Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the plain brown paper wrapped package and, for a few seconds, get excited thinking I have a newly delivered present. The square shape holds the promise of a set of wine glasses or perhaps a hand made piece of pottery, carefully protected by pieces of popcorn packaging.
But as I step closer I realize that the package sitting on the edge of my desk is not a present, but the box that I've resisted opening for nearly a year. It holds not pottery but the ashes of my ex-husband.
I don't know if there's an urn inside, although the size and weight would suggest no. My guess is that there is another cardboard box, or perhaps just a plastic bag. I need to open it to have a better idea of what my daughters will find so I can prepare them, or buy a proper urn.
The ashes are theirs, but since their dad's death they've been in different towns or on different continents, and they want to spread his ashes together in a meaningful place that they haven't decided on yet.
So for now, they sit on my desk.
I remember when I first brought him home. He was outspoken and irreverent and funny, and for some reason showed up for that first meeting with my parents with two small kittens and no litter box or cat carriers or cat food. My mom was not amused. My brother-in-law tried to allay her concerns.
"What's the worst that can happen?" he asked. "They get married and they get divorced."
It was an inauspicious start to a marriage. And it was a prophecy that proved to be untrue.
Because the worst did happen, and it wasn't a divorce, although that happened too. The worst was a descent into the morass of drug addiction and the loss of promise of a man who had been first in his class at law school.
The worst was two little girls, ages two and five, and then again at ages five and eight, visiting their dad in a rehab facility and not understanding why he was there.
The worst was their slow understanding that their dad would not always show up when he said, that his promises would not always be kept, and that he would do things that would embarrass and disappoint them.
It was not the worst that they loved him anyway, because that door was kept open.
The worst was that it would take well over a decade and nearly the entire childhood of his daughters before he found some stability selling used cars and started rebuilding his life.
The worst was that when amends had been made and relationships were being rebuilt, he was diagnosed with a cancer that was caught late and spread quickly, and that he didn't even have the thirteen months that the doctors predicted.
He died last March after less than five.
When my oldest daughter, pregnant with a first grandchild that her dad would never meet, wrote a eulogy that would be read to the handful of people that had remained in his life, she closed by reciting things that she had learned from her dad.
Some were humorous, like, "Imo's pizza and White Castles are perfectly acceptable breakfast foods." And, "Sing if you want, just as long as you know that musical ability doesn't run in the family."
And some were more serious.
"To be happy," she had learned, "you have to forget about whatever you were dealt in life that you wish you weren't, and instead build for yourself the life you'd prefer. You'll make some mistakes along the way, but it's never too late to go back and make them right."
She didn't say it, and she may not realize it, but I think her dad also taught his daughters some things about compassion, and second chances, and family, and forgiveness.
As I think of these lessons, I realize their dad would rather enjoy the idea of sitting on the edge of his ex-wife's desk. He would find humor in that. Along with some peace in knowing that he made his way back to family.
I wish he could have met the grandson that carries his name.