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“Johanna! Clean out that damn dresser like I told you to! You’re not leaving until that dresser is emptied!”
Ever day, it was the same voice. Whether it was over something little or something big, Johanna would always hear that nagging, high pitched tone from her mother. She never really did understand why her mother always yelled so much. However, she did believe that it was because of her father, since her mother always yelled the most and the loudest around the same time every year.
What was worse, it was the last day Johanna would see her mother for a very long time.
Johanna was leaving for college, for Julliard. She always wanted to be an actress, she felt it was her destiny, her fate. She could remember when she was little, she would set her mother and her father down in the living room and would present little performances for them. This was before her mother was always yelling.
She even remembered the day she got the acceptance letter from Julliard. After recovering from a cold sweat and shortness of breath, Johanna bounced up and down, screaming just after reading, “We are pleased to inform you…” However, when she rushed to her mother and belted out the news, she didn’t jump for joy with her daughter. She only frowned and snapped, “You just can’t wait to get out of this house, can you?
Truthfully, Johanna couldn’t. By leaving her home behind, she would also leave behind all of the baggage that she had to deal with every day. No more empty spaces on the wall. No more put downs from her mother. No more feeling lonely. No more having to listen to her mother crying herself to sleep.
“I am serious!” Johanna’s mother yelled gain. “If that dresser isn’t clean within half an hour, you aren’t going on that plane to New York!”
“Mom!” Johanna yelled at her mother, shoving a white blouse into an over-sized suitcase. “You can’t do that! Do you want me to spend the rest of my life at McDonald’s?”
“If it means getting that dresser cleaned, yes! Now, MOVE!”
Johanna groaned in annoyance at the confusing and unstable ways of her mother. She had been acting like this for the past ten years.
What did her mother say when she got her first boyfriend?
“He’d better not get you pregnant.”
What about when she got her driver’s license?
“You’re not going to use my car to live your so-called teenage years.”
What about the excitement of her first prom night?
“Get drunk and you can forget about coming back into this house.”
What about when she graduated from high school?
“As if you weren’t showing off enough, now you’ve got a diploma to prove that you’re smart.”
And now that she was going off to college, she had at least expected her mother to have a mental breakdown at the thought of her little girl moving God-knows-how-many-miles-away. Nope, that wasn’t the case at all. On the contrary, she actually seemed relieved at the fact that she wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore.
Reluctantly, Johanna brushed her feet across the carpet to the opposite side of the room, staring down at the white wooden dresser with carvings of little flowers in it that she used to keep hold of all of her prized possessions. For ten years, that dresser hadn’t been used. For ten years, it sat there, alone, in the dusty corner that Johanna never even considered to cross over to.
It wasn’t that Johanna never wanted to invade the memories that resided in this drawer. On the contrary, she wanted to remember everything that lived in it. It just never crossed her mind to one day step up and dig through all of the memories. That, and she always had a strange feeling that she would find something in there that would make it unbearable when she eventually had to let that object go.
Okay, Johanna thought, she wants this dresser to be completely emptied. If I want it, stuff it in the suitcase. If I don’t, still stuff it in the suitcase, throw it out later. That way, she’s happy, I’m happy, and I won’t have to deal with her yelling at me for a long time.
In a rush, Johanna pulled one of the drawers open. At first, it didn’t want to cooperate, forcing her to pull with all her might, but after using all of her force, the drawer creakily opened, allowing a cloud of dust to be released in the process. After coughing violently, she waved her hand so that the dust would avoid her, and started to scurry through the drawer.
Well, not really scurry, more like grab at random and throw onto her bed to be later packed into her suitcase.
A brown, tattered teddy bear that Johanna used to carry around with her when she was a little toddler.
An unlimited amount of yearbooks.
A shoebox, if she could remember correctly, full of old photographs dating back to before she was born.
An old scarf that her grandmother had given her a long time ago.
Another box, this time filled with home videos.
