Tidy as I have always believed myself to be, sorting through my belongings at my parents’ houses as I prepare to move to my Small College Town full-time has resembled an archaeological dig. Each layer of stuff reveals a piece of someone I used to be.
There are the comics, only four panels long, because I didn’t realize how much longer drawing took than writing and it turns out I can’t really draw anyway and the jokes really weren’t that funny. Bird laughs at one Cast of Characters list, where I have drawn passable cats and labeled them with their names: Ringo, Fluffy, Sophistikitty…and Tracey. Which she thinks is hilarious.
There is the blue dolphin lamp on its springy stand. It probably came from Limited Too, where all the cool kids shopped among the clashing neon colors and dyed fake fur. In middle school, dolphins were cool. I remember the texture of its almost sparkly, rubber skin under my fingers and I can picture the room I wished I could build around this one piece of décor, one that would have bead curtains and one of those bowl chairs. It would have been the epitome of coolness.
There are the meticulously labeled sketches and stories in fits and starts that never got fleshed out because I lost them until this moment. One is about elk with bizarre sounding names. According to the date, I was 11 years old when I wrote this double-spaced paragraph. My keysmash phase for coming up with names, where my strategy was to pick something cool-sounding out of gibberish.
There is the pass to the front section of the football game where the Engineer saved me a seat freshman year, before we were dating. I forgot I had saved it, but I remember now, how I tucked it away before he ever asked me out, just to savor the giddy feeling of having a cute guy sit next to me at a football game. (Bird says I have to keep this forever and starts making a pile of Engineer-related memorabilia.)
There is an absurd amount of fuzzy slipper-socks stuffed in a drawer, ones I’m not certain I ever wore. I set these aside to keep my feet warm in the Small College Town winters, which are unforgiving on that side of the state. And there are the t-shirts from my Jesuit high school homecomings and special events. Bird holds up the one from our Candyland-themed dance, the one with “Welcome to the Candyshop” across the chest. “I still can’t believe they let you guys make this,” she says.
There are the letters I wrote, filled with too much angst to fit in my normal journal, speckled with capital letters and places where I wrote so heavily the pen made holes in the paper. Skimming some of these, I want to go back in time and give my past self a hug. She had no idea how things were going to turn out.
I don’t keep all of it. I remember, looking through all of it, how big everything felt. Yet, “You don’t necessarily need to feel those emotions again,” Bird points out. I won’t try to gloss over the unpleasant stages of becoming who I am now – but I won’t get bogged down in them either.
I’ve quoted William Morris before: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” At this point, as I start to build my own life beyond school, I get to choose to keep only the things that are useful in reminding me how far I’ve come, and beautiful in showing me that some part of myself has always been good.