My First Obituary
Senior year, one of our high school teachers
gave us this assignment, to be finished
within the classroom hour: write your own
obituary—how you want your life recorded.
The idea must have been to get us thinking
about our place in the world beyond school.
Did we seek recognition, children, wealth?
How would we like to be remembered?
If only I had saved that one-page paper.
Surely it would prove illuminating now.
I don’t remember what I wrote that day,
but I do recall giving it a blaring headline.
“SENATOR EUSTIS ASSASSINATED!”
No doubt I was influenced by the murders
of King and the Kennedys in recent years.
Still, those three words reveal two conflicting
truths about my younger (and older) self.
First, that I possessed, at an early age,
a politician’s smoothness, a canny
ability to talk my way out of things
that might have gotten me in trouble,
coupled with a sense of civic-mindedness.
Second, that I knew I had a tendency
of being too blunt for my own good,
of saying the true but unpopular thing,
so much so that it would not be too
surprising if someday, somewhere,
someone would want to see me dead.
Although my Uncle Jeff had been
briefly married a couple of times,
he never had children, and lived
alone in a trailer park not far from me.
He must have been there twenty years
before moving to a nearby nursing home.
I visited him now and then, in both places,
although we weren’t terribly close,
except geographically. I liked him.
After he moved, his trailer stood vacant
for a few years, and sometimes I would
go over there to check on the place
or to bring him some item that he wanted.
Eventually mice started finding their way in
and I had the unpleasant task of cleaning up
the mess they made and setting traps.
When my uncle passed, he left me the trailer
and all its contents in his will, something
I suppose I should have anticipated.
Of course I had no use for it, and now I had
the huge chore of getting rid of the thing.
Selling or even giving it away were options,
but it was old and not in very good shape.
Clearing out his belongings, I discovered
a wet spot under one of the bedroom walls,
coming from behind a small panel
where the hot-water heater was kept.
It looked like it’d been leaking for a long time.
Black mold had spread all through the alcove.
Now I was afraid to pass it on to anyone else,
for fear they would get sick and sue me.
At this point my wife and I started calling
my inheritance “the gift that keeps on taking.”
The original wheels of the trailer had sunk
into the ground, so hauling it away was not
an easy choice. In the end, I had to find
a demolition crew that could dismantle
and safely dispose of it, mold and all,
at a cost of many thousands of dollars.
Going through the trailer one final time,
clearing out drawers and cabinets,
Linda found a note my uncle
had scribbled to himself, tucked under
a salt shaker on the kitchen counter.
It contained just two words: “check leak.”
John S. Eustis is a retired librarian living in Virginia with his wife, after a long, quiet federal career. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Pirene’s Fountain, Slipstream, Tar River Poetry, and other places.