The List

by Chris

I’ve always worked well with lists, there’s something cathartic about scratching something off a to do list item once it’s done, like the mark of a hero who’s just conquered a great nation. I still keep (or kept, it burned) a physical day planner just so I could work weekly to do lists and have the luxury of physically crossing things off.

I remember early in our marriage Bill and I had a huge fight (or maybe just a series of multiple small fights) about how I felt he didn’t SEE the things that needed to be done around the house and how he should just see them AND do them. He kept telling me “just make me a list of things to do and I’ll just do them”. I remember I shooting back at him with, “I’m not your mother, you’re an adult you should be able to see what needs to be done and just do it.” I was so angry that I had to do this one thing, make a list, in order to get him to do ALL the things.

Sometimes, in marriage, you just have to get over yourself.

Luckily I did, and I started making to do lists and things started getting done. I even made general cleaning to do lists, by room, with daily, weekly and monthly tasks. I laminated them and we hung them on the fridge. I also started writing random to do lists, by day on a dry erase board on our fridge, things that didn’t quite fit on the general lists, but that needed to be done.

Once we had some friends from our church over for dinner, their oldest kids were in our youth group. The list at the time said something along the lines of:

-Give Sam heartworm pill

-Call about water bill

-Pay HOA dues

I’ll never forget when their son stood in our kitchen staring at it for the longest time while he was about to get a drink. “Pay your HOE dues?!” The whole house erupted into deep belly type laughter. “No, pay the H-O-A dues, like the homeowners association.” I’m pretty sure he was mortified. I laughed about it often, and from then on we always called them our HOE dues.

Our family functions very well with lists. It’s how we work at peak performance.

“Can we get together on Wednesday for a while to go over the list?” John, our insurance adjuster is just the kindest man, and said this with such gentility. “We’re going to need several hours, I’ll email you a starter list so you get get it going, and we’ll get through as much as we can on Wednesday, but I’m sure you’ll need to work on it some more. As long as you can get it to me by Friday that would be great.” That Friday would be one week after the fire.

You see, after the fire destroys everything you’ve built, and after they board up your house, and after the restoration people come take the few things that might be salvageable, you have to make a list. THE list, is a list of everything you owned. Every. Single. Thing.

How many throw pillows do you have in your house right now?

Roughly how much do you think you paid for each of them? Go ahead and decide on an average.

Oh, and roughly how old would you say they all are?

Yes, we’re talking that kind of detailed. And when you’ve been in a house for 8 years, that list seems impossible. It’s daunting and overwhelming and horrifying. We’ve sat, eyes closed and tried to picture our house as it was, pushing the heavy memories of the fire tarnished version out of our heads so we could count throw pillows.

And then you get through throw pillows, and blankets, and large furniture and you move on to the kitchen and then you remember your Christmas kitchen towels which makes you think of your Christmas throw pillows and then you have to go back and refigure all the throw pillow data and then you just want to take a nap because it’s ridiculous.

I feel like someone might be reading this going, “GOOD GOD! That sounds like so much fun!!” If you’re that person, I bet you’re a statistician or an accountant or someone that lives for a good quality spreadsheet. For the record, you are awesome, and I am not that person.

As hard as it is to think of literally ALL THE THINGS, it started to get even harder because as you’re listing them individually you’re also cataloging your loss. And that my friends, hurts my heart to the core.

The list says Tea Spoons, quantity, price, age…

I remember I didn’t have tea spoons but I did have tiny, shiny metal espresso spoons we had gotten for our wedding 8 years ago. A friend of my dad’s sent them to us, and I was touched that they’d even thought of us, much less thought of us in a way that was so personal (if you know me, you know my obsession with good coffee, I had several pounds of coffee in my pantry that my dad had brought back from Italy for me a few months ago, it was the only thing I wanted, I need to remember to add those to the list).

I remember unpacking the spoons, and putting them alongside other things we’d received in one of the two kitchen drawers in our  430 square foot apartment in Tulsa, the first one we had together, the one that was so terrible. I felt so adult in that moment, we had nice spoons, just for espresso.

Then I remembered packing them for the move to Dallas, and then for the move to Houston and the 6 months we lived with my mom in the first year of our marriage and they sat in storage, and then unpacking them in our home, a week before our 1 year anniversary. I remembered every time I’d used them and made espresso for friends, setting them on the vintage espresso cups/plates that had a special resting place just for those spoons.

I remembered them being the first spoons I fed Issa with when she started solids because we hadn’t purchased baby spoons yet and they seemed to work just fine. And then I thought about how, when she was a little older she thought they were fun to eat with, the “tiny spoons”. And then I remembered how they were gone, burnt in a fire that took everything, her baby pictures, the high chair I fed her in, the bibs, the drawer, and even those vintage espresso cups and saucers.

Every single item on the list has this process, the remembering, the memory, the joy of using it, the pain of it’s loss, the pain of the memory it held.

The list is exhausting. It’s overwhelming. It pulls at all the emotions and heartstrings. I can only work on it in spurts, I easily get overcome and start to hyperventilate at the amount of loss. I go room by room, item by item, and my heart breaks at every line.

Two weeks later, we’re still working on the list. I imagine this is a list we’ll always be working on, not for the insurance company but for our hearts, and the catalog of loss. We’ll say, years from now, “we used to have one of those” and remember how the fire took it, and how we forgot to put it in the list.