Packages | Elyse Forbes

The first package arrived two months after she died. A package of Pepperidge Farm Milanos, an Ann Patchett novel, and a birthday card wishing me my “best year yet.”

Her mother did not know how she pulled it off. Steve swore he had nothing to do with it, but confessed he, too, had received a few messages.

Liza, even in death, had prepared for every eventuality. I received a sympathy card when we miscarried two years later, a congratulations card when our baby boy was born two years after that, and a “Thinking of You” bouquet when I tore my ACL on a family vacation the following summer. She never missed a birthday and even sent notes for Hanukah and Rosh Hashanah, though she herself was not Jewish.

It had irritated me when she was alive, but it infuriated me in her death.  Birthdays were competitions; consideration a contact sport.

The postmarks came from all over the world and leads disappeared when I tried to track them down. Matt told me I was overreacting and should be grateful that someone had so much prescience and care about my future.

“But how is she doing it?” I asked, year after year, occasion after occasion. When our second child was born, a daughter, I was too overwhelmed to spend mental energy on it. Matt was pleased, encouraged. But then the dollhouse arrived.

Carved intricately out of balsa wood, it was fully furnished and had small details like framed paintings and carpet in the dining room, a trunk of toys and dress-up clothes in a playroom, and beds with fluffy pillows and comforters. It arrived when we were away, in a cottage by the sea paid for by Matt’s father’s dental practice, a place that Liza never knew existed.

“This has to stop,” I told Matt. He did not understand why I turned into a monster when I saw one of the lilac envelopes, why I could not just accept her exceedingly thoughtful sentiments.

We moved to a different neighborhood, but the packages did not stop. We moved to a different state, but the packages did not stop. I convinced Matt to take a position abroad, and we moved to a tiny flat covered in peeling paint fifty kilometers south of Amsterdam. We swore my parents to secrecy, changed our phone numbers, cut off all communication with Liza’s mother and Steve.

We were fine for a few months, learning Dutch, mastering train schedules, visiting museums. And then, on my 32nd birthday, a charm bracelet arrived. Birthstones for all four of us: a paintbrush, a miniature dollhouse, and a cradle to represent the child we lost.

I was home with the children when it arrived, and I waited for Matt to come home before I told him that I could not continue like this. His face was a mixture of grief and sorrow, but not surprise. I left him the name of the hotel I would check into, and I kissed the children goodbye casually, pretending I was going out for groceries.

I smiled as I bought the Dutch acetaminophen and a bottle of gin at the drugstore on the corner. Later, I put the room on Matt’s credit card, patiently listening to the girl behind the desk explain my breakfast options, although I knew I would not be enjoying any of them with the other guests. Once safely in my room, I took the rest of the painkillers from my knee surgery and most of the acetaminophen, washing it all down with the gin. The last image that crossed my mind was not my husband, son, or daughter–but instead, the stunning bouquet of roses I knew Liza would send for my funeral.




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