When my parents moved from the house they had lived in for over forty years, it was thrilling to dismantle so much. In stormy purges, coffee tables, couches, andirons, the baby grand piano, and the set of Thackeray novels no one had ever read were gone. But then, there was the detritus: a set of demitasse spoons in a satin box, the heavy, damask tablecloth of my great grandmother’s with her initials swirling at its shiny center. Old medicine bottles full of screws and nails.

As I raised a chipped, floral bowl I thought would be tossed, my mother said, “My mother used to keep lemons in that bowl in the icebox.”

Memory is exacting in what it keeps. Much of my mother’s life has gone in the sinkhole of eighty-five years of experience and the damage of dementia. This beautiful image of yellow lemons in a blue bowl has been preserved; my mother is the sole agent of it.

When you have a child die before he really lives, you don’t have detritus. Memory isn’t object. My wife and I have some black and white pictures of our son James that the hospital took on our behalf. A baptism certificate. In what was a fit of shrouding some sense of legal order around our grief, we marched to the bowels of Boston City Hall, to get James’s birth and death certificate, “just in case.” (Just in case of what? Who would ask for it?)

We have footprints: two for his two hours in the world. We have the earliest ultrasounds, when he was more cloud than body, and one of the last ones, with his seemingly formed hand waving hello-goodbye.

Our twins were born at twenty-six weeks and had suffered from a transfusion disorder.

Our surviving son’s long medical struggle is clear to me. We have objects from that time, like Matthew’s weight chart, hand-penciled by various nurses. We still have a certificate of when he entered the Kilo Club for reaching two pounds at almost two months. I was enraged by the celebration of that; it felt to me like giving a trophy to the losing soccer team. But I have kept it because it is what he earned, according to the world. Here is the blue label from his NICU bay, with his name and his birth weight. Here are the little stuffies the nurses gave him. Here is his first outfit, so tiny I need it to bring back the size he was. Here is a picture of his NICU nurse, one of our favorites, holding him. He is jaundiced, the orange of ancient pages; his damaged liver has just begun to work.

Sometimes, my wife and I still turn his feet over to look at the dotted, ivory scars of the various needles they used for blood draws. We gaze at the soft, pink skin and the heel with its map of coordinates without a country. This is what is leftover from Matthew’s sickness.

After the birth and after Matthew was rushed off, a huddle of people remained in the corner of the surgical theater with James, as the doctors sewed me up. Then, the neonatologist came towards us, sadly, with a small bundle; it had taken too much time. I have this lapse (or length) of time, too, which I keep, much the way people keep treasure in a box.

The hospital bracelet for Baby A: I don’t even remember seeing it on his dark, dead wrist.

The image of the multi-liter specimen bottle of yellow, amniotic fluid the doctor had pulled from my belly sitting on some shelf, like a scene from a Frankenstein movie. This was the liquid in which James’s heart drowned.

I have the hundreds of pages of medical records, which I ordered not to see if I missed something, but to have more of what was already there, to hoard my grief.   The doctor wrote that James had a “decrease in contractility of the heart.”   I felt as if I had found my diagnosis.

I lived for a time underneath memory, in the wash of the obliterating pieces of information about life and death, the names of organs and their failure, the skid of a surgeon’s knife, a pluck, a drain, a monitor that bleeped its alarm at every lapse of breath, as if Matthew were drawn to the dark fairy world of “Maybe not this life.”

When I held the tiny, pound and a half body of him, with his tubes, the vacuum cleaner of a respirator swishing beside him, the endless IV’s, all I could think was. “What? What are we going to do with him?” As if he were the leftover of this tragedy, and not the treasure.

Years later my wife Cheryl ran the Boston Marathon for Boston Children’s Hospital, where Matthew spent months after surgery. One side of her running bib said, “in honor of Matthew.” The other side said, “in memory of Baby James.” Two bombs went off at the finish line. I knew Cheryl was far away from it; I never had to worry that something happened to her. But still, ripped clothes. Ruined bodies. Detritus. Two brothers, walking one after another. The flick of the ultrasounds. Baby A. Baby B.

After my wife finished the marathon the next year, I suggested we get a shadow box to put the medals, the pictures, and the bib. She said she didn’t want that. I knew she felt the arranged artifice of it; everything was in its place already.

Yet, we did not pick up James’s ashes at the funeral home near our house for months. I drove by the place all the time, thinking “We really need to remember to pick him up!” with no urgency to do so, like I had something at the dry cleaner’s that I couldn’t remember. A sweater from another season.

We thought we might use a burial ground in Cape Cod where something like nine generations of Crowells – reside in a mossy, tippy-graved fields. When we called to inquire, we found out that the deceased had to be a resident of Cape Cod. This completely stumped us. James had only been a resident of our own arms and my body. I was equally stumped when Matthew asked recently, “Would James wear glasses too?”

At the pool, Matthew’s bare body elicits questions from his friends. How did you get those scars? Matthew looks down, a little surprised that something so much a part of his body has been noticed. He draws his hand across and explains calmly the hole in his intestine when he was born.      He lifts his arm to show the heart scar that swerves around his torso.

We thought the scars might shrink, but so far, they seem to grow with him.

Now, a few years out from the move, my father and mother both comment on the many things they left behind – nails in 1970’s medicine bottles, building tools, shovels, books, old records of Fats Waller. “It makes me sick,” my father says with no real hyperbole. These were the things that settled around him, the architecture of what held him in place; now, he is loosed with a kind of vertigo down the halls of the independent living facility that lead to the memory unit, the infirmary wing, and to another strange, unknown place, where people who can be in the world no longer are still somewhere in the world.

I think we all have these corridors within us. Recently, my mother, who is still preparing to give it all away, spoke to me about a family heirloom she treasures the most, a turn-of-the century, Sargentesque portrait of my great grandmother, Helen, and her twin brother Herbert. The two, very small children are dressed in the most fashionable of clothes and sit in what appears to be a dark forest with a stream of light. The girl wears boots with a thousand buttons, the boy a bow tie and short, tuxedo suit. As well, we have an oval-framed brown-and-white photograph of the twins in the same pose, on which much of the painting must have been based. Next to it is a photograph of my twin brother and me. Much was made of the repetition of twins in the family. I remember the picture being taken, of having to climb into the garden, of having to lean against my brother’s body. My mother, whose memory has all but receded, told me that she wants Matthew to have the portrait eventually because he is a twin.

I’m surprised she even remembers that James is there, with us.

At some point, Matthew will fully understand that he is a twin, that he is a survivor of the very worst of human conditions. For now, he is a preserver. He does not like to throw or give things away. If he finds old homework sheets in the recycling bin, he reprimands us for our carelessness.

We created a “saving box” so he might be selective about what he treasures, but he stuffed it full. We can’t coax him to give us one of his drawings; he wants to keep it all himself. He has a stunning visual sense of the world and can remember exactly the parts, the pieces, the colors, and the places of things he has seen only once. I think how painful, how strange it is to keep the only time we held his brother, how it is what I want and the one part of my life I might take away.

We worry that Matthew will be on one of those reality TV shows about hoarders, surveying the landmine of his possessions. For months, leaned over his isolette all those times we thought he would die and promised him a Maserati and a pony if he would just live. Now, we wonder if he is keeping more than he can.

The other night, he was looking for a tiny piece that went with a small toy. I told him it was gone, that I threw it away. He turned from me, and started digging his small hands through toy bin after toy bin.

“Found it!” he cried, as if there were never any question.