I have lived in Essex Junction, Vermont for a total of 21 days. People ask what I’m doing here and I still am not entirely sure, but I’ve begun to nest, so all is well for the most part. A few days ago I woke up and decided that I would spend some time hanging things on the walls. I remembered then, the rushed moment when packing that I chose to shove the few tapestries, photos, and art pieces to hang, into my memory box. That was a mistake.
THE MEMORY BOX
A plastic tub maybe a foot in length and ten inches wide with my twelve-year-old swirly writing on the top in blue and purple sharpie spelling, “Gretta’s memories.” Most people have one- a space for all the things we don’t have the heart to forget but can’t look at more than once or twice a year without sort of wanting to vomit. Mine holds all manner of special things including my first pair of broken pointe shoes, a corner of my chemistry notes on which I wrote notes to self to never become a scientist, stolen napkins, poems ripped in half, heart shaped rocks, concert tickets, finger puppets, and letters-
so many freaking letters.
It caught my eye sitting in the top left corner of my closet and I sighed- majorly. I could tell you in great detail the sequence of events that followed but instead I’ll try to be brief. It began with me looking for just a few photos and a tapestry and ended with letters reopened, and all sorts of memories of past versions of my life littering the floor. Also me, laying spread eagle staring at the movie of all those memories playing on the ceiling and contemplating everything that wasn’t everything anymore. This ended when I started to miss Mom and Dad and abruptly grabbed my purse and marched out the door determined to go have a life. Nostalgia, I’ve discovered, is possibly the most beautiful and dangerous feeling.
I drove for a bit towards Burlington, thinking I’d wander Church Street for a while but pulled off the road about half way there, with the spontaneous urgency that a hungry group of road-tripping teenagers might, at the sign for a 24 hour diner. Only this was a relatively aimless me and a sign for walking trails. I hopped out of the car without hesitation, grabbing a book from the stash in my trunk library and started walking. I was quickly submerged into a natural oasis away from the rush of new home uncertainty. The trail trickled along beside the river, presenting me with speckled sunlight, forget-me-nots that spilled into the path, wooden bridges over slimy pools, and birds harmonizing with the whistling breeze. In a daze, I walked along for about forty-five minutes.
“This walk was perfect and this trail, a paradise!” I was thinking- until of course, I wasn’t. I imagine my whole body turned from sun kissed to grey when the black and gold reptile wiggled into my path. I gasped, quick and quiet and every system of my body took a break from functioning. I fear two species in the animal kingdom- sharks (Oops, I watched Jaws) and snakes (yes, even the baby ones). This snake had emerged from the tall grass and stopped inches from my shoe. It lifted its head, still curving and contracting its spine as it pondered where to go next. It continued this pattern of slither and ponder in the path over the course of the fifteen seconds I managed to remain standing there petrified. Then, I ran. I ran all the way back to my car in new shoes that blistered. The fitness app on my phone told me it was nearly 2 miles. Side note- I do not love to run.
As I ran, I thought about what Animal Speaks, a book about identifying and interpreting the signs and omens of nature, says about snakes. According to the book, snakes are a symbol of transformation, adapting to change, and healing after you shed an old life. It specifically noted in the passage to pay attention to how you react to them when they arrive in your life. To reiterate, I ran. Really fast. Away from that slippery symbol of change.
It was definitely dramatic but, the thing about reptilian fears is that once you see one snake, every root and rustling bit of tall grass is a snake. They are everywhere in your minds eye until you start to feel phantom scales touching your toes as you walk and things crawling in your hair. All together a sighting is an immediate anxiety attack.
I showered when I got home and thought I’d return to my bed to watch the Great British Baking show until I forgot about the day. I walked into my room wrapped in a towel and was met with the contents of my memory box again. Shoot!
I accidentally walked through a pile of letters from Mom and Dad I had separated out. Underneath, a postcard from Mom on which she taped a mustard seed and simply wrote, “You only need the strength of a mustard seed to move mountains. Love, Mama” (she is great) was a bundle of letters from my dad. I shuffled through them, smiling wider as I read him quoting his idols, the Dalai Lama, Muhammad Ali, Dumbledore, and Mulan because he found them inspirational and thought I might too. Continuing to open envelopes I found newspaper clippings of me running in middle school track, he’d cut for me and wise words of his I’d saved on scraps of paper. And as if he knew I was having a day of “lost in the woods of life” feelings, he sent me a text message of a funny bumper sticker right then. Nostalgia overwhelmed me again in the best way possible.
I am so very lucky, I thought, to be cherished by a guy who looks up to superheroes and princesses, and professional boxers and the Dalai Lama, and rebuilds junkyard pianos and cars but also volunteers to attend poetry readings with me.
So as far as goals beyond a decorated apartment go, I’ve decided I’d like to be more like my dad. In light of Fathers Day being today, I remember how fortunate I am to have a person like him in my court and still, I know that this is not everyone’s experience of fatherhood. I wish so much that I could change that. What I can do, is strive to give the caliber of support and care to the people I love, as he does for his daughters. I can cut out more newspaper clippings for friends, and I can call the people I think of when a song comes on the radio that I know they love. I can share all of the puns I think of. I can be everybody’s dad? Maybe that’s stretching the point, a wee bit too far. The point is maybe that, I love my dad and I’d like to appreciate that he is in the world teaching me how to treat the people you love.
I packed up the memory box without decorating my walls with tapestries and photos. I did however, hang my collage of Muhammad Ali quotes above my bed and thought of everything that exists. I thought of how in this world there are blank walls and boxes of memories, wildflowers and snakes in the path, there are friends and there are fathers and all together its good.