The Fat Wallet of the Spirit

 

I CLEANED OUT my fat wallet today. I do that from time to time, whenever I feel it’s getting too heavy, but it’s not money that makes it heavy. It’s receipts, business cards, lottery tickets—things I take a chance on and things I don’t want to leave up to chance in any way possible. The lottery tickets, of course, are among the things I took a chance on. Among the things I didn’t want to take a chance on are two business cards and a parking sticker. The business cards belong to Jesus Esquivel, M.D., a surgeon, and Leon C. Hwang, a specialist in hematology and oncology. As for the parking sticker, it’s for one of the dreary gray parking garages at Washington Hospital Center.

These have remained in my wallet for a little over ten years—remained after other business cards, numerous lottery tickets, and receipts have been discarded. I kept the business cards because Dr. Esquivel was the surgeon who operated on my Dad in 2002 after a colonoscopy revealed some intestinal blockage, and because Dr. Hwang was the oncologist we consulted after a sample of tissue taken during that operation tested positive for cancer. The parking sticker I kept in the event that we’d have to go back to Washington Hospital Center if my Dad needed more surgery. To my obsessive mind, it would have been bad luck to discard them, because I knew that if I threw them out in the belief that I no longer needed them, that that’s when our luck would change. That’s when we’d need the surgeon, the oncologist, and the parking space.

I am, to a certain degree, something of a hoarder (though I much prefer the more pleasant and less judgmental term, “pack rat”). I never get rid of books or records, even ones that that I don’t like anymore, and sometimes even ones I never did get around to liking. I also practice, to perhaps a slightly greater degree, the hoarding of tiny objects. Though there are some such objects to which I may attach some actual significance or sentimental value, more often than not these are objects I am afraid to get rid of because I believe, more wrongly than rightly, that they act as good luck charms. And just as I firmly believe that even the most insignificant acts can be the source of bad karma/bad juju, I believe that the abandonment of the most insignificant objects can be all it takes to set off a series of horrible events. That’s why I have ticket stubs not only from seeing, say, The Gang of Four at the Ontario Theater in 1982 during their Songs of the Free tour, but also from Morons from Outer Space, a comedy Sci-Fi film I saw at the West End Circle theater in 1985 during which I didn’t laugh even once.

But that’s just part of why I kept the business cards and the parking sticker in my wallet for over ten years. I also kept them because, going against the oncologist’s recommendations, my Dad chose not to undergo chemotherapy. That scared me. Even though Dr. Hwang said there was the possibility of a false positive on the test for cancer, he was far from reassuring. If I remember correctly, he may even have said that it was fine that my Dad opt out of chemotherapy, because “putting it in God’s hands” was always another option. “Putting things in God’s hands”—that’s one of those expressions that, even if I were an atheist rather than an agnostic, would still scare the shit out of me.

So, I was afraid for a long time. Afraid my Dad would be gone before getting to know any of his grand kids. But, one year later, Maggie was born, and my Dad was feeling fine. Then, in another seven years Julien was born, and my Dad got to know him too. All this time I kept those business cards, and that parking sticker, in my wallet. I’d gone through several changes of wallets in these ten years, and each time I’d take the cards and the sticker from the old wallet and place them in the new one. Then today, I noticed that my wallet was getting fat again, and I pulled out the old receipts and lottery tickets. Then I saw them again—the business cards, the parking sticker. And, now, with my Dad gone for over two months now, I pulled them out of my wallet for the last time.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to throw them away. I’m not. My obsessive-compulsive mind (I have no use for the word “disorder” that often accompanies “obsessive-compulsive”) would never let me do that, not intentionally anyway. It’s just that I no longer need to carry them with me everywhere I go. But they’re in drawer of the desk where I’m writing this, now.

This is a photo of Maggie and Julien, taken today, shortly after I took Dr. Esquivel’s and Dr. Hwang’s business cards (and the parking sticker) out of my wallet. As I took the photo I wondered how much they’ll remember, and how often, in the coming years, they’ll feel my Dad’s presence. I know they’ll feel it somehow, though they may not know exactly what it is, or what they’re feeling. Just that there’s this strength, this spirit inside them which, if they let it, can stretch a brief hour of clarity into days, into weeks, into months. And on and on into all the years that lie ahead.

Jose Padua

About Jose Padua

Jose Padua’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in publications including Bomb, Salon, the Brooklyn Rail and Washington City Paper as well as the New York Times and anthologies like Up is Up, but So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992. After living in big cities like Washington and New York all his life, he now lives in the small town of Front Royal, Virginia, where he and his wife, the poet Heather Davis, write the blog Shenandoah Breakdown, link.
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