The first thing I placed in the shipping box was a container with his ashes. It was lightweight because scoops had already been removed and scattered. One batch of my second husband's remains went to Jackson Park where Tommy got a hole in one. Another was spread among the plantings outside the YMCA, his longtime gym; and one more in the park where every morning for 12 years we walked our dog.
Next, I tucked in his watch and wallet -- both decades old because he thought it foolish to replace them. I slipped his wedding ring on the watch strap, threaded it closed, and tucked it in.
Just as I was about to seal the box and affix a mailing label for Chicago, I heard, "I was wondering when you were going to get your butt home."
Tommy! My deceased spouse had decided to visit. "Get your butt home," he'd order when he was alive and I traveled away from him. He was teasing back then, and now for fun, repeating the phrase.
"I'm not surprised you're glad I'm returning to Chicago," I said, smiling as I resurrected his voice, which was clear rather than dimmed by his end-of-life aphasia. "You were never a fan of Los Angeles," I said. "Too spread out, horrible traffic, wasn't that your view?"
"Listen sweetheart," he said. "We both grew up in Chicago. We've got friends there we've known since childhood. That's not easy to replace."
My make-believe visitor was a clue it was time to take a break from packing. As I was about to continue with Tommy, another speaker seeped through my head.
"Remember I told you Princess, that I always wanted to live at State and Madison?" It was my dad who's been dead since 1958, but evidently eager to have a say. "I heard you're moving into a building downtown. Terrific; you're finally listening to me." He held a cigarette between two fingers, and when he saw my stare, said, "Carte blanche. No restrictions."
"We're happy you're returning to Chicago, too." This was a duet. "Mom, Dad!" I said to my former in-laws, a lovely couple that came with my first marriage. "This is the only time you've returned for a conversation since you died. Why now?"
"To be honest, we were very unhappy when you moved to Los Angeles, but it wasn't our place to pry." It was my father-in-law taking the lead. "Even though you divorced, we felt sure you'd be in Chicago, in our child's life forever, watching over each other."
My mother-in-law, ever the polite one, said, "When we learned you were moving back, and picked an apartment near our dear one, we just had to come and tell you how pleased we are."
Wow, this was getting to be some pow-wow! Just as I was about to respond, another speaker joined in. I was wondering when she was going to show up. "Am I the only one unhappy that you're leaving L.A. and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren?" she said. "I finally had you all in one place, and typical of you, you're on the move again."
I wasn't distressed by my mother's opinion; I was just happy to have the chance to conjure her vision. She died in 1981, still a beauty with hair barely touched by gray. Our kids were teens then, old enough for their talent to dazzle her.
"I knew it; I knew it, back in their high school years," she said. "I predicted they'd be remarkable. " She looked triumphant, as if she were on stage with her granddaughters, holding their hands as they accepted awards.
My in-laws soon leapt in. "Those girls are something else," they agreed, wanting to assure their DNA was also credited.
"Listen," I said to the celestial crowd. "I know you have differing opinions about my returning to Chicago." Four heads nodded. "But for now, I'd really appreciate it if you'd just watch over me and my move."
Tommy was the first to offer: "Since I'm the most recent up here, I'll be closest to your flight home. I've got that covered."
"No worries," Dad said. "I'll ride shotgun in the delivery trucks coming your way, just to make sure everything arrives on time."
"I suppose we can handle the reserved elevator," my father-in-law said. "Oh dear," from his wife. "Thirty-seventh floor. I suppose it'll be fine."
We waited for Mom to volunteer. "When all of the furniture is in place and you're finally in bed in your new home," she said. "I'll tuck you in."
Content now, I returned to my task and assembled another box, larger this time, to hold family photographs. Everyone was coming with.