Maybe it was twenty-five years ago. Maybe it was only one. Or two. We were friends, weren’t we? Our children grew up together. We lived next door to each other. Or maybe you were in my wedding. Did you throw a baby shower for me? Where are you now?
Did we work together? Maybe it was the same club. Or exercise class. Or rehab.
We bonded, didn’t we? I thought we clicked. I thought you cared. I guess I was wrong.
Didn’t we giggle together? Mock the same things? Rewrite the endings to movies? Sing off-tune to the songs on the radio in the car?
What about those holidays when you were alone. Or I was. So we spent them together.
We have matching tattoos. But now I don’t remember why. Do you?
We were friends for a long time. Or it seemed like a long time. Weren’t you my soulmate? Didn’t you tell me once, “You’re the best friend I ever had” or “Our friendship is important to me”? I think now that was a lie. Because I haven’t heard from you in a very long time.
I think you’ve forgotten me. I think you don’t care. Even if you say you miss me, I wonder how is that possible? Because if you missed me you wouldn’t ignore me. Would you?
In my heart I didn’t go anywhere. You did.
Sometimes I think about you. In a random way. There’s a little ache in my heart. Right next to the soft spot I once had for you. Which isn’t so soft any more.
Are you dead? Are you happy? How’s your family? The kids? The boyfriend? The new husband? I’d like to know. But you don’t want me to. You don’t care that I’m still interested. I still care. You made me take my caring somewhere else. You don’t need me to care about you any more. I don’t know why I still do. I’d like to forget you, too. But I can’t. I won’t. I will always wonder. Why isn’t there room in our lives for each other any more?
Can you really count the number of true friends on the fingers of one hand?
I will always hope you’re happy, that your life is better without me in it. Without you mine isn’t.
But I’ve got a finger free.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
This past week I’ve received two messages from friends of friends looking for donations to fund medical expenses. Both of these direly ill individuals are young people, one in her twenties, one in his thirties who is married with two children.
These are not tax deductible contributions as far as I know, they are just pleas for help from others.
Sometimes I wonder where my money goes. I look back at my life and at all the frivolous things I spent money on when I didn’t think I’d ever have to be concerned about the steady flow of cash. Foolish, foolish me. Back then I tried to imagine how it could all be gone. Turns out my imagination wasn’t that good.
Someone told me once that money is merely another form of energy. I can’t quite wrap my head around that. I wasn’t raised surrounded by money, but I sure didn’t mind having a generous supply of it. Money represents security in a way. Freedom to a certain extent. But along with money comes responsibility and its own set of headaches. Mostly those involve how to hang on to the money you’ve got.
Recently I got caught by one of those traffic cams while making a right-hand turn on a red light without stopping. $158 fine. I was not happy. I’m a good driver. How dare the government grab $158 of my hard-earned money for such a small infraction. No one was hurt. I didn’t cut off anyone’s right of way.
But when you hear the stories of these gravely ill individuals fighting for their lives or even some semblance of a “normal” life, you know in a heartbeat they’d trade places with you and be glad to even drive a car again and gladly pay a stupid traffic ticket. They may not have the chance to have children or raise the children they already have. It sort of puts it in perspective.
Good health is a gift I’m thankful for every day. I am also thankful for my car, my job which provides me with health insurance at a reasonable rate, my family and my friends. I try never to forget how blessed I am and how miniscule many of my “problems” are in view of many, many others’ situations.
So I have a traffic fine to pay. Big deal. There’s money for that. So how could there not be money to help someone in genuine need? To those who have been given much, much will be expected.
Her name was Marie. We were in first grade at a Catholic School in a small Midwestern town.
It doesn’t matter where we were or how old we were. My classmates and I were bullies. We weren’t just mean we were cruel. I wasn’t friends with Marie, but I’ve never forgotten her. She had red hair and freckles, that’s what I remember most clearly about her. Why she was our target, I have no idea. But every day as we stood in one line or another, if we didn’t cross our fingers in time, we’d catch Marie Mason’s* cooties.
