I’m not a person who likes to hang on to a bunch of things. So far in my life, I’ve confined my personal mementos to three huge Rubbermaid tubs.
The first one contains all of the items from childhood I wished to keep. Girl Scout badges, the sash from my Junior uniform, a Heidi doll my grandma E had and my dad gave me after she died, my high school lettermen jacket (I had an academic letter, proudly earned), the National Honors Society tassel from my high school graduation, the mortar board from my college graduation, the year tassels from both my high school and college graduations. Those are only the things I can think of off-hand… I haven’t looked in there in awhile so I’m not sure what’s there. In one of my moves–before the tub–I lost the folder that contained all of my academic awards, my high school transcript, and various college report cards. I’m still mad about that loss. I ache for it sometimes because I used to call it my “brag folder” and I’d look at it whenever I felt that I was stupid (which is often).
The second tub contains everything of Mike of which I couldn’t part. Again, I haven’t looked in there for awhile but off-hand, I know that it contains the polo shirt he wore the day I met him at a party called Woodchuck in the spring of 1998, a purple silk shirt he used to wear that I loved him in, his boy scout badges, a tie of the Tasmanian Devil (the Warner Brother’s cartoon creature) ripping up computers that I bought him. The guest book from his wake. Some condolence cards, the program from special appreciation service the organ donation place held months later (I donated his eyes and muscle tissue, which were the only parts that could be salvaged at his death).
The third tub contains nicknacks of my first wedding. I know for sure that it contains the card box with all the opened cards within it from our wedding, my bridal bouquet (silk flowers and huge), some framed pictures that people gave us as gifts with meaningful sayings on them that we used to have hanging on our wall because we were romantic that way, a blanket with our names and wedding date embroidered on it that we used to keep on our couch, the guest book (which a lot of people did not sign because it was in a corner of the reception hall no one ventured to) and it corresponding pen. Probably the champagne glasses from our toast (they may be broken by now, I don’t know). There’s probably a few surprises in there as well.
Outside of the Rubbermaid tubs, I also have several shoe boxes full of letters between me and my pen pal, Sarah, with whom I’ve corresponded since we were both 13. In a manic cleaning phase inspired by mom, I threw out the first of those letters back in high school, and I regret it to this day, because now all I have is our correspondence from college on. It would be interesting to go back and read what we wrote about our lives, hopes, and dreams when we were in middle and high school but I no longer have that.
I also have other shoe boxes full of letters between me and my 10th grade English teacher–a man who feels closer to me than family at times–with whom I’ve corresponded since I’ve graduated high school. I’ve never thrown any of those letters out. I learned my lesson.
I’ve kept cards people have sent me for birthdays, Christmas, and other such occasions. I have a teddy bear that my mom got from my grandma H at her baby shower. It’s old and ragged and has been sewn together many, many times, but I can’t let go of it. It comforts me when when I am sad. It has a little music box in its chest that still plays and when I am really, really upset, the music soothes me. Sometimes the music makes me melancholy too. For a past and a life I can’t remember or understand or make sense of.
I have binders full of everything I’ve ever written–grade school assignments, high school papers, college papers, the various novels I wrote in high school (yes, I wrote novels), little booklets I wrote in grade school, the diaries I kept from second grade through my widowhood. Yes, I was always writing. And the narcissistic artist in me has kept everything with a religious self-importance. I do look at those occasionally for a boost, often impressed with the level of writing I had in even high school. Sometimes I wonder if my fears of rejection have caused my writing to regress. There was an uninhibited quality to my early writing that I lack now. I’m much more restrained. It’s refreshing to be able to look back and see what I was able to create at such a young age. But sad that I let go of all that potential.
I still have my engagement ring and wedding band in my jewelry box. I kick myself because I lost Mike’s ring while playing soccer in Colorado. I wore it for several years because it comforted me but it was too big and slid off my finger a lot. When I lost it, I felt like I’d lost Mike a second time. I wish I’d just kept it in my jewelry box with my rings.
My wedding dress still hangs in my closet, shuffled from various homes and across the country twice. I keep thinking I’m going to sell it, but then I never get around to putting it up on Craigslist or eBay. Part of me thinks I should sell it, or give it away, and the other part of me wants to have it boxed to keep. But I feel guilty for wanting to keep a dress that I only wore once. Someone out there may want a slightly used dress and it could bring her good luck. Soon enough I’ll have a second wedding dress to add… and I’ll want to keep that too…
I feel guilty for hanging onto so much stuff, though. What use is this stuff if you don’t look at it or use it at all? I have not looked in the wedding or Mike tubs in a long time because sometimes it just makes me sad to root through them. I rarely look at the tub filled with my childhood stuff, either. Yet, I think I take comfort in knowing those things are there.
Still, lately, in preparing for my move to the dream house with Crow, I’ve started to consider going through those tubs and weeding out the less important items–those things that I feel less attached to. Maybe I can combine the wedding and the Mike tubs into one. Do I really need some of those things? I know, for example, that I cannot part with the polo shirt that Mike wore the day I met him. The boy scout badges, however, I may be willing to part with… And I have someone in mind to ask if he wants them… There may be other things I feel less attached to now that time has passed. And I’m impressed that I’m even considering it. Had anyone suggested I get rid of these things years ago, I would have screamed in protest. How can you make me let go of my past, I’d have cried.
The thing is, I’m slowly coming to realize that the most important pieces of my past are actually always with me: my memories of the past. Barring I don’t develop some horrible mind-debilitating disease, no one can take my memories from me. When I write down my memories, as I have done in the past with diaries, I keep them even more alive. With time, memories get bent and skewed a little; writing can keep memories more true to their original form. I used to keep journals for myself mostly… with a slight narcissistic thought that someone would read them after I die and think I’m brilliant. Ha.
It’s not that I feel like Crow has replaced Mike in any sense of the word. But it’s really strange–and I know a fresh widow will hate me for saying this–that part of me wants to really let go of Mike a little more. I mean, you know, Mike will always have a piece of my heart. And there’s nothing wrong or dysfunctional in acknowledging that. I still miss him sometimes. But I say without feeling any societal pressure that it somehow suddenly seems healthy to let go of some of those physical things that represent him… The amazing thing about all of this is that I came to this conclusion on my own. It’s a surprising contrast to the way I felt right after Mike died, or even five or six years ago. I’d get upset if I read other widows talking as I am now or if a family member would even suggest it. But feelings change slowly. I think the most important thing a person can do is wait until they are ready to let go. It can’t be forced or premature.
I feel guilty for hanging on to too much physical stuff that I’m not using. I think that if I look through the tubs, I can find things that just don’t mean as much to me as they once did. Things I can live without. There are other things I know I can’t live without. So somewhere in the middle is a compromise. I’m ready to make that compromise.