Dr. Nordstrom asked me to help clean out his mother's house across the street from my parents' house. I was waiting to virtually graduate from high school and I nothing else to do since my stint as a counselor for the Hillsboro Summer Recreational Program was wiped out by the pandemic.
Mrs. Nordstrom had been dead for almost a year but there hadn't been much activity at the house as most of her children lived elsewhere - middle aged and busy with their own lives, uninterested in taking on the project of cleaning out their childhood home.
I was the one who found poor Mrs. Nordstrom. Her daughter Wilma called us from London saying she had been calling all day and not getting an answer which was unusual, so I walked across the street to the house – I had a key and I let myself in when nobody answered the doorbell.
I had never seen a dead person before – but there was poor Mrs. Nordstrom laying at the bottom of the cellar stairs, cold and blue, a trickle of dried blood on the floor by her head.
Apparently she had tripped at the top of the stairs and fallen down the steps, breaking her neck and fracturing her skull. The coroner determined that she had been dead for about twelve hours before I found her.
Now I was in her house cleaning out all her stuff. I had already been acting as the semi-quasi caretaker at Dr. Nordstrom's request – making sure the sidewalks and driveway was clear of snow and keeping the yard mowed so neighbors wouldn't complain.
I also went inside the house every week or two and altered the timers so different lights in different rooms would be seen.
The four (surviving) Nordstrom siblings finally converged at the house months after their mother's death to claim whatever belongings, artifacts, collectables and other memorabilia they wanted – taking paintings off the wall, silverware from the buffet, and art pieces from the shelfs.
Dr. Nordstrom then had the antique guy come in and take those pieces nobody claimed but were worth selling and now it was my job to clean out the rest of the place as the family prepared to finally sell the house.
To be fair, Dr. Nordstrom's parents bought the house nearly sixty years ago and they raised five kids so naturally a lot of stuff collected over the years.
I won't exactly call Mrs. Nordstrom a hoarder but I don't think she threw much stuff out over the years, especially after her husband passed away twenty years earlier. There were clothes dating back to the 1950s hanging in the closets and in plastic bags in the cellar. There were boxes of school papers and report cards on all five kids going back to kindergarten.
The kids had used the house as their own storage bin at various times in their lives so there were boxes of books stacked in the cellar, generations of old toys and games, and other junk packed away in crates, trunks and storage containers.
Mrs. Nordstrom liked glassware, art pieces, and miniature dolls and ceramic figures and they were spread throughout the house. I didn't realize how daunting a task the clean out job would be until I started moving stuff around - it seemed to be a never ending proposition.
Dr. Nordstrom told me to have a tag sale but the town pandemic restrictions wouldn't that so I was going to have to deliver to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and whatever non-profits were open. The rest was to go into the giant dumpster that was delivered to the driveway a few days earlier.
Mrs. Nordstrom's car was still the garage that was cluttered with more junk that I also had to go through and clean out.
I spent the first few days going from room to room grouping stuff, boxing items, and bagging up old clothes. The only room I left undisturbed was the granddaughter's, Ingrid. Dr. Nordstrom said Ingrid was supposed to be coming back with her boyfriend to collect her belongings but he wasn't sure when.
Ingrid was a couple of years ahead of me at Hillsboro High. I really didn't know her very well. She was pretty with long blonde hair and she was rather stout too, as tall as me.
We interacted some – her grandmother Mrs. Nordstrom had been Ingrid's primary caretaker after Mrs. Nordstrom's daughter (Ingrid's mom) Astrid died when Ingrid was ten.
I really didn't know the whole story – other than Ingrid's mom never married and Ingrid's father wasn't in the picture. Ingrid really didn't pay much attention to me. She was nice enough – just not all that interested in wasting her time on a dweeb like me.
She actually called me that once – "Don't be a dweeb," she said when I asked her if she was going trick or treating when she was like fourteen.
Even though she was pretty and she was popular at school, I felt sorry for Ingrid because she was basically an orphan taken in by her grandmother and sometimes when I saw her around the house she looked sad. Who could blame her?
Cleaning out the Nordstrom house, I'd often stop in the doorway of Ingrid's bedroom which looked like it was frozen in time. It was painted pink and it had white furniture – a bed, a dresser, a desk, a make-up table. There were a couple of Taylor Swift posters on the wall, a doll collection on a shelf in the corner, and a bunch of clothes still hanging in the closet.
It was uncouth of me, but I went into her room a few times snooping around, wondering about her. Dr. Nordstrom wasn't clear about what Ingrid was doing – I hadn't seen her since she graduated from high school two years earlier – except when she came home last June for her grandmother's funeral.
