York and to this new part of my life, I’ll tell you a secret. And the secret is this:
(Thank you to Rebecca, Ben, and Powerhouse Christian Church for the use of this wonderfully perfect truck today. And thank you to all of my great friends, who always come running whenever I ask. I just need to remember to ask. I love you.)