I’m using today’s miserable weather as an excuse to rummage through and discard the crap that’s been accumulating in our basement since we moved in 5 years ago (and way before that if I’m being honest, since we’ve hauled this stuff from basement to basement for more than 15 years).
One bin has yielded an interesting treasure trove of high school artifacts like intricately folded notes, blurry pictures and frayed report cards. A cassette tape. One feather earring. A champagne glass from my senior prom with the theme etched on the side (predictably, Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton). Would they give out champagne glasses at prom these days? I don’t even know. It seems like a weird memento for a high school student to have… and a total mixed message: Don’t Drink at Prom! Cheers!
The photos are somewhat painful to look at, but also somehow endearing. Our young, unlined and eager faces laughing under a cloud of Aquanet and blue eyeshadow, arms slung around shoulders, heads thrown back with untethered joy at being young and alive. I remember being that girl, but I also remember all the things those photos don’t show–the insecurity, the self doubt, the longing to fit in and the fear that I didn’t. When I look at that girl, I feel affection for her, but also want to shake her. Why didn’t she know what I know now?
Another box housed the stories of even earlier days- those awkward junior high years when apparently I was in love with a boy named Mike Fennell and I lived for Duran Duran and for some reason, C. Thomas Howell. Was it cool to have a crush on C. Thomas Howell? Probably not.
We lived in Panama then and there are a bunch of pictures of my sister and I looking bored and unimpressed as we traversed the canal on a cargo ship. My parents liked to take visitors on canal “tours” –they were fascinated by the locks, and I guess I would have been too except I was 13, and I didn’t care about anything (except Duran Duran, C. Thomas Howell and Mike Fennell). Later in life I did watch a documentary about the building of the Panama Canal that made me realize what an amazing feat of engineering it actually is. It also made me regret being such an apathetic visitor, and now I really appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to experience it first hand.
Those were the years when it was scary–dangerous even– to be Americans in Central America but my parents didn’t seem to care. A cheap vacation is a cheap vacation! My dad was in the Air Force and any active duty military could fly for free Space-A on C130 military transport planes leaving Howard AFB. You just had to be flexible with your time and your location. So, that’s how we ended up in El Salvador during their civil war, when FMLN guerrillas were actively engaging in acts of terrorism in an attempt to overthrow the government and the US was busy funneling money and ammunition through there to Nicaragua where the Contras were waging their own war. You know, exactly the type of place you seek out when you’re looking for some R&R. The only thing I really remember about that trip was landing at the airport and being ushered past pile after pile of military gear and soldiers with guns. Big guns. Also, a harrowing ride in an Army Jeep during which I spent the entire time convinced we were going to be shot by a solider with a big gun. I haven’t seen any documentaries about El Salvador or Nicaragua that makes me better appreciate that experience, but at least I can say I saw first hand what happens when a president decides he’s above the law and can just do whatever he wants. That never happens these days, so…
We didn’t always go to war torn countries though. We also went to Guatemala (my mom bought lots of colorful tablecloths), Uruguay (we ate big steaks) and Paraguay which I don’t remember at all. And we stopped over briefly in La Paz, Bolivia where we had to wear oxygen masks so we wouldn’t get altitude sickness and where it must have been cold because my mom was wearing a fur coat (fur is murder). The rest of that trip is a blur. It is possible that we saw an alpaca or two, but now I’m just making things up.
The basement archives go even farther back than that– back to days I don’t actually even remember, but only recognize in photos. These to me are the most interesting because try as I might to place myself (the me of today) in these pictures and associate myself with these objects (a baby shoe, a lock of hair, a one-eyed doll, clearly well loved) I cannot. Though I know they are mine.
But I’m musing too much and we’ve traveled far enough down memory lane. Let’s head back to the basement, which I’m just now realizing I’m never actually going to purge because by doing so I will miss the opportunity to relive these memories ten years from now when I try to do this again. How can I deprive myself of that pleasure? Plus, the air down here is starting to irritate me and I’m being driven upstairs by an insane sneezing attack so I can’t possibly finish this task. The sealed boxes I didn’t yet get to will have to remain a mystery for now and all the memories are going to safely continue to collect dust as we pile on more. Pretty soon we’ll be able to add a box with my daughter’s high school memorabilia, and then my son’s (though I guess there will be fewer photos and no written notes).
These are the things we hold on to– if for no other reason than to remind us where we came from. And maybe it’s hard to get rid of the physical evidence because the emotional imprint they leave are woven into the fabric of who we are–for better or worse. These dusty boxes, these chipped and worn trinkets, these yellowed papers are the essence of who we are. And how can we just throw all of that away?
“I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything’s new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything that it’s day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be.”