At first we thought it was strange Mom kept a photo of my brother and me beside a Ziploc baggie of kidney stones on her nightstand. We’d been cleaning out her house for nearly a week, trying to remember the last time we’d set foot in her bedroom. Perhaps we had known her nightstand held five remotes for one television and green steno pads full of to-do lists and a Phantom of the Opera music box that played “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” instead of one of the hits. But we didn’t know about the kidney stones.
We wouldn’t have known what they were if she hadn’t written on the baggie, in shaky Sharpie letters: Kidney Stones 2010-2018.
My brother, older by two years and distant by dozens, dangled the baggie in front of me. “You realize,” he said, “this implies the existence of decades of kidney stones in other baggies in other places around the house.”
I picked up the picture of the two of us: me at three in a blue velvet dress, blonde and bowl-cut with eyes that pointed in different directions, him clutching a plushie soccer ball and glaring down at me. Before today, I hadn’t seen him in nearly a decade.
“Maybe she liked the idea of keeping close everything her body created, everything she had labored so hard to expel,” I wanted to say. Instead, I slipped the photo into my back pocket and the baggie into the bedside trash can. Was I expected to hold onto the stones, the mistakes of a body that couldn’t stop fussing? They were not pearls—they were pain.
When the bedroom was empty the following day, I lingered at the door, thinking about kidney stones and the stabbing sensation she’d described as worse than childbirth. She had birthed us quickly—two hours for my brother and one and a half for me. But pain isn’t always a problem of duration, I thought, shutting the bedroom door. Sometimes it’s the edges on the stone and the softness of the flesh.