Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Keep

For the last two weeks, my mother has been nagging me and Leslie about our childhood possessions littering their home. Part of it had to do with my mom wanting to get the house on the market before the end of July. The other part of it had to do with Leslie being in from Atlanta with the kids. Here, our mom thought, here is an opportunity to get things sorted out once and for all.

“I’ll be up on the third floor,” I said to Leslie who was in the laundry room folding Olivia’s shorts and Anders’ t-shirts.

“Okay. I’ll come up in a little bit to help.”

I didn’t have much stuff left to go through. Sure, my old touring bike with a busted quick-release was leaning against a wall in the garage. And photo albums from my high school summers sat dusty on bookshelves. But otherwise, all that was left was a collection of keepsakes.

One by one, I went through a box of junk. Halfway through a pile of letters, Leslie came upstairs and plopped down on the bed on the far wall.

“No, really, why do I have a bar of soap from the Harbor House? We stayed there when, like, I was eight.” As I pulled the faded box to my nose, embracing the curious urge to smell the past, a dried nub of soap fell from the packaging and landed on my lap.

“You don’t even want to know what I found in my collection of stuff,” Leslie said.

I returned to the letters. Some I read and some I didn’t. Most I tossed but a handful I kept. Like, the letter from a childhood friend who committed suicide in her early twenties? That letter I put in the ‘keep’ pile. Same goes for a letter or two from my dad. I wanted those not for what he said but as a memory of what his handwriting looked like before he got sick.

“Wow,” I said with a chuckle as I started to read a multi-paged letter from our mother.

“What?”

“Wait.” I exhaled. I paused. Then I returned my gaze to the beginning and started reading aloud.

I stopped after the first page, a page littered with accusations of atrocious grammar and a failure to adequately respect the people reading my correspondences. Sentence after sentence, I was chastised for a poorly written letter that was likely scribbled in ten seconds and used as a meal ticket. None of that mattered. This yellowed paper adorned with my mother’s elegant cursive dripped with disgust and disdain.

I looked up at Leslie. Tears poured from the corners of my eyes, stained my sun-kissed cheeks. I reached for the envelope and searched for the postage date. “I was eleven years old,” I sputtered between gasps for air.

“Don’t cry,” Leslie said as she came up behind me and offered a hug. “I hate seeing you hurt.”

And I hate being hurt. I hate that at thirty-eight, these words still sting like a slap whipping across my face. I hate that as a child I had no ability to challenge such unreasonable ridiculousness. And I hate that to this day, I’m trying to unravel the damage that was done.

“I’ll be okay,” I said as I folded the letter up and tucked it back in the faded envelope.

I closed my eyes and with my lips parted, I struggled to pull in one deep breath. Then another. And another after that, my only goal to calm myself down. Then I set the letter in the ‘keep’ pile and went back to the rest of my things.

4 comments:

Mummy Dearest said...

And look at how you have turned out in spite of that. My therapist once told me, Pain is natural, suffering is optional.

Bathwater said...

I think I have mostly shut out the past or else I would not be able to interact with my parents in the present. I am surprised you still can interact so much with your mom.

That letter, I would have placed in the scrap pile.

freckledk said...

Oh honey. I completely understand that feeling, and how fresh it still feels when it surfaces after years of being locked away.

Sending you hugs and big, wet kisses.

Titanium said...

I would venture to say that every time you pick up your red ink pen in the course of editing the work of another, there is a distinct gentleness in each and every strike-through, begin-new-paragraph, punctuation correction or deletion.

I just know it.

You have the beautiful, intrinsic strength of someone who has mastered an art to such a degree that you are not threatened by the failure of others to comply with your standard.

If only your mother had your gracious wisdom when you were eleven.