“Start where you can … and deal with one thing at a time.”
I’ve pulled poems and stories from my old purple crate to read aloud, twice more, to my growing children through the years. Delightful, I shared, “Mommy wrote this when you were only five!” Their youthful faces staring back, blank. Perhaps too young to grasp all I had needed to tell them, I began to write their stories in vivid colors with characters in a single story book. I pulled it out through the years to remind them of “Fi-like-a-lot Forest,” and “On Tuesday,” each reading spurred my excitement and further bored them nearly to tears. Yet, I still wrote.
My children grew. I captured nearly every moment in writing. Placed it haphazardly in the old purple crate against the smell of tried wood and a sigh that perhaps one day they would read them all and then I would be real.
A secret compartment in my purple crate held the tragic stories of my past. Countless essays written to ease the burden I carried for all I had suffered. The first book I’d written, pages inked with the darkest secrets of my family’s past, tucked down deep into the dark corner of my crate. I still remember an Uncle’s words after having passed out thirty copies at a family reunion, “Burn it. Burn the book.”
Heavy, on top of “My Sonnet’s Soul,” sits “Restitution,” my second novel. The days that turned to weeks, that stole that year from me while I puked up every memory in an attempt to give it purpose. The book I will never publish.
Several old worn folders, bent around the edges, covers stained with coffee lie stacked inside a crate. They hold the hundreds of articles I wrote as a free-lance author, those words that led the way for my third book, the only one I ever had the courage to put to print. The last remaining copies, there are three, are there – in a manila envelope, with all the emails from women thanking me for having the guts to speak the truth. They are dusty. I have long forgotten what truth I thought I saw.
If my crate would speak, I would hear the cries of a woman who spent half a lifetime trying to make it all matter somehow. If I write it, it’s real. If it’s real – surely, it means something. Then, before I could stop it, my children began to drive cars and motorcycles, they began to graduate and leave home. I wrote more. I spent hundreds of dollars on frames and hung pictures of them on walls that filled quickly, and occupied my memory by refusing its forward movement.
And then there was no more room in my purple crate.
For whatever reason, as I recovered from back surgery and could do little more than get lost in my head, I chose that day to open the purple crate. The immensity of all I had written and kept suddenly seemed void of any real purpose. My children had their own lives now, and these stories I tried to tell were long gone. I held them in my heart for a brief moment, settled myself with the truth that this purple crate had been, all these years, my eulogy.
I decided today I’m not dead. It took hours to separate its contents into piles, one for each of my children. School report cards, Mother’s Day cards, Kindergarten artwork, and letters and stories each their own. I gave them a new home in plastic tubs, labeled their names, sealed their lids. It felt absurd that over twenty years of writing all fit into one plastic tote. For the first time in eighteen years, I saw the bottom of my crate. It was empty.
I sat among the four neatly organized plastic containers, and just as I set myself to grieve, a wave of relief washed through me. Recalling one of my favorite therapists first words to me, “We’ll start where you can … and deal with one thing at a time,” I smiled. I’d clung to and kept every memory of my past, mixed and scattered among all of the joys and blessings until finally, after over thirty five years I realized I’d been begging the world to see and tell me I mattered, that nothing I’d gone through had been in vain, hoping through years of trying to heal from it all that someone, anyone, would find my crate.
The stories of my life had become heavy with the absence of my living it.
And finally, I learned how to write about it.