Sunday, January 27, 2013


I have these two gray stacking file boxes, I’ve had them probably thirty years or more. One of the handles is broken. They sit up on a high shelf in the back of my closet. Inside are file folders, some yellow, some purple, labeled in block letters, handwritten black Sharpie, with a name, or a place. Like SARAH or EMI or GOODMAN, or CVB/BB or LAUREL. If there are two names, there is a sturdy piece of green construction paper inside as a divider. If there are two names, it's likely they are closely connected, or were (although it's also likely I can only tell you about one of the names today with any kind of accuracy and one side will be noticeably thinner). If the label is a place, there will be envelopes stuffed with other envelopes or cards enfolding cards, or a single photograph with something written on the back (or maybe just a developed date, auto-stamped).

I usually pull these boxes down a couple times a year and add whatever cards/letters/photos I’ve stacked up. Handmade anniversary cards from my mom, with vellum over embossed lettering, collage birthday cards from Sue with images ripped out and layered just so, thank-you notes from my sister-in-law’s boys using words that I can almost hear her spelling out for them, artsy opening night postcards with perfect quotes from Cora, or lovely doodles on post-its from David which he left in the frig or on the mirror in the bathroom (although David has his own box, a big plastic one with a green lid that barely closes now, after almost 21 years of slipping pictures, doodles, origami frogs, and love notes inside). Colorful holiday shots of my nieces and nephews, all of them taller than me now, and a few emails purposefully printed, too precious to lose.

Today I pull the boxes down for the first time in over two years. Actually, David gets on a chair and hands them down to me since I can barely reach, and they're heavy, and like I said, one of the handles is broken. “Be careful,” I say. I can tell by his warm response that he thinks I’m worried about him. But I’m actually worried about the boxes and I’m surprised by my worry since the contents are utterly unbreakable. I guess it's just the feeling of holding something aged and irreplaceable.

Inside one of the purple files, there is a pack of blue letters, the paper is thin but not see-through, with squiggly black cursive just barely bleeding. The pack has a red ribbon wound around it, tied in a big sloppy bow (I added the ribbon much later). Inside one of those letters is a picture of me and him, sitting on the grass, that one summer. My hair is shorter, cut above the shoulders, and I’m squinting into the sun. I think of this boy from my short hair summer. And if I didn't have that one picture, I wouldn't remember what he looked like, or might look like, definitely wouldn’t recognize an aged version of him if I happened to pass him on the street.

Inside one of the yellow files, there is an envelop with an old broken watch from the boy who wrote on my bare leg that one day in the empty restaurant. I remember the thrill of his touch as he wrote. There are a couple letters, the crinkly airmail kind from him to me (the summer I wished I was braver and taller and more daring), and two letters in my most curvy high school handwriting from me to him, that I never sent.

Inside one of the 'place' files there are little notes and cards with a variety of names, some I may not recall immediately, like the cast mate who wrote something that impressed my collegiate mind, or the drawing from the eight year old my first year teaching ballet. Or the only photograph I have of my very first boyfriend. I took it just weeks after my 12 year old heart was broken, I just snapped it (the photo, that is) on the school stairs as I passed him, without asking permission (surprising both of us I think), because I had to have something of him to keep for myself. Yes, there are names I know so well, will never forget, but for a myriad of reasons, never ended up on a file of their own.

I slip each item into its new home. Usually taking a moment to pull something out, to see the handwriting or the type face, the joke on the last card filed or a photo slipped inside. And as the weight of each box expands my heart expands, aches too. For the abundance and provision I’ve received in fellow travellers to share my journey. But this time, more than ever, my hear aches for the losses. Seeing two separate stacks of condolence cards/newspaper clippings/memorial service programs, that will not fit in my brother Kerry’s file, or my sister Karin’s file. I am momentarily paralyzed seeing my system of careful containment unable to accommodate. There’s not enough room. I set these stacks aside. These will need something else, something new, something I haven’t thought of yet.

Once in a very great while I will add a name, label a new file with block letters. It always scares me to do this, to pull out the Sharpie and decide. It's actually a big deal. The permanence and hope of it all. Because I’m saying I believe this person is going to be in my life and I am going to be in theirs for a very long time (maybe even as “3am friends” who you wake in the middle of the night when you've been locked out or you've walked out and you can't breathe because you're crying so hard). Because I’m saying I believe we will celebrate most of the meaningful events of our lives together, we will likely grow old together. Or not. Because, now I know, the year may come, eventually will come, when it’s another stack of condolence cards/newspaper clippings/memorial service programs and I will hopefully have learned how to make room for that too.


  1. My Love,

    Once again, your writing has unhinged me. The image of you trying to find a way to integrate your losses into those sacred boxes that contain the "story" of you is just so utterly human ... and ... heartbreaking. It reminded me of a favorite poem:

    “To love life, to love it even
    when you have no stomach for it
    and everything you've held dear
    crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
    your throat filled with the silt of it.
    When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
    thickening the air, heavy as water
    more fit for gills than lungs;
    when grief weights you like your own flesh
    only more of it, an obesity of grief,
    you think, How can a body withstand this?
    Then you hold life like a face
    between your palms, a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes,
    and you say, yes, I will take you
    I will love you, again.”
    ― Ellen Bass

    Love you!!!!

  2. oh how i love you and miss you. humbled and so grateful for you.

    that poem is... yes.

    ps. i reread your short story 'braided' when i was filing. i remembered what was going to happen but gasped all the same.