The Things That Stay

On our kitchen island is a giant cutting board, some 18 by 30 inches and nearly two inches thick. It was a stress purchase early in the pandemic. I had wanted one for years, and I finally found one for $50 at a restaurant supply house.

At the time, we had a 7-year-old boy living with us, one of six foster children who lived with us over a two-year period. The Boy lived with us for almost 10 months, leaving to be reunited with his family just 2 days before my Dad’s death from COVID. We hadn’t expected The Boy to leave when he did, but the foster system is cruel and capricious, not to mention utterly pragmatic, at times, and the feelings of foster parents are often a distant consideration, when they are considered at all.

The Boy and I cooked dinner together every night, and he had a special knife we bought for him to use to chop vegetables. He was a little fella, so he stood on a chair, and together, we prepped and cooked. And one day, when he was alone, he took a Sharpie and made a small mark on the cutting board. I have no idea why – I doubt he knew, honestly. It was a small carat looking mark, easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. Sometimes, mischievous boys just want to mark something up. A sort of way of them knowing they exist, and to make sure you know it, too.

The Boy left his marks everywhere. There were whiffle balls in the flower beds, and he was always leaving his baseball glove in the yard, and his bicycle would get left out, and his dirty clothes would somehow often end up under his bed instead of in the hamper.

And even though he has been gone now for 15 months, evidence of his having been here still shows up sometimes. The last time I cut the grass, I found a rubber ball hiding under a shrub, where he had lost it. Since October of 2020, his baseball glove has sat at the base of the hackberry tree in the backyard. When he had to leave abruptly, he couldn’t find it – I found it there a few days after he was gone, and I haven’t had the heart yet to move it.

We miss him a lot, even now. His name comes up every few days – Remember when we ate there with The Boy? Remember when The Boy planted that flower? Remember when The Boy said such and so? Like marks on our brain, the stories – most of which I can’t tell you here – remain in our head and in our heart.

The other day, I was preparing supper, standing at the big cutting board. The combination of cooking for fewer people, the ennui of pandemic meals and the general depression I entered into at the end of 2020 all combined to make me cook less than I had done when he lived with us, but still, I found myself cutting potatoes up for supper, to coat in oil and creole seasoning and then roast in the oven until done.

And while I was cutting them, I moved the pile of peelings just a bit and saw the small caret mark, made mischievously with a Sharpie, sitting there, greatly faded after all this time but still there, still present, still a real reminder of the love that had been there.

One day I will have to sand down the board, which will erase the mark – it’s just part of the maintenance of such a thing. And one day I will pick up the last whiffle ball, and one day I will finally pick up the faded, decrepit baseball glove that still sits under the hackberry tree waiting for him to come back and pick it up. And when those things happen, the only marks of his existence left behind will be in our head and in our hearts.

And those will be the marks that last.

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