I’d started first grade two weeks late after a cross country move. I was at a loss, a very young six and nothing much made sense to me at the time. Somehow I had to catch up and fit in and keep pace with all these other six-year-olds who knew what was what and who was who while I hadn’t a clue.
I desperately wanted to fit in and make friends, I suppose. I wasn’t a confident child. Not one with a lot of self-esteem. Not a leader by any means. When I look back now I feel like I was standing still while everything whirled around me. It isn’t an excuse to say I just didn’t get it, but that’s how it felt.
I knew I was being mean to Marie, of course. I knew we all were. “Marie Mason’s cooties.” To the best of my recollection she was the only girl in class who had cooties. It was the kiss of death if any of us contracted them. It was beyond stupid. Who comes up with this stuff? Why did we pick on her? I don’t have any answers. I wish I could undo the damage our behavior surely did to Marie, but I can’t.
I wish I’d been braver at age six. I wish I’d had some self-confidence. I wish I hadn’t been afraid. I wish I’d understood that “popularity” is meaningless. I wish I’d had someone at home I could have asked about it, someone who had explained it to me or told me what to do.
When you’re six and you feel like you’re out there in the world on your own, you do the best you can because you don’t know how to do any better. It isn’t that you don’t know any better. I knew. But I was scared.
I can analyze and justify my behavior now but there is no excuse or justification for the way I behaved then.
Does an apology fifty years after the fact mean anything? I doubt it. But I’ve found Marie’s address and I want her to know I’m sorry I went along with the crowd. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up for her. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I had song lyrics in my head driving home from a week-early celebration with my family, but I realized it was a bit too much like “All I Want For Christmas Is You” which I believe Mariah Carey had a hit with a few years ago.
Mine went something like this: I don’t need a tree or ornaments or lights, I don’t need snow to keep from feeling blue. All I need for Christmas is you (guys).
My daughter is disappointed that I don’t have a Christmas tree and unhappy when I mention I might never have one again. “What if you have grandchildren?” I might have a tree if they were visiting for Christmas. (For some reason when we downsized I kept all of my Christmas ornaments.) Or they might have to get used to the idea that Grammy Barb doesn’t have a Christmas tree. But these fictitious grandchildren don’t exist. If they ever do I hope they’ll discover that a tree isn’t what’s important about the holiday. It isn’t lights or decorations. It isn’t presents and sugar cookies and visits to Santa Claus. I hope what’s important to me will be important to them. I hope they already have the kind of gifts I’ve been given and that Christmas is simply a time to remember how blessed we are and to show our appreciation for the people who are important to us.
I’m old now so I can say this: How many of the material gifts that you got for Christmas do you remember? How many do you still have or use or like? Probably not very many. My specific memories of those gifts are isolated. My Thumbelina doll when I was seven. That’s the only thing I wanted and I still have her. My husband sent me flowers one year, even though what I’d asked for was for him to send me flowers for no reason sometime during the year when there was no occasion to do so. He heard half of that request. :)There are those fleeting moments of surprise and delight when you open a gift and that’s about it. Everyone enjoys opening gifts (including me), but what you remember most are the people you were with or sometimes the people who weren’t there.
I have two children who both have significant others. We live in different places although luckily in the same state. We all have work schedules and family commitments and logistics to consider when attempting to plan a holiday gathering but that’s what’s important to me. This year I thought it might not be possible but we made it happen.
A week before Christmas we’re all in the same place at the same time. Yes, there is lots of good food and wine and presents. But even if there weren’t my Christmas would have been complete because the people who are most important to me were all there. In the weeks and days prior I’d spent time with my closest friends. Spending time with them was another blessing.
If you walk into my house it doesn’t look like Christmas. My neighbor put a Santa hat on top of our mailbox light. Her house is decorated inside and out. My husband wrapped lights around the bases of three palm trees in our front yard and that’s it. He also took me to Best Buy where I picked out my gift. My friend Sandy sent us a little sign that says “This is as merry as we get.” It’s hanging on my front door. My friend Carol makes a sad face when I tell her we’re celebrating Christmas a week early. “But what are you going to open on Christmas morning?” Nothing, because I’ll be working. But I can open my memories any time.
