Effects by Erika Raskin

More than half a century ago


when I was five, my parents bought a DC row house that came furnished

(an estate sale? someone walking away from their whole life?)

with lots of heavy dark furniture and scary art.

Much of it stayed.

Which, when you think about it, is a little like committing to the headshots of other peoples’ kids encased in the new frames you’ve just gotten from Pottery Barn. While there may have been a certain amount of effort-conservation involved

(something, as the World’s Laziest Person, I’m all about)

What is chasing that poor, footless child?

it meant that the above (terrifying) portrait hung above the fireplace in my childhood home. My brothers and I studiously avoided looking up. Even while playing couch-ball over the coffee table that separated the matching love seats beneath it. Which made returning spiked serves almost impossible.

When our mom died we fought over possession of the oil. As in who had to assume it. Eventually we decided on enforced guardianship with no take backs. I’ve put my time in.

There was also this long ornately carved chest that we used to store our toys in, which also functioned nicely as a guillotine because the massive lid never stayed up.

It’s pretty weird to just live with somebody else’s tastes. Maybe that’s what residents of Buckingham Palace feel every morning when they walk downstairs to the ornate gilt edged portraits and landscapes they were born into. Or come to think of it, my husband. He’s pretty much left the decorating to me. Does he wake up every day thinking, how did I end up in a (somewhat messy) Matisse painting? (He’s an engineer-slash-anesthesiologist, much more of an Architectural Digest kind of guy.)

(On the other hand . . . attend shopping excursions or just suck it up.)

Which all got me thinking about things and how we don’t really own any of them. Not sneakers or cars or ridiculously priced handbags. Because—short of fire—they outlast us. Possessorship is as temporary as steam over a coffee mug, clouds. Perky body parts.

Even being buried with one’s favorite items is just a, you know, pyramid scheme. It all comes down to rights to long term usage. Which makes the whole striving to acquire expensive belongings not just ephemeral but you know, kinda dumb.

Also, as I am now approaching the age my mom was when we lost her, sometimes I look around the house and wonder which of the things placed just-so will be batted between my offspring like fancy soaps and fruitcakes from the ’80s.

Note to my children, nieces, nephews, auxiliary daughters et al: If my beloved takes my demise as a (long-awaited) opportunity to move to an all glass and metal apartment on the Downtown Mall accented with only the occasional hard-angled abstract, just bring home what speaks to you. I won’t be insulted.


Erika Raskin
Erika Raskin is Streetlight‘s fiction editor and the author of Best Intentions and Close. More of her words can be found at erikaraskin.com. Her essay about eternal vows puts the lie to the last line of this one.

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