First drawer down, Johanna thought, time to go down to the bottom.
Surprisingly, when Johanna opened up the second drawer, it didn’t put up as much of a fight as the first drawer did. A cloud of dust still spurted out, but it wasn’t as big as the last one and it didn’t attack her as much. Victoriously, she flailed her arms in the air for a second, but after realizing that she was in a rush and there was probably more in this second drawer than in the first, she pulled her arms back down and peeked into the dark abyss. To her surprise, there was only one object in this drawer. But this object meant more to her than all of the other objects combined.
Slowly and steadily, Johanna reached in and pulled out a giant, white and blue pin-stripped dress shirt.
“How could have I forgotten about you?” she silently whispered.
She stared at the piece of material, expecting it to be a dream. She had forgotten all about it. But now, holding it in her hands, the memory came flooding back to her faster than any other memory had.
“Daddy?” Johanna slowly came into the bright room, nearly blinding her with all of the blinking lights and nearly deafening her from the various noises that the machines made. She was scared, she had never been in a room like this before. She knew, of course, that it was a room where people who were sick or injured went so that they could get better, but she had never remembered being in one before.
“Hey Kitten,” she heard her father whisper in a raspy voice. It scared her, even more than the loud, booming voice that he usually had. His voice scared her because, even though she was too little to understand, she knew it was a voice that proved for a fact he was getting weaker and weaker as the days slowly passed by.
No one else was in the room at the time. It was just her and her father.
After briefly lifting her head to the side, she raced to the side of her father’s bed. As she raced over, she took a quick peek at the clipboard that sat on the front board of the bed. It read, “Charles Duran”. And that was the last time she would ever see her father’s name.
He faintly smiled and slowly brushed his fingers through her hair. “How’s my little kitten?” he asked softly.
“I’m scared, Daddy,” Johanna replied truthfully.
He only smiled and continued to brush his fingers through his daughter’s hair.
“You know, cancer is very common in our family. Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Kyle, Grandpa…”
“But Grandpa died when he got cancer,” Johanna interrupted. “And so did Uncle Jimmy. Daddy…are you gonna die?”
But he didn’t answer her. He released his fingers from his daughter’s golden hair and lifted his hand so that it was pointed to the chair that sat next to the bed.
“You see my shirt on there?” he asked.
“Yes,” Johanna replied in a confused tone.
“I want you to have it.”
“But Daddy! It’s your favorite shirt!”
“I know, Kitten. But I want you to have it. It’s very important to me. Grandpa gave it to me for my high school graduation. I want you, the most important thing to me, to have it. Okay, baby?”
Confused about what to do, Johanna scampered over to the shirt and, without thinking, grabbed the shirt off of the chair and pulled it over her head so that she was wearing it. Her father suddenly started to laugh hysterically. She looked down, noticing that the shirt went all the way down to her knees, and that the arms of the shirt were well longer than her own arms.
Johanna started to laugh at her silly image as well. She spun around, flailing her shirt arms as though it seemed she was flapping her non-existent wings.
This caused her father to laugh harder.
She started to dance around in a little circle, flapping her arms, entertaining her father. She didn’t realize it yet, but it would be the last time she would ever see her father. She was only eight-years-old…
“Johanna! Is the dresser…”
Johanna turned, tears violently streaming down her eyes, to see her mother standing in her doorway. She didn’t even realize it, but Johanna had fallen down to her knees and was clutching her father’s shirt to her chest. She looked down to see that she had drowned her father’s shirt with her tears.
Suddenly, her mother did something that Johanna knew she never did after her father’s death. She got down on her knees, next to her daughter, and wrapped her arms around her close enough to where Johanna was pushed up against her. She started to cry even more, little gasps of breath in between. She could feel and hear her mother cry as well.
They didn’t say anything. They just continued to hold each other. Whether it was only for a few minutes or a few hours, neither would be able to remember. All they could remember was, for the first time in a long time, they were as close as mother and daughter should always be.