Dearest Rachel –
The “Empathy Doll Shot” is a trope whose name might be unfamiliar, but when you see it, you know what it’s all about. That item left behind that you, the viewer, would recognize as ‘that thing is supposed to have an owner,’ followed by the realization as to why there is no owner to claim that item.
Not to belabor the obvious, but as you the viewer take in the scene, you slowly realize that its owner is most likely dead.
It’s particularly gut-wrenching when it’s a child’s toy – hence, the reference to a doll in the trope name – because, of course, the thought of a child dying is all that much more awful. It’s not supposed to happen, after all, and the fact that such is implied makes the picture all the more poignant for it.
And of course, it’s not restricted to media; this is something that is a part of real life. It’s why the trope has such power in fictional settings, after all. Whether you consider the toys left behind from the evacuation of Pripyat, Ukraine (near the Chernobyl nuclear facility – which at least has the virtue of not involving children dying, as such – although one suspects that they are today suffering from relatively higher rates of cancer), rows of shoes displayed at the Auschwitz museum, or pictures of possessions after any natural disaster, the emotional effect on the viewer is similar – a single image that bears the story of a life lost, and a cherished possession orphaned.
So why am I applying this trope to a hardback suitcase?
It’s not as if it was anything particularly beloved by either of us: it served a fairly utilitarian purpose, getting your stuff to and from wherever it was we were traveling to. And it’s not like you didn’t get a fair amount of use out of it: we’ve traveled to so many places, places that most people (even in our social circles) could only dream of getting to in their lifetime.
It may be that it’s one more reminder that you’re gone and out of my life forever. I’ve learned from Jan that, if something can’t be or isn’t going to be used for it’s intended purpose, it needs to go. If it can be used by someone else, great – donate it. So at least, it’s likely to find a home at some point in the fairly near future, where it can get some more use.
Admittedly, I’d actually been using it as a makeshift shelf these last few months – as there wasn’t another particularly good place to store it when you were still here, it just stood right outside the door to my side of the bedroom, where I would place papers that needed to be dealt with in a relatively short period of time – expiring coupons and the like, for instance. Until Jan and I managed to locate the kist (that steel box containing our truly important papers), I’d kept all the copies of your death certificate on it as well.
But I don’t think that’s really what breaks my heart about having to give it up.
Part of it is a matter of timing and juxtapositioning. Earlier, at the office, as I’ve been going through the many videos we’d shot back in the first decade of this millennium, I had come across a scene in which we were saying goodbye to the car that had faithfully carried us around Orange and San Diego counties over the preceding week or so:
You’ll notice the purple suitcase sitting in the trunk of the car, waiting to be unloaded once we got to the airport rental car station. An image of happier times (although, given that this was at the end of the trip, it was still a bittersweet moment all its own). And while it isn’t actually the same suitcase – I mistook it for such while I was doing the conversion, as the screen on the converter box is fairly small, and I mistook it for the other – but the principle of the memories of days gone by still applies. You’ll also remember that we are addressing the car by name, albeit a name arrived at by pronouncing its license tag.
You see – and don’t you dare try to deny it, honey – you had a habit of humanizing everything. Whether it was a car – even a rental car, which we would need to return to the agency and never see again after a week – a toy, a book, or just about anything, to you, every inanimate object seemed to have something in it that gave it an ever so slightly human quality. It’s like the Toy Story or Brave Little Toaster premise, but writ universally: everything has a personality, everything has a soul, or something akin to it.
It’s why you could never give things up – and why things piled up to such an extent by the time you had to leave us (although those piles had been around for years before then). You couldn’t abandon anything, and everything had to be used until it couldn’t be used any more.
It’s why even now, it pains me to see this little suitcase off. Because you taught me that things feel loss and abandonment, just like we do. And I don’t want to hurt it any more than you did. But I know it’s for the best – we have so many suitcases already, and I’m not likely to be dragging something like this around in the future when I have more suitable alternatives.
So goodbye, little hardback suitcase. I hope your new family takes you to all sort of places, and you see all manner of new things along your way.
Just… remember us fondly, if you can.