We can always find a reason to be merry. Every day’s like Christmas when you appreciate all the blessings, small and large, that surround you. But especially the blessing of the people in your life. The ones you truly enjoy. The ones you’d spend all your time with if you could. Those are the gifts that make me happy. That’s all I wanted for Christmas.
The first time I saw skydivers I was a kid growing up in rural Illinois. They looked like they were dropping from the sky into the cornfields. I don’t know where they actually landed, but that’s when I first decided I wanted to do that, too.
Fast forward about forty-five years when a Groupon offer shows up in my inbox. Half price tandem skydive. This is my chance, it’s now or never. Quickly I buy two. I’m pretty sure I can find someone to go with me. My best friend will.
I test out the idea on my daughter who responds, “Um, I’m not sure the first time I go skydiving I want to use a half-price coupon.”
My son says, “I’d probably do it…after I did a thorough background check on the company.”
My friend Cathy’s response is, “Sure.”
We arrive at the airfield well before our nine a.m. appointment to discover the weather is not cooperating. It’s cloudy but it might clear up in the next couple of hours. I didn’t plan on eating before the jump but we went for breakfast and when we returned the jump was on.
We have to sign and initial waivers for every possible contingency. If something happens to us, we have no recourse. I scan each paragraph and initial them all. It isn’t that I haven’t contemplated the worst, I simply have every confidence that I’m not in any danger.
Pascoal introduces himself and straps me into my harness while giving me instructions for the jump. I hope I can remember them all. Cross your arms over your chest, arch your back, chin up, legs between his. I listen while Cathy’s instructor gives her the same speech a minute later. They do this all the time, probably with people even more inattentive and with worse memories than mine.
Once Cathy is in her harness she looks at me and says, “I don’t think I can do this.” Something about that harness across her chest is giving her an attack of claustrophobia. If she doesn’t go, it’s okay. No pressure. (I’m thinking I’ll just go twice…) But a couple of harness adjustments later, that moment of uncertainty passes and she’s fine.
The plane is incredibly tiny. The four of us are wedged in in a particular order and the plane taxis alongside farmland and soon we are off the ground and climbing.
The engine’s loud and my ears start popping. I wonder why I’m not panicking. Why I’m not the slightest bit nervous. I look out the window and down at the landscape and think how lucky I am that I get the opportunity to do this. And how cool it is that God created all of this and I wonder where the first skydiver got the idea it would be fun to jump out of a plane. Cathy points out Tampa in the distance and strawberry fields below.
We climb some more. The engine’s loud, my ears keep popping and pretty soon it’s time. Really? I’m going to jump out of an airplane? I can’t believe I’m going to do this. But I’m not scared. I’m not nervous. After forty-five years, I’m ready.
The belts that are connected to our harnesses come off. Our instructors connect their harnesses to ours which requires a bit of maneuvering on everyone’s part. Then we’re set. The little door pops open and the cold wind rushes in. Cathy’s going first. They get into position. Her foot is on the step one moment and then she’s gone.
Next it’s my turn. I look at the step, the ground below and think, “Am I really doing this?” Then somehow we’ve pushed off and yes, I guess I am really doing this. There’s a rush of wind, a moment of disbelief, a sensation of exhilaration. In seconds it seems there’s a tap on my shoulder which means I can stretch out my arms and we do thumbs up and other little signals as we’re freefalling.
Then there’s the moment when the parachute opens and we’re drifting and I was in awe of all of it. The sky and the earth and the experience and isn’t God great?
We do some drifting and some twirlies and I can see Cathy floating below us. The lower we drop the warmer it gets.
We’re coming in for landing. I’ve already been instructed, feet up as high as I can get them, we’ll land on our butts. We don’t, though. We sort of land on our feet, per Pascoal’s instructions, stumble a bit and we’re safe and sound.
Cathy’s successfully landed about fifty feet away. We give each other a thumbs up, get unbuckled, thank our instructors.
I have to get the souvenir long-sleeved tee shirt because, well, I couldn’t find the long-sleeved tee shirt I’ve had forever that I planned to wear, so it’s being replaced by my “I fell out of the airplane” tee shirt. The $75 video? Didn’t spring for that. Didn’t want anyone to see my jowls flapping in the wind.
