I spent the afternoon sorting through boxes from storage. These documentary snapshots of my life produce a number of different emotional reactions, not all of them easy to process.
There always seems to be an odd assortment of detritus that accumulates in a household. Letters and cards from friends and relatives get tucked into a file folder. Thank you notes, graduation announcements, wedding invitations, and the like, get stacked up on the desk or pinned to the calendar. Photographs of someone’s kid, an advertisement for an achievement in someone’s life – they’re all important, even if only for a brief moment.
Sometimes the layers grow so thick that only sloughing everything off can make room for new growth. All the old worn and weathered contents are sifted into a pile and shoved inside a bag or a box. It’s only a temporary solution though, because there’s never a right time to sit and sort through it all.
Recently I’ve decided to make time and begun to confront the accumulation.
Today, I found a mish-mash of letters from my grandmother. Letters from old friends and past lovers, a few from people I don’t even recall. That made me sad. At one time those people were special enough to send hand-written communications but in the years between then and now, I’ve lost all memory of their identities. Memorabilia from college and even high school littered the stacks of letters. I even flattened out crumpled ticket stubs from concerts I attended twenty and thirty years ago. Some of this was easy to toss in the rubbish bin – but others weren’t.
Some were set aside carefully to review and relive, moments to treasure all over again.
Mixed in amongst the debris are a selection of postcards and communications from a college-era friend named Ginger. Just looking at the script written on the pages spun me back through time, to a place when we were younger and saw the world with such potential. We lost contact over the years, each of us setting off down different paths. I always thought we’d hook up again, meet up on the campus where our friendship started all those years ago and reminisce. We’d huddle over lattes in the brisk March wind and argue and debate and talk – just like we’d done in seminars and between classes, discussing esoteric journal articles about topics which no one else cared to know.
Cancer took Ginger many years before her lifespan should have reached its zenith. I didn’t learn about that loss until many years later, a chance reference in an article I was researching that led me to her obituary. I was stunned by her loss, amazed that I had somehow not known, not felt her passing, not experienced the void left behind by her death.
In my mind, Ginger had gone on to do wonderful things in those intervening years.
I still haven’t been able to sit and read her letters. They’re sitting on my desk, a small pile of memories and dreams, just waiting for me to be brave enough to wade through those years again. Written in blue ink, the words slanting backwards in her southpaw script, already I’m reminded of the turmoil and power and strength that was Ginger’s personality.
I’m belatedly realizing how much she taught me about being who I am.
I wish I could thank her for that – for offering her guidance, lending her strength and sharing her insight. Ginger taught by example and she was often encouraging, fanning the flames when she thought a fire needed to be lit. She wasn’t always fair to others but she was hardest on herself, and if she incited the rest of us to riot, she was right there with us, owning up.
Some lives intersect only briefly but the impact of those connections reverberate for a lifetime, maybe beyond. Someday, I hope to see her again.