Dead Offer

I have a lot of medical bills.

I have a lot of medical bills and a lot of insurance paperwork and a lot of paystubs, and it’s year end, I’m trying to get organized.  I pull out my filer that I haven’t used in ages, and I start to whittle down the crap I can throw out.  This apartment could use a good scrub and an interior downsizing.

I plow my way through the first few categories – old photos, credit card statements, until I find a file that says “Dead Offers”. In the state of California, as a real estate agent, you are required to keep copies of everything you’ve submitted to anyone in the business for three years, including offers you fiercely negotiated and painstakingly drafted that just never got past someone’s outdated fax machine.  We call these denied or ignored pieces of paper “dead offers”.  I don’t know why you are required to keep them. You just are. I sold in late 2009 and now it is 2013. It’s time for the purge.

I thumb through the green file folders, yanking manila envelopes and stuffing them into the trash… and then I do something stupid. I slow down and start opening the files. What if something I need is stuck in there? What if there’s a reference I’ll want to remember? What if I still have a live, useful contact? I thumb through the packages and remember. The first house I sold, three weeks in, intense with pride and the rush of a bigger check than I’d ever seen on paper. The stupid family who backed out of the perfect townhome at the last second, dead set on home after home 100 grand more than they could afford or be approved for.

And then I saw it.

Jonathan and Cynthia Swanson. I run my fingers over the pages and in between, pouring over the ink… blue… proving it’s an original and not just a copy. His hands were here. His signature, illegible and ugly, but his.

They say everyone copes with grief in a different way. Some wail and cry and beg and bargain. Some twist inward with suffering, Degas ballerinas crumpled in the dark. I cope with grief the same way I cope with everything. Fists flying, jaw clenched, tears streaming down my face. The height of irrational-ism. The epitome of fury. The excruciating, futile fight.

I have a photo of the two of us together, my sophomore year of highschool. It’s a prom photo, him in a rented tux, my cabbage green dress – the only thing I could find in Los Angeles small enough to fit – and a background that looked like vomit. He wasn’t my date, but we took the photo anyway. We, of course, are smiling.

You never think anyone around you is going to die young, but you certainly don’t think that the person spending every other night at your dinner table, annoying you with the sound of his video games, making you laugh until you squirt milk out of your nose is ever going to be gone. The yin to a yang, the half of my brother that eats lunch on the back benches, the one who stays up late as we laugh into the night, writing jokes for the talent show. He’s simply there, woven right in. How could you possibly remove him? Won’t the whole thing unravel?

When he was dying, we took out every video we had in that house.  We, the ones taking shifts in his room day and night, playing cards, baking meatloaves, buying icecream, taking turns sleeping on the floor… we watched each play, each talent show, each school video with laughter and love.  I felt my heart swell, a water balloon begging to burst, watching him healthy on a screen when less than twenty feet away from us, intubated and suffering, he clung on.  The nurse came on Monday and told us to stop.  Stop playing, stop laughing, stop trying to make it light.  He can hear you, and he doesn’t want to go.  Be quiet, be quiet.  Let him go.  We silenced ourselves – sitting outside in the blistering August heat – hoping to be out of earshot.  Hoping we could help him let go.

There was a point near the end when everyone went in together.   We never really knew how much time we had, so we tried not to overwhelm him, but we would talk to him, stroke his arm or his hair, listen to music, and just stay close. When everyone went in together, I sat with Cindy. Twenty-five years old, blonde and wispy voiced with a baby not yet one year old.  She was gentle and sweet – and an iron trap. Holding it all together in a way that was eons from my body wrecking, car screaming, hate spewing fury.   With everyone else in the room saying goodbye, we sat on the couch and she let me hold her hand for a minute, as just for the smallest moment, the pressure away, she let herself cry.

You signed on the dotted line for a house, a husband, a father, a partner. You signed for the baby soon to grow in your belly, for the two dogs and the cat. You signed the package for your future, ever so carefully reviewed and revised, and with all of the boxes checked, sent it in for acceptance from the other side.

And all it was was a fucking. dead. offer.


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