I smile all the way home. I almost can’t believe I did it. But Cathy’s already posted the pictures Facebook so it must be true.
I can cross one thing I always wanted to do off my list.
“I’ll call you” is what “friends” might say right before you never hear from them again. What you may expect is that said friend will call you later the same day, or once they’re free from whatever kept them from talking to you. But “I’ll call you” is open-ended. There’s no pressure. No deadline. No meaning. It could mean I’ll call you back as soon as I leave the doctor’s office, or I’ll call you in ten years. It means nothing. So why do we say it?
We say “I’ll call you” because we don’t want to talk to someone right at that moment because it’s inconvenient or we are simply not in the mood for a conversation with that particular individual. So we offer to call back at a later unspecified time to escape. It might also be the politically correct way of saying, “I don’t care if I to talk to you…ever again.”
Back in the old days, “I’ll call you” meant a call could be expected within a reasonable time frame, say twenty-four hours. But today it means that call could occur any time from ten minutes later to never.
I can’t say I’ve never told a friend “I’ll call you” and then didn’t. But these days I try not to because I know how much it bugs me. Even if I have to write myself a reminder note to return a call at a specific time, I will make that call. I cherish those who say “I’ll call you” and do.
My question for my “I’ll call you” friends is, if you can’t talk to me, why not send my call directly to voice mail? You know I’ve called. Maybe I’ll leave a message. Either way you can avoid fibbing to me by saying “I’ll call you.” Like you I have the benefit/detriment of a cell phone. I can tell if someone called me (back) and when. Or if they didn’t.
I wish my “friends” would stop saying “I’ll call you.” I actually still expect them to follow through in a timely manner. As you can imagine, I am often disappointed.
THE FIRST TIME AGAIN, Book Three in The Braddock Brotherhood series from Samhain Publishing eBook release May 7, 2013. ISBN # 978-1-61921-532-0
Follow my infrequent posts on Twitter @barbmeyers and @ajtillock
That evening Sue allows me to take her out to dinner for her upcoming birthday. We go to a Mexican restaurant. It’s practically deserted, due in part to the weather, I’m sure.
Friday she and I meander around town together. She needs a few things for her house. The rain has stopped but the wind has not. I still need my sweater. I am heartily sick of it by this point. I’ve borrowed jeans from her and a warm pullover for when it’s really cold. I don’t think I’ve been comfortable since I left home. Missouri was hot, dry and sunny. Illinois has bounced from one extreme to the other with only the wind being consistent in both places.
Friday night I am meeting Monica who grew up in Ladd. We were friends in our school years there beginning in sixth grade and up until I left the area halfway through high school. I still don’t know how we lost track of each other. Somehow I found her again when she lived in Phoenix and lost her again at some point. I hunted her down a couple of years ago via the internet. She lives in Indiana now and we are Facebook friends. Her mother-in-law lives in Peru and she has suggested we meet at a restaurant in LaSalle.
I walk in and she is there and I don’t think she’s changed hardly at all from high school. I recognize her immediately and we hug for a long time. We decide to sit outside unless it gets too cold. Finally it got to maybe 70 today and the wind seems to have died down. I’m wearing my black sweater and black “skinny” jeans so I think I’ll be okay.
We order wine (shocker). I give her a brief review of my trip to Missouri when she asks and then we follow the same pattern Barb and I did yesterday. Taking turns eating and talking. Trying to catch up on forty years in a few hours.
Monica and I have a few odd coincidences in common. She is an English teacher and I am a writer. How did we end up where we are?
Monica tells me her memory of the first time she saw me. I had a very thick book with me that I was reading. (The original version of Heidi.) This was at the beginning of sixth grade. She was so impressed and thought maybe someday she’d read big books like that, too.
I leave Monica wishing I didn’t have to. There are six million more things I want to ask her and talk about. Maybe next time.
Barb and Monica have given me back pieces of my youth I thought I’d lost. Their memories of me help me find bits of myself. Yet the entire trip, the experience of seeing them is somehow surreal. I knew them not in another lifetime, but at a time in my life I’m so far removed from now it’s hard to comprehend that I was even there. But I know I was. They confirm it.
