REFLECTIONS: The Toolbox


My Dad's toolbox, labeled in his engineer handwriting, sits in a corner of the basement, keeping company with an overwhelming amount of hoarded screws, nails, tools, and devices that are older than me, perhaps, and useful only to an engineer or laborer.

Every time I go near the area I whisper hello to my father.  It's a direct connection with him.  The last person to touch anything was my dad. The last person to use those tools was my dad.  It's bittersweet. 

The toolbox broke me tonight as I finished up laundry in the basement. I stood silently in front of it, reading the post-it notes.  

I open a drawer.  Yes, the label is accurate.  That toolbox is the only organized thing down here. 

My fingers brush a staple gun.  Dad's tool.  Dad's label.  I began to cry.

He was a brilliant man. Dad could design a sound system for a church in less than an afternoon, his precise writing gracing the blueprints.  He never used a stencil. Just a ruler to make certain it was precisely lined up with the paper's bottom edge. 

These labels were done years before, when he wasn't in a fog, when his hands didn't tremble and grasp for nothing.  I had watched that brilliance fade over 2019 as he sunk into a Parkinson's-related dementia.  

The bold lines on the post-its were a shocking contrast to the post-its and bits of paper upstairs in his office.  These upstairs notes had shaky handwriting. Squiggly. Foreign. A testament to old age. I grew accustomed to them. I suppose it was gradual, my mind accepting the odd handwriting as a part of him.

Now downstairs in that basement, with the toolbox in silently looming the the odd gloom, I found myself emotionally crumbling.  

Memories flooded in, and my emotions twisted themselves into a knot. The moment jolted me - "He's gone!" - as though I was hearing the news for the first time.

I looked at the mess around me.

"Damn it, Dad."  

The words were just a raspy sigh. I need to organize the hoard, of course. I allow myself a moment of anger and frustration over his compulsive acquirement of broken things that he would eventually fix.  Then I sighed, took a picture of the toolbox, and tweeted it.

I don't know how long I was down there, sobbing in earnest to purge the pain.  It felt like eternity before I mustered up some strength to keep the emotional tide at bay.  My hands trembled as I pulled still-warm clothing from the dryer, and then I left the dusty tools and broken things behind me.

Better Half was in our bedroom, mucking around with the laptop. 

"Can you please take care of Hershey for the rest of the night?" The climb up two flights with heavy laundry was physical agony, but I was also still reeling from that toolbox.

He would take over the dog's pee breaks, of course. I have the best husband in the world.

I sat down and stared at my tweet as Better Half folded and put away sweatpants.

Dad's gone, I reminded myself, and that means he's no longer in pain.

I squeezed out the last of my tears, and then went to YouTube to watch a tattoo completion. Then it hit me.  Why not get a tattoo that honors my father? Perhaps his name and dates surrounded by stuff that reflects his passion?

Yeah, I need to design something awesome to slap on my arm.

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