Mom and I opened the forbidden door. Not that it was "off limits" as a verdict from my parents, but behind that door was a room, a series of rooms. Behind that door were steps to an old, dingy, dusty, poorly lit area where floorboards creaked and squirrels, racoons and rumor has it - ghosts all roamed the walls. The attic. I hate the attic. Almost as much as I hate the basement which has an equal amount of creepiness after you trade in the dust for mildew and the squirrels for spiders. Truth be told, there are two rooms in the attic I've never even been in (and two tunnels in the basement...).
But the attic holds several large boxes and bins of my "possessions." December of 2000, mom and I packed them up, labeled their containers and hoisted them up to the attic.
Five full years later, we're retrieving them. I want to buy a house in Austin. It's time. I'll be 28 soon, I have a real job, I've experienced real love and real pain and by golly it's time for me to get to process my life in a clean well lighted place that I will be able to call "my own." Selfish? Perhaps. But the time feels right, so before I came home to Missouri, I got a loan, a real estate agent and a list of houses and began the search.
And now I'm beginning to get it all together. My stuff that is. Hopefully my life will follow, but who knows.
So mom and I began the journey up to the place I only force myself to visit thus beganing my journey back to a place I haven't visited in a very long time.
I know five years isn't a long time when you're eighty, or fourty or maybe even thirty. But it is for me, and I had forgotten so much. And so, I began the process of remembering.
There were two things I knew I would find. Yearbooks were the first. What I didn't expect to find alongside them were graduation hats, diplomas, a letter for the jacket I never bought and a couple of pins and graduate awards. College and high school: eight years meshed together into one pile of paper and fabric.
I peeked into one box. "Uh, this box is mine, mom. But what is this crap? Get me a garage sale box - enough time has passed to me to get rid of some of this stuff that held too much sentimental value for me to throw away before." Don't ask me why though. Probably because such items were gifts from people I cared for. I always had a hard time disposing of gifts I hated when they came from people I loved: cheesy Christian calandars I once found inspiring and cute quotes etched in glass. Garage sale... garage sale... garage sale.
And then there were the items that I didn't even recognize. Why had I put this ugly jar into my box of "keepers"? Because it once held the pens I used to write bad poetry with in high school? Because I used it for... because someone important gave it to me... because? I couldn't tell you. Or rather, I couldn't remind myself. That memory is gone.
There were books, lots of children's ones that will go back up to the attic to await the arrival of grandchildren. And there was memorabelia from trips: Israel's hand pic was there that I used on the dig, along with my gloves, an artifact and Israeli soda bottles. There were cards, letters and awards that will probably be saved and put in a scrapbook someday. There were empty bottles of wine. What from? From France. The bottle David and I shared in Montpellier. The one I brought home to drink with my family. Both went in the trash.
And then came the nick-nacks box. I knew it would be in there: the second item I remembered packing away.
My senior year in college, Amy and David took a pottery class together. Amy is my sister, David was my college boyfriend, the first man I ever intended to marry. The goal of the class was simple: produce 100 items (bowls, plates, vases, whatever) and receive an "A." The grades went down from there.
This was a funny, but classic time in our lives. David and I'd been together off and on for four years, and Amy and David were BFF's since we'd never had a brother and he was the first boy and thus "brother" I ever brought home. The class was from 7:30-10am. David rarely made it to class on time. Often Amy would go ring his room at the dorm until he would struggle out of bed. Neither did it look as though David would be getting his 100 pieces finished, so Amy the artist worked overtime throwing pots, firing and glazing them, and marking the initials DJC in the bottom of them. This of course irritated me because I wanted David to work harder, be more diligent with his studies, succeed. So I was always hounding him to go to the art building off hours, get his pots done, catch up!
One night toward the end of the semester, David and Amy were down at the studio working extra hours trying to produce 200 pieces between the two of them. I could not understand why David was moving so slow, why it seemed to me that Amy was finishing so much more quickly. I though a little motivational lecture from me might speed up the process, so I bundled up against the William Jewell winds and headed for the art building.
I knew the downstairs door by the kiln would be open so I headed that direction. I was right, as I always was back then;) so I entered the studio.
I saw Amy there and some of the other students. And then I saw David standing next to a table. "Dave! What's taking so long? I don't understand why you can't get these pots done. This is ridiculous. You said you'd be over by 8 and it's 8:45 and I'm sick of waiting for you. What could possibly be so difficult about throwing a pot? And why didn't you work harder earlier in the semester so we wouldn't be having to do all this now?"
At some point during my tirade between the hand gestures and the exasperated gasps I looked at the table next to Dave's right hand. And there it sat. His work in progress, his secret, his gift for me that kept him from finishing his pots: a large cyramic turtle, hand made.
I love turtles.
And I knew immediately it was for me.
Moment of dillema: do I pretend I didn't see it and leave ever so un-graciously? Or do I acknowledge the unfinished secret gift that I just totally ruined.
A smile crossed my face. "Is that for me?"
"Is that why you haven't been able to finish your pots?"
"Oh," (awkward pause as the other students stare at their feet, embarrassed for me and for me).
"Well, I love it."
And I helped the boy finish his pots. I threw one, but was horrible at it and so moved on to glazing. I let David finish the turtle and helped pick out the colors. It was fired and shined and finally given as a present. One year later, David asked me to marry him. I said no, put the turtle in a box in the attic and moved to Texas.
Other than the yearbooks, that was the only thing I knew I would find, and I've wondered as I thought of those boxes in the attic, how I would respond when I someday opened them up and saw it again.
That someday was today. And nothing happened.
I sat it and some pots and vases with the initials ACP and DJC that had been given to me in college on the bathroom counter and called Amy in to see them.
I held up the turtle.
"The turtle David made me."
She didn't remember, but I did. The guilt, the joy, the decisions, the packing, the move, the men, the never-marriages. I remembered.
But I didn't do anything with it. I set it on the counter in my parent's bedroom and went downstairs to write. I didn't cry, I didn't laugh, I didn't have a nervous breakdown. I honestly just felt like going to bed, so I wrote instead. I didn't want to forget what I found. The memories: good, bad and awkward that I had packed away in boxes, that I unpacked and put in a garage sale, that I re-packed and loaded in my car.
Maybe I'll keep one little pot to remind me of Dave.
Maybe I'll keep one little calandar to remind me of hope.
Maybe I'll realize that hope lies not in memories but in mystery: in a God who I'll never understand like I once thought I could, in a life that exists not for the past, but for the future as life lived in choice hopefully for good, in a world that thrives on gifts, especially of ourselves.
What have I learned?
Where am I now?
I'm in Austin, Texas: educated, employed... and never empty.