But there I was in her room wondering about her and pondering what I should do with her clothes, CDs, DVD, jewelry, and books should she never return, not to mention the journal buried in her sock drawer.
Yes, I read it. It was one of those black composition books. She didn't write in it every day but there were entries at least once a week or so. Not the mundane 'today I went to the mall with Judy' stuff – but her intimate thoughts on various subjects.
Learning about Ingrid's private and secret thoughts was a violation of her privacy and that's why I was hoping she wouldn't return – because I would have to pretend that I didn't know what I knew.
Like how she was in love with some guy named "John" (clearly a fake name for the purposes of her journal) which as far as I could tell was some married guy older than her. She had a lot of resentment toward her grandmother which surprised me – feeing that Nana was controlling, stubborn, harsh and much too opinionated.
Ingrid didn't think much of her aunt and uncles either, criticizing them as detached elitists. She thought her Uncle Noah was a brash jerk and that her Uncle Adam was nuts.
She wrote about her boyfriend Tom a lot – about their sex and all that. But she seemed to be using Tom as a substitute for the 'John' guy who she was definitely in love with. She made it clear that if John left his wife, she'd leave Tom in a heartbeat.
Ingrid wrote that she didn't give a shit about the father who abandoned her and that she felt anger and resentment toward her mother, a drug addict who died of an overdose.
I know what you're thinking: I'm an asshole for reading Ingrid's journal. I agree. I shouldn't have but I did. It was a slimy dishonest thing to do – but I did it anyway.
So now I know all about her sex with Tom and her love for 'John'. And what she really thinks about her family. And how she hates her best friend Elsie who cheated on her with the guy Ingrid was seeing in high school. And all sorts of other personal stuff about what she liked and what she disliked and how she felt about people and about previous relationships.
She wrote about a guy she worked with at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store in high school (her Nana made her get a job) – he was handsome and interesting and older and that's why she slept with him and then she regretted doing that because he quit his job soon afterward and she never saw him again.
Ingrid wrote about a trip to Summer Beach with some of her girlfriends and how they ended up meeting some guys on the beach and bringing them back to their room and having a semi-orgy which I'm thinking she had to have made up. People don't really do stuff like that, do they?
I think I actually respect Ingrid more now that I've read her truest most personal thoughts and dreams. I understand her. I know how she feels. How she wants to be treated. What she wants from sex. What she dreams about for a happy life. The pain she felt over her absent father and her drug addicted mother. How lonely she was.
I was disappointed that there wasn't even a mention of me in all those entries – but why would there be? I was just the dweeb who lived across the street.
Here was her last journal entry, written a few days after she graduated from high school and a few days before she took off with Tom: "I wish I could be with John. But I have to just accept that he's never going to leave her for me so I need to get on with my life. I know I need to let go. I try not to think about him but I can't not think about him. I know how stupid and unrealistic it is to think I have any sort of future with him. So I will take off with Tom even though I know that's not the right thing to do either. Nana doesn't deserve me running off like this but I need to figure out who I am and what I want and I can't do that working at Fontaine's and living with Nana."
Ironically, I found myself semi-obsessing about Ingrid as I cleaned out her grandmother's house, sort of hoping she'd show up (even though she'd be with her boyfriend) while, at the same time, dreading the possibility that she might appear given that I basically saw her naked with her clothes on.
I was still just the dweeb next door and she'd probably be annoyed that I was the one going through her grandmother's stuff. Why would she want to come back at all? Probably to get the journal!
Ingrid hadn't said much to me when she was home for her grandmother's funeral – just thanks for calling 911 when I found Nana. Ingrid was with the boyfriend and she was an emotional mess about her grandmother dying so suddenly and tragically. I'm sure it brought up a lot of issues about her mother too.
I realized how lucky I was to grow up in the same house with a nuclear family – happily married parents who were positive and supportive toward me and my two siblings whom I got along great with. I didn't have the baggage poor Ingrid did – but I didn't have the experience either.
I dated Sami Olsen the last few years of high school – a semi platonic relationship – with us both tripping over second base on our way to third and we never did go all the way.
Sami finally semi-dumped, using the pandemic as an excuse, and I really wasn't all that surprised or upset about it. She's a nice girl – we weren't just meant to get naked together.
I envied Ingrid for being naked with so many different guys and my secret fantasy having read her journal was that she would be willing to get naked with me – if she ever came back.
But that was pretty stupid of me to fantasize about since Ingrid had Tom….and John…..and god knows who else.
I was lost in my thoughts dragging a box up from the cellar which I almost dropped on the kitchen floor, startled by the sight of someone standing by the refrigerator with her hands on her hips glaring at me.
You guessed it! It was Ingrid Nordstrom.