I’m just finishing up the last of the packing before the big move on Friday, and it’s got me feeling nostalgic, maybe a little melancholy. I’ve lived in this apartment for 9 1/2 years, longer than I’ve ever lived in one place.
I reached up to the top of the closet today to reclaim all my dust-covered writing. I sat on the living room floor, dusting it off to put it in yet another box, wondering why I bother moving it when it will just sit in yet another closet gathering more dust. History, I guess. It is a sort of emotional Polaroid of myself at 18 and 20 and 25 and 30 that I can’t seem to let go of. Some of it is just god awful. I mean like I considered firing up the blowtorch but it didn’t seem fair to the flame. Some of it’s wistful and yearning. Some of it is so raw I find it too painful to read.
I have a journal from my freshman year of college, a.k.a, the worst year of my life. The journal is yellow with a purple, sunfaded flower on the cover. It chronicles the good, the bad, the heartbreaking, the hopeful, and the self-destructive. And I swear, when I open its pages, I can hear David Bowie’s “Heroes” washing over me, pulling me in too deep like a dangerous undertow of sound. I can see myself in my dorm room, ripped leggings worn under a Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! t-shirt, denim skirt and low-slung bandolier-style belt, a cigarette in one hand, pen in the other. My hair is growing out from the interesting bi-level faux-hawk I gave myself one afternoon while under the influence at my friend Lisa’s house when it seemed like a genius idea. Holding this journal, I can feel how ill at ease I am in my own eighteen-year-old skin, as if every day that I wake up in it is a surprise followed by disappointment and a determination to find some way to “fit” somewhere, somehow, no matter the cost. I boxed the journal with a slew of notebooks chronicling other thoughts/ideas and, after thinking about it, marked the contents as “Closet–storage, miscellaneous.”
I found old photos mixed in with my writing–a really cute pic of my niece and nephew, aged 4 and 2, wearing fake vampire teeth and stalking each other at Halloween. A series of hilarious pictures of Barry and me taking a hot air balloon ride in Italy on our honeymoon where I keep smiling rabidly in that, “Don’t panic–I LOVE heights!” way that belies my complete terror. There is a picture of me, Eleanor, and my dad at a friend’s wedding. We are smiling and silly, dressed in our wedding best. But no, Eleanor and I are silly, mugging for the camera. My father, thinner than usual, looks off to the side. His smile is cautious, distracted, elsewhere. In a year, I will scatter his ashes in the foothills of Colorado. My brother and I will cover our grief and discomfort with irreverent, take-no-prisoners jokes; I will watch the wind take my father from my hands, marveling that the ash is gritty and substantial–not smooth; they cannot burn the life out of you so easily. I will board the plane back to New York, my fingers still stained by ash. I will keep the sweater he wore when he died, a sweater I bought him as a father’s day present. Yesterday, I pulled it from the closet and stood in the hallway, holding it up to the light to look for moth holes, the give-away box to my left, the box for the new house to my right. I will never wear the sweater; it is a memorial in yarn. That is all. I packed it as cushioning for some glass candle holders, taped the whole thing up and shoved it in the pile that is our lives in transit.
There is also a picture of my grandmother laughing hysterically over a joke shared with the unseen photographer, a joke that will always remain a mystery, coupled with her recipe for shrimp casserole written on an index card in her old world script. I am allergic to shrimp and I will never make the casserole. But I can’t bear to get rid of it, because I remember sitting at the table in my grandmother’s Dutch blue-and-white kitchen in West Virginia playing a round of Spite-and-Malice while a pot roast cooked and the Appalachain mountains stood watching us, indifferent. I know that I have the memory of the kitchen and the card game and her machine gun laugh that was like Tallulah Bankhead’s. I can remember that she kept Wint-o-green lifesavers and Teaberry gum in the second cabinet from the left, that when she got a bad hand, she would say, in a ridiculous accent, “Why, that is maddening, I say, old chap, old chap-o!”
Time loops; it loops. It slips away and comes back in as a photograph in a box, a sweater stretched in your hands, a page of tears, marked for boxes you must shoulder and carry with you.
Will keep us together
We could steal time
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
For ever and ever
What d’you say
We can be heroes, just for one day…”