While Sue and I were shopping at the local stores I kept looking at the other people there and wondering if they were someone I might have known but now can’t recall or recognize. They could be. Someone from my class, someone I once knew. I keep thinking “this could have been my life.” If my father hadn’t changed jobs, if we hadn’t constantly relocated. If, if if.
By Saturday I am more than ready to return home. I fill Steve’s truck with gas and return it to him. He never acts like he wants to be hugged, but we hug goodbye anyway. He waves to Sue. We head for O’Hare.
We are rushed by a guard at the drop-off curb to get moving, there’s no waiting. Yes, sir. Right away, sir. Near the ticket counter I dig for my itinerary for check-in and realize I forgot something.
My black sweater. I left it on the passenger seat of Sue’s car. I don’t care. I don’t need it where I’m going. Back to the warmth of Florida where I’ve lived longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.
When I step off the plane and find my husband waiting to hug me I know something I think I’ve always known: No matter where it is, there’s no place like home.
This concludes all episodes of Family Therapy in The House of Dust. Thank you for following the thread. Look for A FOREVER KIND OF GUY, out in print September 4, 2012. The eBook version is also available.
On Tuesday Sue and I head to Utica because there is a place there that does wine tasting and features wine from a local winery. The entire time I lived in IllinoisI don’t think I was ever in the town of Utica unless it was to pass through to get somewhere else. Sue tells me it has become a popular getaway for Chicagoans. I am shocked. Utica? Why Utica of all places? Nature, she supposes, as there are state parks and green spaces nearby. Sure enough I discover Utica’s tiny downtown is one of those reinvented areas with restaurants, a gourmet chocolate shop and gift stores. Plus I see signs for a few bed and breakfasts. Before one o’clock, I have a buzz from the six wines I’ve tasted. I’m also addicted to the buttery little breadsticks offered to cleanse the palate between tastings. Neither Sue nor I purchase any wine but we both buy boxes of the breadsticks.
We take a drive-by tour of a resort called Grand Bear and then we head toStarvedRockState Park. I used to come here as a child with my family. We had picnics with other families either here or more often at Buffalo Rock. We climb up to the rock and look out over the river. There is a dam, a barge going through the lock and many white pelicans. There are also eagles soaring across the sky. I realize I’m not in as good of shape as I think I am after climbing up and down many stairs to get to the rock and back.
There is an outdoor seating area for the restaurant and we have lunch there.
Afterward we stop to visit Sue’s mom in Oglesby. She just turned 90, and lives alone in the house Sue grew up in. Sue’s sister Connie is there visiting also.
Back at her house we munch on tortilla chips and salsa. I drink white zin while Sue makes a vegetable stir fry with some of the chicken leftover from last night’s barbeque.
Wednesday Sue has to work. I start writing down everything I can remember about my trip toMissouri. I end up with 13 pages by the time I’m done. I call Steve to see if he wants to go anywhere or if he needs anything, since he can’t drive anyway and I have his truck. Plus I don’t want to completely ignore him after I get back toIllinois. Although maybe he’s had enough quality time with me after our four days together.
He calls me back after a bit and we decide to go to lunch at Applebee’s. I tell him about the party at Dave’s. He tells me some more stories about the people who were there and also one about a neighbor giving Sue a cat which they told her was a male and was just fat, both of which were lies. This was years ago when he and Sue were still married. At one time, the way he tells it, there were more than twenty cats in the old farmhouse they were living in and so many mice the cats couldn’t keep up with them. He laughs while he’s telling it. I think about how much I’ve heard about the ups and downs of his and Sue’s marriage in the past few days. It seems like they got through a lot of bad times already by the time they divorced. Maybe, as he’s said previously, he should have stuck it out.
Sue arrives home and she has brought stuffed mushrooms and salmon filets. I could get used to having her cook for me every night.
Meanwhile, we have figured out her yahoo e-mail account which she was having trouble accessing. We’ve also set up a new gmail account for her and set her up on Facebook. Her internet connection is slower than mine at home and at times it’s excruciatingly slow.
