The last time I saw the house on Cooper Point Road, I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. I didn’t know that the night before would be the last time I’d sleep in that windowless basement bedroom with the lavender walls upon which the Titanic movie poster hung; the room with the cherry wood armoire topped by the commemorative Space Needle–shaped bottle from the 1964 World’s Fair and the two tall bookcases crammed with photo albums and novels that were required reading from my high school English classes.
I didn’t know it would be the last time that I’d stand on that expansive wooden deck, staring out at Budd Inlet, watching the boats and the barges pass by on their way to the Port of Olympia. I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d set eyes on that eyesore of a red oriental rug in the downstairs office, or the photograph of the sunset over Mt. Rainier that I took in the 11th grade that my mom framed and hung proudly near her bed, or the musty, cavernous garage containing the oil painting with a warped canvas, depicting me, my parents and our Cairn Terrier Duncan on a snowy Alaska day – painted by mom’s German friend Ernst, who shipped his canvasses wrapped in butcher paper and addressed in flowery letters to ‘Lady Annieleine,’ causing our Anchorage neighbors to wonder if my pretty, blue-eyed, blonde-haired mother with the delicate cheekbones and the gentle way descended from royal bloodlines.
I didn’t know that it would be the last time, though the thought had crossed my mind. In truth, thought wasn’t something I had much time for, not since arriving in Olympia a week earlier, after receiving the call from my sister Deirdre on Valentine’s Day morning that our Dad had passed away. I booked a flight to Sea-Tac and spent nearly four hours on an airport shuttle trying to get to the house on Cooper Point Road. With a bus full of passengers, multiple stops, and Friday afternoon gridlock, the journey out to that long, tree-lined peninsula, past the sign that warned ‘end of county road,’ and down the hill toward the house where my parents used to live might as well have been a journey to the end of the world.
When I finally arrived, there was a bottle of tequila and conversations about when the memorial in Medford, Oregon would be taking place. A decision that, apparently, hinged upon me, probably because my half siblings were exhausted and didn’t have any decision-making abilities left. I settled on a week from Saturday, thinking it made the most practical sense.
The next day, Matt and Marion went back to Anchorage, and Deirdre and I were alone – dad’s oldest and youngest – to sort out life in the house on Cooper Point Road. Time passed in a blur and shifted into some nebulous thing we labeled ‘the vortex.’ We arose each morning with the sun and assembled ourselves around the dining room table, making endless to-do lists and checking things off as we went. There were the mundane tasks – cancelling newspaper subscriptions, sorting through old CDs, selecting floral arrangements for the funeral – and the more oppressive ones: editing obituaries, inventorying personal items, picking up dad’s ashes from the funeral home.
I spent one entire day in my mother’s room, amassing piles of clothing and shoes and handbags and jewelry, trying some things on, but opting to donate almost everything. I filled eight 40-gallon black plastic garbage bags -all impossibly heavy to carry, but that I managed to anyway, almost due to sheer force of will – and delivered them to the Goodwill.
Before we knew it, a week had passed. We said goodbye to the house on Cooper Point Road on a dreary Friday morning. The airport shuttle was late picking us up, though I’d confirmed with them twice and given specific directions as to how to find the house, hidden away as it was in the Olympia woods. My brain swirled with worry – partially that we’d miss our flight – but mostly about the logistics of transporting the heavy square box containing dad’s ashes through airport security without incident.
There was so much to be preoccupied about that morning, that we didn’t realize until the Capitol Aeroporter dropped us off curbside at Sea-Tac that my sister had left one of her suitcases – the smaller one, containing goodies and gifts for her husband and kids – outside in the driveway of the house on Cooper Point Road, left to soak in the pouring rain.
As we boarded the Horizon Air turboprop bound for Medford, I stared out at the runway, rain streaming against the windows, and I thought about the fact that this would very likely be the last time I saw the house on Cooper Point Road. And in a flash, I felt at once devastated and relieved. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it again. After all, both of my parents had died in that house, and it contained so many sad memories crammed into such a small space of time. And yet, I knew what never going back meant: no more holiday parties watching boats decked out in Christmas lights lazily cruising Budd Inlet, no more of my mom’s famous ginger snap cookies, no more watching baseball or football games with dad and yelling insults at the opposing team, no more summers soaking up the sun on the deck with majestic views of Mt. Rainier, no more launching bottle rockets into the bay on the 4th of July, no more visitors dropping by via boat and anchoring next door at the Beverly Beach dock. As my uncle Glenn said in a numb, flat tone when I called to tell him that my dad was gone: ‘It’s all over, isn’t it?’ Yes, it was. It was over. Olympia was no longer my home.
As quickly as those thoughts entered, they left, to make room for other thoughts. I was tired, overwrought, consumed by the present moment. As we taxied down the rain-soaked runway, I only briefly entertained the idea that this was indeed the end of something, before other thoughts – flying into bad weather on a small plane that seemed older than me, dad’s funeral mass the next morning, the heavy, square plastic box full of ashes secured above our heads in the overhead bin – intruded. I couldn’t possibly have anticipated what was to come next. I didn’t know anything with certainty, not any more. I didn’t know this would be the last time. But as the engines roared and we ascended into the cloudy Seattle sky, I thought that it might be.
Until next time, friends.