What would you take with you, if you could?

If you could take something with you when you leave this world, what would you take? That’s the question that has been asked of you, and the obvious things aren’t allowed: those whom you love.

You put a colon in that sentence above because you thought you’d be making a list of all the obvious things that you aren’t allowed to take with you, but as it turns out, there’s only one obvious thing that matters: those whom you love.

Last night you couldn’t sleep. You woke up at 1:50 in a typical middle-of-the-night terror, your mind spinning wildly. You went through them all, all those whom you love, ticking them off one by one.

If you didn’t know exactly where they were, right at that moment, you imagined it. The boy: asleep in a room on the tenth floor of a building in a city by the sea.  The girl: asleep ten feet away; you could hear the whir of the fan that keeps her peaceful. The other girl: asleep thirty feet away; you pictured the dog curled up next to her on the sleeping bag she prefers to sheets.

The mother and father: asleep in the upstairs room of the house you grew up in, surrounded by vast snowy woods and fields, their own dog asleep on the couch downstairs.

The brother: asleep with his wife, three miles away, in the room adjoining their baby’s room. The sister: asleep in her upstairs bedroom next to her husband, the twin boys down the hall, asleep in their bunks. The other sister: asleep in her upstairs bedroom next to her husband, the three children in their rooms on the same floor.

The man and his dog: asleep, or maybe not asleep, in a room filled with books two miles away.

The best friend: asleep next to her husband on the second floor of the light-filled house fifteen hundred miles away.

You turn over. Everyone is accounted for. But for how long? How long will it last? What will you do when one of the dominoes tumbles? You must figure out a way to cope. You must be strong. You must not crumble. Your mind spins off again, spiraling up and away, and you flip the pillow. You listen to the fan in the girl’s room. You push your leg against the weight of the cat, asleep next to you.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

What would you take with you, if you could?

All these quilts on top of your layers of sleep clothes –the t-shirt, the other t-shirt, the long-sleeve shirt, the flannel pajamas– are making you hot. But if you push one of the quilts off then you might get cold. If you get cold you might never get warm again. Better keep all the quilts on.

But man, it’s hot. Push a quilt off. If you get cold, you can pull the quilt back on. Keep careful track now, because the minute you start to get cold it could all be over. You might never get warm again.

You lie there, keeping track. Where are those you love now? It’s 3:57; surely they’re all still asleep. Run through them all again, one by one, in your mind. Check. Check. Check.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

What would you take with you, if you could? Would you take your cactus mug? Would you take the photo of your grandmother and grandfather and their dog, that photo with you in the background beside them? Would you take your black cowboy shirt? Would you take your secret recipe for toffee? Would you take your favorite pair of jeans? Would you take your excellent sense of smell, the rickety green bench you commandeered from the trash down the alley? Would you take the letter your father wrote you ten years ago?

Two days ago you and your girls went to the Somali mall and got henna tattoos. Henna lasts a few weeks, and then it fades away.

You’re still too hot. All these layers. Push off another quilt. But wait, you might get cold at any moment. The first domino might fall at any moment. And then what?

What would you take with you, if you could?

A long time ago someone came running back up those narrow apartment building stairs after saying goodbye, four floors up, and threw his arms around you, and told you he was crazy about you. He was wearing a long black coat. Or maybe he wasn’t, this was spring, why would he be wearing a long black coat? You hugged him back.

Then he became a domino that fell, and he took you with him.

Still too hot. You get up out of the quilt-strewn bed and turn on the overhead fan. It’s winter, and here you are with an overhead fan? How strange. It is very, very hot in this room. Still, though, you might get cold at any time. Something might happen at any time, and it’s best to preserve as much warmth as you possibly can. If you get cold you might never get warm again.


  1. Joe Sherry · February 15, 2011

    If I’m not waking up in that middle of the night terror and I can’t take the obvious, what would I take?

    A good pair of running shoes. My Brooks Adrenaline 9’s. The ones that feel like air, so light and tight and right on my feet; where the last thing that crosses my mind is what connects me to the road. The ones that allow me to pretend I am more nimble than I really am.


  2. Barb in Minnesota · February 15, 2011

    I would bring the complete works of Mary Oliver, or maybe Stanley Kunitz. No wait, I would bring Billy Collins, or maybe Sharon Olds. Or an anthology of poetry – all the best poetry in the world. A big book, but required if I can only bring one thing.


  3. oreo · February 18, 2011

    i’m going to cling to the hope that somehow, we do get to take those we love with us, in some way. like the reverse of the hope you gave me that those who have gone before us aren’t truly lost to us when their love has been infused into our life and let loose in this world.

    have you ever heard that death cab for cutie song “i will follow you into the dark”? when i first heard of it i thought of my love, but upon further listening it really could be applied to your child or best friend or anyone you love enough to follow them into the dark. it gets me every time.


  4. alicia · February 18, 2011

    yeah. it’s hard to get warm again.


  5. Pepper · February 21, 2011

    I would, will, take the rock solid knowledge that I have been well loved, and have loved well. That I have given to the world the best (for the most part) I could give.


  6. A Friend · February 25, 2011

    We were all crazy about you. We all still are.


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