Thursday Sue has to work and I have plans to meet my childhood friend also named Barbara. We lived next door to each other inOttawafrom the time we were six years old until we were ten. I haven’t seen Barb in thirty years. Somehow we lost touch but we found each other again on Facebook.
Thursday is a nasty day weatherwise. Cold, rainy and windy. Forty-seven degrees. I have brought no clothes with me for weather like this. I have one pair of jeans which I end up wearing with wedged flipflops. Luckily I did bring a sweater. A black one. I throw that on over my short-sleeved top and it will have to do.
I run the heat at floor level to keep my feet warm all the way to Ottawa. I follow Barb’s directions to “the best place for lunch” in Ottawa which is downtown. I want to stop and gape at the downtown I once knew, but I don’t have time. I do notice the Roxy theater is still on the corner right where it always was. Woolworth’s, Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., and Hornsby’s are long gone. I find the restaurant which is called C230 and a parking place near the corner across the street. I am early so I read for a little bit before facing the weather and going inside. Barb is at a table right near the door. I know her. She hasn’t changed very much except her hair is shorter and lighter and she wears glasses. We hug. I am so glad to see her.
Lunch is filled with us taking turns talking and eating. The server is kind and patient because she says it won’t be busy today so take as long as we want. She takes pictures of us before we leave. Barb offers to drive me around a bit, back to the street where we grew up and a few of the places I might remember.
The house her parents owned on Post Street looks like it’s being well-maintained, but the one my family rented next to it doesn’t. The front porch is gone and now there’s only a crumbling concrete stoop. It’s no longer white but is now covered with blue siding. She tells me a little bit about some of the kids we knew that lived in the neighborhood as we circle the block. We drive past the house my parents bought a few blocks away. It’s still there and we both recall how we loved that house. It had big, cavernous rooms and we each had our own bedroom upstairs. My dad hated that house. We didn’t live there very long because he changed jobs and we moved to another rental outside Spring Valley which is how I ended up attending school in Ladd.
Much too soon our time ends. Barb has a horseback riding lesson that afternoon. We hug and hope we see each other sooner than thirty years from now. Maybe she will come to see me in Florida…
To be continued…look for Family Therapy in The House of Dust, Part Ten, The Rest of the Trip coming soon
The drive is uneventful otherwise. We talk some but mostly we listen to Steve’s CD’s. He has them in a metal case and he’s very good about changing them. He has a variety of music and I don’t get bored. We stop for gas, a Coke for me. We polish off the last of the Pringles potato chips.
Late in the afternoon we get into another of our discussions about our family. This one is about our brother Kevin. Somehow we miss a turn-off from I-55 to I-39. Oops. We’ve overshot and are too far north. We have to backtrack. I am so sick of driving at this point that it really doesn’t matter if I have to drive another hour.
Finally we arrive at his place. I help him unload his stuff and head for Sue’s. When I arrive I see a gathering going on around what looks like a small shed that converts to an open air bar in the back yard of the house next door. Sue walks over to greet me and says we’re having a cookout. I say why? She says it’s Memorial Day. Oh, right.
Before I dropped Steve off he had me swing by the liquor store. As a reward for all of my driving and for that extra hour out of our way he’s bought me a bottle of white zin. It’s the big bottle, though, and I wonder how he thinks I can drink all of it. But then I remember where I am. Ladd, Illinois. Everyone drinks. There’s nothing else to do here. I have three nights to work on this big bottle of wine. I open it and pour it over ice in a red solo cup. When in Rome…
I take a seat on a stool at the outdoor bar next door and Sue says you remember Dave M_____, don’t you? Yes, I do. He was in my class when I attended school in Ladd in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. And this is exactly what I was hoping for. To see him again after forty years or so after I’ve been driving for nine hours. I had no idea he was Sue’s next-door neighbor.
