Monday, May 21, 2012

So Not In the Moment...

My mother stayed on at the house for several years after my father passed away.  A few years ago, she decided it was time to scale down and move into a smaller place.  This decision meant months of sorting and sifting through a lifetime spent with a husband, having four kids, and all the detritus, paraphernalia, and mementos that glue a family together.

Couple years on and she's thinking of downsizing again, making things even easier for herself.  She really doesn't need as much space to take care of and instead of chores and maintenance, she could be having fun, taking a jet boat cruise up the Rogue River, or going to a Shakespeare play in Ashland, or...well, you get the picture.

And there's my segue...

Mother's Day weekend Mom brought two boxes with her.  One for me, one for my sister.  In these boxes were photographs, papers, stuff from our past.  Mine went in the garage on a work table, my sister's in the trunk of her car.  I peeked inside my large box, registered lots of things to sort through, then got sidetracked by the get-together.  It wasn't until later in the week that I remembered the box.

I don't read saga-type books.  They depress me with how fast life goes by, how quickly one can go from young, wild and vibrantly alive, to the old woman on her death bed recounting her tumultuous life in 500 pages.

But oh flaming Hell. 

Here was my saga.  In these photos and papers; in my tiny five-year-old hand print pressed into plaster from kindergarten.  Here was my life, spread out on the table, memories filling my head as I flipped through stacks of history.  Here was...ME.

Some of these photos I have never seen.  Dad and I were the photographers in the family.  There are many years where I don't show up at all because I'm behind the camera.  There are just as many where we tried to out shoot each other.  Often I would only see my family a few times a year--I didn't live close, and that was before I moved abroad--so when Dad took pictures I rarely saw the end result.  I remembered each and every occasion, however, as I looked through the photos in the box; I remembered the gatherings, the parties, the events where we came together to celebrate as a family, being a family.

There are two photos of me that I love.  Only two, in my whole adult life.  

This first one I had framed and gave to my parents for Christmas the year it was taken.  I was with Toxic Guy, we were on the road as usual, and had stopped along this deep gorge--high in the northern mountains of Washington State--so I could take some pictures.  I shimmied on my belly out onto a rocky ledge, the river like a thin ribbon of glistening silver hundreds of feet below me.  When I sat up and turned around, he took this shot, my trusty and true Nikon SLR in my hand--a camera I still have, battered and dinged and loved. 

I didn't want to remove the photo from the frame, so it doesn't look very clear here on the blog, though in person it's...well, one of my favs.  The little curvy band to the right of me is the river, the ledge I'm sitting on is literally hanging over the abyss.  I've done far more dangerous things to get my shots, believe me, though right after this picture was taken, as I stood up, my sunglasses fell off my head and went over the side.  They fell for a very, very long time.

My absolute favorite photo is this one.  It reminds me of so, so many things.  I was living in an incredible little place, a converted attic in an old Victorian house at the top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle.  Who needs Paris?  I had my own garret right here in America.  Going out the trap door, I could stand on this perfect little flat section of the roof, all of Seattle at my feet.  I spent many a night out there, under the stars, comforted by the lights of my city, listening to the sounds, dreaming...

The funny building to my right that looks like half of it has been sheared off?  At the time this photo was taken, that's where Jan (BFF) worked; the tallest building behind me is where I did.  Corporate woman by day, rock girl by night.  I loved that leather jacket, my black jeans, chopped hair cut.  And man, did the good times roll. 

[Brief digression here...

Jan and I had our weekly Sunday phone call yesterday.  I was telling her about the box, the photos, many of them of her, too.  She asked if the one of me on the roof was in the bunch. I laughed and said yes. She told me that was her favorite picture of me, it should have been an album cover for a Seattle grunge band. 

We had a long talk about those times--the friends lost along the way, loves who came and went, adventures and experiences filled with drama, laughter and fun as we made our way through it all.  It seems like just the other day, everything clear and immediate, and yet at the same time like someone else's life, seen in a movie.]

After I went through all the stuff in the box, I couldn't help it, I cried.  I stood in the garage, my past in little piles in front of me, tiny fragments of a life, and wailed.  It was one of those awful moments when you want a do-over, or a genie to grant a wish, or just, dammit, want time to slow down, reverse itself, go back.  So many things have changed: the family is much smaller these days without Dad, my youngest sister, my nephew, my husband, and yet their faces smile out at me, forever captured in the photos I hold in my hand.

I came upstairs and called my sister.  I could barely choke out the words to tell her that I'd been going through the stuff Mom had given us and now my memories tightened like silken bands around my heart, my mind.  "You looked in the box?" she asked, disbelief in her tone.

"You didn't?" Voice husky with the dust of time stuck in my throat.

"God no.  I put it on the top shelf in the closet of the guest bedroom and shut the door."

"Without even looking inside?"

"You think I want to feel like you do right now?  I didn't look and I'm not going to.  At least not any time soon."

A few more tears, much nose blowing, a laugh or two at my emotional expense, then we completely agreed that this is exactly why neither of us read those bloody saga-type books.


  1. Your rocker-chick photograph is pretty cool. It actually reminds me of someone I used to know, but that's another story.

    It has always amazed me how the some and substance of a life can be stuffed into a box. There is, of course, the Pandora metaphor, but in some ways, it goes deeper than that; like a mentalist, the glance or touch of single object can almost mystically bring back a flood of memories and stories.

    1. Thanks, on the photo. If I could go back in time, that's exactly the place.

      What got me the most about the whole box deal was the realization that, within those cardboard walls, the bits of paper and plaster reflected the entirety of a life. It was humbling--and disturbing--to see my history, from baby to adult, laid out on a table.

      I may never be the same. I've yet to decide if that's a good thing.