Family Ties

Photo by Kirk Cameron on Unsplash

Joanie worked the rusty key into the equally rusty Master Lock. Judging by the accumulation of iron oxide on both, it had been years since the two items were partnered up. After nearly a minute, a ridiculous amount of WD40 on both relics, and several Hawaiian curse words, the locking mechanism released. She pocketed both before tugging on her N95 mask. The storage locker hadn’t been opened since before her grandfather passed away, and that was over five years ago.

The door rolled up a lot easier than she expected, though. Maybe management kept the linings oiled as part of their standard maintenance. Joanie was still glad she had her mask. Even through the powerful filter, the stench of mildew and mothballs made her eyes water.

“I’ll be surprised if even a tenth of this shit can be restored,” she grumbled.

Boxes seemed to fill the entire space. She had no idea where to even start. The estate lawyer told her that, regretfully, there was no existing inventory list of her parents’ storage room, just an indication that possession was to pass down to Joanie upon both of their deaths.

Joanie rested her hands on her hips. She took some time to visually catalog the largest stacks. She even debated just signing the unit over to the storage company and letting them auction it off. One person’s trash and whatnot. But even though she hadn’t seen or spoken to her parents in nineteen years, since coming out as transgender, some part of her couldn’t do that to their memory.

She stared a moment longer before backing her truck up at an angle, so the bed was as close to the doorway as possible. She didn’t bother looking through the unlabeled boxes. If her parents thought the contents were important enough to keep, they should’ve labeled them.

The sun was setting by the time she got back from her seventh trip to the landfill. There were only three more boxes, but Joanie debated leaving them for the next day. Her arms and lower back ached something awful, she was in desperate need of calories, and she was overdue for her medications. Gulping down her last bottle of water, she moved to the back of the room. She stopped midstride.

In thick black marker, all three boxes were labeled “Joanie’s Journey.” With shaking hands, she carefully peeled open the first one. Four photo albums, dusty spines turned up, each one with a white label including that year’s content. Joanie tore open the other two. They both held the same number of photo albums, though the last four spanned only two years. The two years prior to her grandfather dying.

Joanie sat down on the floor, ignoring the dirt built up over years of disuse. She pulled the oldest photo album out, let out a slow breath, and peeled open the cover. Tears immediately filled her eyes. Under the protective plastic was a clipping about Joanie’s first stint as a war correspondent. This was before she transitioned, but her deadname and each accompanying pronoun was redacted with what looked like a dark brown marker. A smiley face sticker was in the top-left corner, and the caption read, “Her first time out of the country.”

“Fuck,” Joanie murmured. The rest of the album had similar photos, each with a caption marking the general nature of the clipping. By the time she got through all ten albums, Joanie was sobbing. Not over memories from those horrible warzones, the shredded bodies, destroyed buildings, the famine and starvation and hopelessness.

She was sobbing because her parents had accepted her after all. They followed her career every step of the way, had documented it nearly its entirety. Yet they never reached out. Joanie wasn’t sure if she was crying over the lost time or that she never knew this about them.

A knock on the door brought her head up.

“Um, sorry to interrupt, but we’re getting ready to close up. We open tomorrow at 8:00 a.m., if you want to come back, though,” a young man in a Polo shirt said from the doorway.

He looked barely old enough to shave, which made Joanie’s lips twitched. “I just need to load these up, and I’ll be all done,” she said quietly.

“Need a hand?” he asked. He took a step forward as she got to her feet.

“Yeah, please. Thanks,” Joanie said. She got to her feet and brushed off the back of her shorts. She was going to throw them away and burn them at the first opportunity. Memories be damned, this floor was disgusting.

Once the boxes were loaded, Joanie pulled the key and lock from her front-right pocket. She stared for an interminable time, even as the kid behind her rolled the door shut.

“I can toss those, if you want,” he said, coming up beside her.

Joanie paused before shaking her head. “Nah, but thanks, kid. Have a good night,” she said, then climbed up into her truck. Before she started the engine, she heard, “Dammit, I’m twenty-three.” A laugh escaped as she pulled down the lane leading to the exit. She’d been twenty-three when she fully transitioned. You got a lot of time to live, buddy. Don’t rush it.

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