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Things I Kept
To hear my family tell it, I never visit them in Maryland, and missing one day of phone contact qualifies me as "practically a stranger." The truth is, over my 5 year stint traveling I flew home about every 3 months, called home nearly everyday, and thought of them all the time. The other truth is, I love going home. Going back to Maryland is about my mom making me dinner, my brother making me laugh, my dad making me think, my granny making me worry, my aunt making me crazy, my friends making me remember, and the whole lot of it making me very grateful. Being the pathetically sentimental person that I am, I had the bad habit of holding on to all sorts of things that I should've let go--cards, pictures, concert tickets, things like these. Attempting to keep things light while on the road, I did what anyone with parents living in the sticks would do--stockpiled useless crap in their basement.
While I personally thought that this was an excellent solution, my parents disagreed. Before I ever left home, they threatened to "toss it all in a landfill" if I didn't clean out the basement, and thus began our 'parental empty threats, followed by offspring empty promises' cycle. January of this year, I decided things were going to be different. Gazing out of the airplane window as we left San Francisco, I decided that I was finally going to sort through it all. I began to think of the kinds of things that might be in that basement and I smiled in tune to the memories coming in louder than the music from my ipod. Instead of the dread I usually felt at even thinking of cleaning the basement, I was actually looking forward to it.
Down to the catacombs of my parents dark and chilly basement, and it began--a trip down the windiest and messiest of memory lanes. I shook my head, and laughed my face off at the things that were all there--as if my best memories were gathered for a reunion. I remembered a box of letters I'd saved from an exchange with a guy in New York. A guy I was fairly certain that I had loved in my teens, back when everyone says you're too young to know how you feel. I found cards, and gifts, and playbills from shows. I found the CD with the composition, "Princess March" by the brawny violinist, whom I always admired, and never really wanted. I found the book I called "Voices" containing things my friends said. I found the bluegrass mix from the man who should have rocked the cover of "Perfect Guy" magazine with whom I had no chemistry. He later married, and deserved to marry a wonderful girl who liked things neat, knew how to work an iron, and truly loved him. She certainly didn't seem like the type of girl who would sleep on the floor for 5 months to avoid a commitment (long story), or who plays more practical jokes than most guys, and calls gigantic messes "creative space." She was just so...wifely. She made me want a wife.
There was the napster-obsessed cutie, and I found beer-stained coasters, with smeared, playful writing from the both of us, before we broke each other's hearts. I found the "I'm only doing this because you want to," tickets from one of my dearest of guy friends. A man who would never even consider taking advantage of me. No matter how hard I tried. Seriously, a girl can only be "too buzzed to drive home," but so many times before she gets it through her thick skull that he's always going to be a perfect gentlemen...everytime. Awesome. Chivalry, shmivalry, what was that guy doing, running for Knight?
Hours pass, and my mother makes her way down to my dungeon of memories.
"Are you looking for something--or are you actually going to thin this stuff out for a change?" she asked, all while promising not to help me.
"Both. I'm trying to find a box. It's...it's silly actually. I just wanted to see if it was here. It's about this big," I said, motioning my hands, " made of cardboard, and it has some sort of latin writing on the outside."
"Your 'memory trash' has lived here for over 10 years. We've had several floods over the years, darling, and I happily tossed the stuff that got damaged," she said, and headed back up the stairs.
"Mom, what is it that made you go into motherhood?" To which bad batch of birth control, or faulty condoms did I owe these types of tender moments?
She turned to me, "all the neighbors were doing it," she replied, and up the stairs she went.
I returned to my project, determined to give a 'mission accomplished' report to Facebook. I had made an airplane resolution, which is binding in my home state, and I worked through the mess. In the end, I let go of 6 trash bags, and 5 boxes worth of memories, and decided that admiring the past should happen digitally from now on. I went up to my room, sometime after midnight.
There was a knock on my door shortly after I left the basement. "Hey, Shan," my mother announced, while simultaneously entering my room. "You don't mean this do you?" She said holding the box that contained the letters for which I had been searching.
"Where did you.."
"This? This, I keep in the living room near the table. It's nice. What's in it?" she said handing it to me.
I had my, 'this is real life and I'm not crazy,' pep talk with myself. It must be said that our family likens my mother's living room to China's Forbidden City. Like the poor of ancient China, we've heard it's great in there, but we're not ever allowed in to be sure.
"So...for the last 10 years or so, you've just kinda kept this in your living room?" I asked.
"Yeah, I like the writing on it. I like that box. Are you going to keep it?" She asked, as if mistaking an ancient artifact for an ashtray.
"Pretty much. Listen, ma, it's just an old box. Thanks for finding it."
"Sure, but it wasn't lost, it was in my living room," she said over a yawn.
"Yeah...good night, old woman," I said, as she headed off to bed.
I opened the box, and there it all was. One of my strangest memories in bundles in a cardboard box that had been sitting in the lap of one my mother's creepy porcelain dolls in the living room. In disbelief, I read one of the letters, and loved the innocence of what I'd found. I wrapped it back in its bundle, put it back in the box and into the nightstand drawer, where it lives today.
I find life to be as a Morrie Schwartz described it, "a tension of opposites." He said, "don't let go too soon, but don't hold on too long." I've found what a profound release learning to let go can be. Something about embracing all that is the past, acknowledging it in truth, and letting some of it go makes space for all that your life is, and all that your life can be. What I hold on to now are lessons, ideas, and loving memories. While I don't hold onto pain, or bad memories, or the things I can't change, I still believe they serve the purpose of illuminating how good the good really is.
Though I call myself a realist, with sarcasm rising, I've noticed that I'm an unsinkably positive person. My roommate, whose glass is usually half empty, cracked, and probably poisoned, recently accused me of being 'just so...sunny,' while giving me a seriously curious look. When things are bad, I truly believe they are going to get better. I cherish the present, but the prospect of the future thrills me in a way that borders giddiness. I am always hoping that everyone lives in a way that is appreciative of their 'right now,' hopeful about what is to come, and charmed by how far they've come from what's already happened.