| What I’m Holding On To |

Scorched Witness

“Just toss it!” is the rallying cry of these weeks. But some items we simply can’t bring ourselves to discard. 9 writers share


For years I wondered why my mother held on to that dress, its quiet presence the incarnation of every parent’s worst nightmare.

I vaguely remember that Rosh Hashanah night. At six years old I was entirely preoccupied with my Yom Tov finery: mirror shiny patent leather shoes, new dress with the lingering scent of the clothing store. I hardly noticed my younger sister, quick as a thief, climb an imposing dining room chair and lean in to the trembling flames of the New Year.

Was it her screech of shock and pain that caught my attention? Do I actually recall her dress alight, remember my race to summon Daddy, terror nipping at my heels? Or was it a story told and retold until, emboldened, it declared itself a memory.

Years later, at ten years old, I’m alone in my parents’ room hunting through my mother’s dresser. In the furthest recesses of a bottom drawer my fingers brush soft cotton: it is a toddler-sized dress, jagged brown scorch marks peering out like sightless eyes.

Why has my mother held on to this garment? Flushed with guilt, I finger the mottled white fabric, yearning to rewind the clock and rescue my sister before her curious fingers are blistered by fire. Although her burns were superficial and quickly salved, I still burn with remorse for neglecting my role as her savior.

Only decades later, when I realize the dress is long discarded, does it occur to me to ask my mother why.

Her cell connection is never clear, so when I hear my mother’s response, I initially assume I’ve misheard.

“Wait, tell me again, why did you hold on to the dress?” I repeat, angling for an answer that fits with my recollection of that Rosh Hashanah night. I’d expected to hear something about enduring guilt, lifelong remorse bordering on self-flagellation. But that’s not what she says.

“I wanted to remember the miracle,” she says simply.

The miracle. That’s what my mother could not discard. Not the guilt, the regrets. Not what I’d been holding on to since that night.

Maybe someday I, too, will master the art of holding on to the right things.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 734)

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