Is it lame that I watch The Julie & Julia Project for inspiration? You know, whenever I’m feeling like a completely spent wannabe writer. Which is pretty often.
Which is probably why I know exactly what types of Fiestaware are featured in particular food shots, and where the slight cinematic editing hiccups fall in the storyline — the ones only crazy repetitious watchers catch — and why I’m always craving booze the minute Powell starts cooking and writing her way to, uh, writerdom.
But where movie respites fall short, fresh air takes over. Which is why I thought it’d be fun to go on a walk through some neighborhoods we hadn’t visited before. Mostly because I needed a little time away from Toby. Because he’s been practicing his selective hearing, and has been sort of a dick lately, and just odd. (Is that awful to say? I’m the worst pet parent ever!) Like when we were at the dog park today and this Pharaoh Hound dematerialized out of the ether (sidenote: these creatures look like the Landstriders of the dog world, and I’m pretty certain they have the power to look inside you and implode your mind). And we assumed Toby would freeze and run away like he always does. But then he just goes right up behind it and licks the Pharoh’s junk and we were horrified and I was like, “Hey, you can’t lick another dog’s penis. Even if he’s royalty.”
So, yes, we needed some air. Especially since it got knocked out of us both by an overly rambunctious, head-butting lab puppy, whose owner Andy politely called for.
“WHOSE FUCKING DOG IS THIS?!”
So after we dusted what was probably dried dog shit off our pants, we set out on our little jaunt. But we didn’t even get to the end of our block before Andy spotted something sitting atop a broken-down particleboardpieceofcrap bookshelf on the curb.
I just don’t get people. I mean, if you can’t use something, thrift it away. Or give it to someone. I mean, some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten are things friends have given me from their equally antique-hoardy homes. (Or that I’ve just taken. Kidding! Or am I? HA. Made you look for that kitschy little figurine, didn’t I?)
But I also love puttering around neighborhoods that’re probably private and being all like, “Hey, I like your house. It looks expensive.” And Instagraming, and taking things out of people’s garbage because they throw away stuff like a perfectly usable 60’s mixing bowl.
Or like one of my Best Curbside Finds EVAH. (It deserves all caps and an “H,” mmkay?)
Behold, The Triple D: Delightful Deco Discovery! Some imbecile had chucked this cabinet on the side of the road, and I saw it sadly listing on the curb while I sat stupefied on my bus ride to campus. I was so shocked that I’d smacked my massive forehead into the window, my mouth agape like some less fabulous Homo sapien sapien.
I was sure that it’d be snapped up by the time I returned from teaching. But much to my horror and delight, no one else recognized it as something desirable. All because it was missing a shelf (which makes a great nook for books).
Crazies, all of them.
So I all but flung myself off the bus, dumped my stuff on the front porch, jumped in my sedan, and muscled that thing partly into the trunk. And now it’s been across the country.
Now, I swear this post has a point. And the point is that I have a hard time letting things go — casting them out, so to speak. Especially when I know they’re the last material things tying me to something or someone.
A little while back, I was face-first in a Reese’s cup the size of my head. And between the sugar rushing through my veins and the chocolate smearing across my face, a little blip of a memory stopped me cold.
I walked into our living room, opened a cabinet, rifled through a few boxes, and came upon what I’d been looking for: a paisley box. I opened it and gingerly removed its contents, spreading them across the kitchen table.
I know what you’re thinking. (And no, I didn’t kill someone and take their possessions.)
I’ve carted this box around for years, through multiple states, and rescued it from the garbage more times than I can count. But why? Because, to me, this is what a life deconstructed looks like: fragmented, tattered memories. Time had slowly stripped away the material evidence of a life lived — Millie’s life.
Except for this stuff: a prayer card; the top of a jewelry box; a picture of her mother and her dog Tin; her husband’s things, including a massive wad of work keys and Army paperwork. And cards — one, probably from the fifties, simply signed “Mom”; and the other, scrawled with a loving message from her husband George.
So many times I’ve thought about throwing the whole lot away. But each time, I can’t do it. It’d be like betraying her, somehow de-legitimizing the importance of these things — pieces of her life that she’d kept boxed, and toted with her until she passed away in her nursing home room.
Instead, I just keep repackaging them in nicer boxes. And carrying them with me.
But I know my memories of Millie aren’t limited by these things. They’re rich with cigarette smoke and the crinkling of Reese’s cup wrappers — the chocolate-peanut butter goodness freed of its annoying packaging — falling along her pleated dress line and haphazardly worn floral cardigan before settling on the floor.
And I guess that’s what all stuff is, really: wrapping.
There’s a box full of people —
People I don’t know.
And they’re just there,
In stale darkness.
Remembered by what remains —
The fragments of a life.
Of lives lived;
A life fulfilled;
A mysterious life;
A life full of sweets and cigarettes,
A life that keeps going,
Beyond the four corners of what remains.
Changing and adapting;
Influencing and engaging;
Living on through new life,
And scary first steps;
Beyond the tangible.
Through good humor and bad jokes;
Quiet smiles, and backward glances.
It’s still there:
Remembered and cherished —
A promise of always.
Wrapping that conceals bits and pieces of us all — revelations lying in wait.