I don’t remember exactly when Mom created “Alien Artifact” (more affectionately known to my sister and me as “Artifact” and to Mom’s friend Carol as “Arty”), but he’s been in the family since at least 1980 — I have photos from our time in Italy that shows Artifact looking regally over the family and our Thanksgiving feast. Artifact took on, at least in my mind, and I think my sister’s, as well, the status as a kind of family guardian — something akin to a totem, maybe — always standing in a corner of the main room, usually facing the front door as if to silently ward off burglars and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Every Christmas my sister and I would wrap tinsel around Artifact, or tuck a spring of fake holly behind one horn, or drop small, shiny ball ornaments into his deepset eye sockets. Mom always protested at this lighthearted treatment of her ominous work of art, but I think it became a ritual for her, as well, rolling her eyes and exclaiming in annoyance as we decorated him each winter holiday. Now that I think back on it, that was appropriate, too, for the family guardian totem, the affectionate decoration as the year draws to a close at winter solstice.
When Mom died last August, it seemed impossible to bring Artifact back from Michigan — he was so big, and we had so much else we were shipping back to my sister’s apartment, and my boarding-room space was so limited. I asked Carol if she’d keep him for me until next summer, when I knew I’d be moving into my own apartment again. She agreed, and Artifact remained folded in the darkness of her closet for 10 months, almost to the day.
When I finally made my move on the 10th, I asked her if she’d mail him to me at last. Several days later I was standing him up, finger-combing out his tangled mane of strings and ornaments and brushing the dust from his painted muzzle. And it seemed to me then strangely fitting that Artifact had been kept in the darkness for those ten months after his creator and keeper died, in the keeping of one of Mom’s closest friends — another sort of ritual gesture appropriate to a family totem.
Now Artifact’s back home, standing in the daylight once more. I moved him around to various places in my living room, looking for the right spot, and perhaps it’s not surprising that he’s ended up against the far wall, looking over the living room and, of course, the front door. It’s odd, but sometimes when I add something new to a room, it takes me a while to get used to it. But I realized the next day that I’d woken up and prepared breakfast and barely even noticed Artifact’s presence. He just naturally fit in, a quiet member of the family that I’m glad to have back in my life once more.