He says he remembers me but the sunglasses I’m wearing threw him off or he would have recognized me. I lift them and he says, yes, that’s you. I remember Dave as being a nice guy and he still is. We catch up a little on our lives. I recognize a few of Sue’s friends, people from the neighborhood I’ve met before. She introduces me to others. Another guy reminds me he was in the same class as Dave and me and do I remember him? I do. He makes a remark about another of our classmates and it isn’t exactly complimentary. Someone tells him he’s an ass. How am I an ass he wants to know. I look at Sue and say if he has to ask is it even worth the time to explain it? I decide to ignore him and don’t care if I’m thought rude. There are enough other people there that probably no one will notice.
While our chicken is on the grill mostly I sit and listen to the others. I am not a part of this, although if I’d hadn’t moved from Illinois to Idaho after my sophomore year of high school, maybe I would be. Maybe I’d have married a local boy and settled down in Ladd, Illinois and spent the rest of my life there. Maybe I’d have a bar in my backyard, too.
To be continued…watch for Family Therapy in The House of Dust, Part Nine, The Rest of the Trip coming soon.
When you’re looking at downsizing your living quarters you have to make some tough decisions about what you’ll be getting rid of.
In a far back corner of my closet there is a box of stuff I’ve saved for over fifteen years. Things I kept when we moved to our current house and have never looked at since. I figured one day, maybe if I was sick or needed entertainment or had the time I’d go through it. Read the old cards and letters, see exactly what was in there. Evidently, I am healthy, well entertained and never made or had the time.
Until today when I was feeling particularly down, laughing and crying over the irony of life, wondering how I got where I am, why I often feel like such a colossal failure and why everything I touch turns to sh*!. Screw it. I’m in no mood to do anything else. I’ll see what’s in that box.
On the very top were things I’d kept from my son’s early years. Almost the first thing I pulled out was a little booklet he’d made for me called Super Mom. It’s from 1993, so he would have been eleven years old. I got a good chuckle out of what he’d written. I found another Mother’s Day tribute. He mentions my patience more than once in his writings about me. I don’t recall being patient at all and never thought of myself as a patient person. I’m glad he thinks I was.
I keet pulling items out of the box. Many of his childish drawings and school papers. Cards for birthdays from friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in years.
In a manila envelope I discover receipts from stores long out of business, doctor appointment cards from 1979. A baby spoon. A rosary. A silver lighter from Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips (I used to work there). Broken shells. Bits and pieces of my life reflected in notes from old flames, matchbooks from restaurants, ticket stubs. A two-dollar bill; a one-dollar bill. Five pennies. Why did I keep these things? Why did I think they were important?
Seeing my son’s childhood musings about his mother cheered me up and made me chuckle. Some of the cards from others made me sad. They reminded me of lost relationships, people who passed through my life and who are no longer a part of it. Significant to me for a time, but also fleeting, some of whom I barely remember. Some I will never forget.
I’m not one to dwell on history. It may be interesting. There may be something we can learn from it. But once we’ve learned the lessons, is there any reason to hang on to it? The truth is, after fifteen years I could have chucked that entire box and never missed it. I couldn’t recall what I’d put there exactly, except a bunch of old stuff. I knew if I started going through it I’d have a harder time throwing any of it away. Because once I knew what was there, I’d have to make decisions about its importance to me now.
I go back to digging through the box and things go from sublime to ridiculous. Why did I keep a bunch of coupons that expired in 1984? A belated wedding card I never sent? Who was it for? Interestingly it only cost a dollar. Every other time I dig into the box I hear a tinkle of music from a long-ago card that still has something to say.
I’ve unearthed pictures of my husband and infant son at the beach. Probably the last time my husband was at the beach. Each time I pull out a card from my husband I start to think, oh, maybe he did/does love me. Because as the years grind on, some days you sort of forget that, but there it is. He never missed a birthday, an anniversary, a Mother’s Day or Christmas. Never forgot. Those cards are like him saying, “Remember me? I’m the one who’s been here for the last thirty-two years.”
I discover I’ve saved probably every card or letter my best friend ever sent me. I know how important she is to me, but I’m reminded I’m equally important to her.
Mostly what the stuff in my box teaches me is a lesson about life. The ways we give away pieces of ourselves to others. The bits and pieces they give to us. Sometimes they fade away into memories. Other times they remind us what’s still important.