Saturday, December 15, 2012

We are not strangers.

Two days ago, I was yelling at my class, yet again. There are fifteen of them and one of me. And they are four and five years old, but they are BIG. Not physically. But when they are screaming at me, when they are screaming at each other, when they are hitting  each other and kicking chairs and throwing things and and being MEAN, they are bigger than I am. And it’s overwhelming. I went out this week and bought enough gifts for them to pick out something to exchange between each other, and I bought supplies to decorate edible Christmas trees, and I spent hours making fun holiday lesson plans, and I got them holiday books to take home to read over winter break, and here they are, being just plain hateful to each other and it is overwhelming. Last week, one of them said to me, “You are a bad girl. I told my mother you are a bad girl because you yell.” I went home and cried. Because a four year old told her mom I am a bad girl, and that must mean I am a bad teacher, an epic failure. I want to be a fun teacher and they just make it so hard sometimes. There is one of me and so many of them and mostly, I feel like a failure on a daily basis.

And then a man walks into a school in Connecticut and shoots up a classroom full of children and all of a sudden, my babies are babies again. Holy perspective. They aren’t so big. They are four and five years old, and they are so SMALL. Even the biggest one still fits in my lap when he needs a hug. They still cry when they fall down. They get sick and come to me, expecting me to do something to fix it. One parent told me her son asks for me when he gets upset at home. A little girl who was removed from her mother’s care asked me if she could come live at my house. I am Santa for three of my students whose families cannot afford Christmas this year. I get called “momma” by accident at least once a day. I am their teacher, their constant. I am the person who is supposed to carve out a safe place in this world for them. My classroom is the place they are supposed to be able to think and play and learn and grow. I am supposed to take these fifteen little people and help them become stronger, smarter, better people. I am supposed to teach them and protect them and love them, even on their worst days.

This job is So. Hard. And I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

My assistant and I read the news of the shooting during naptime. The flu hit our classroom earlier this week, and I sent students home with fevers, one by one. By naptime yesterday, I had seven students left. One woke up halfway through her nap, and puked lasagna all over herself, her cot, and my carpet. Down to six. My assistant and I were coughing and sniffling and popping Vitamin C drops like they were candy. I’m just painting a picture here. It was a hard week. With sick kids and sick teachers, I kept saying it was the longest week we’ve had this year. So when we read that children had been killed, I felt numb at first. Here I am, exhausted and ill and ready for a break from my kids, and there are teachers in Connecticut dying to save theirs.

A million thoughts have run through my head since the news broke. I spoke with the teachers at my school, and with my mom who is a teacher, and with a friend who is training to be a teacher. I collected all the thoughts that brainstormed through us, everything that’s crossed our minds since yesterday. Why is this SO sad to us? Because it could have been us. Think of the moms. Sisters. Cousins. Grandmas. And out comes the gun control issue to divide our country when we are trying to teach community and love. I feel sad. I feel guilty. I feel grief. I am praying. There will be worse days. What about graduation day when those kids aren’t there? What about all the sixteenth birthdays that won’t happen? I feel selfish. Kids in China got stabbed yesterday but no one is talking about it. The talk of homeschooling. And I always want to defend public education, but now I see their point, too. And then I think of the public educators who died or almost died trying to save these kids. It makes me realize we can’t protect children all the time. Bad people do bad things and we can’t stop evil from occurring. How do you tell a six year old her best friend is dead? How do you tell her she’s going to be safe, when you don’t know that? What about the parents of the kids, and the parents of the adults, and the kids who are alive but lost siblings? What about the first responders who will forever dream of the bodies of dead children? And the parents who already bought Santa gifts for their kids? What do they do with those presents? Do they get their bookbags back? And their childrens’ school work? And what do they do with those two classrooms? They can’t possibly use them again as classrooms. Maybe a meditation room. When do they even go back into that school? And how did HE get in? I want to know about the last minutes. The timeline. It’s interesting. Is that sick, that I want to know? And why didn’t he kill himself first? If he was going to do that anyways? Why take the others with him? And What. Would. We. Do. I forget my key every day. What if it happened to me? Would my kids die because I couldn’t lock my door because I forgot my key? How do I save them all?

A million questions and a million more. No answers for most of them, or for the biggest ones. How do we keep from drowning in this? How do we get up and go on?

As I drove home, sobbing, I heard a St. Jude’s telethon on the radio. A mom was describing her daughter, her heart full of love and her body full of cancer, bald and beautiful, girly and prissy and a shining ray of light for all who knew her. And the man on the radio said I could call and be a “Partner in Hope” by donating twenty dollars a month to St. Jude’s hospital, where this little girl was fighting for her life. And I thought... twenty babies were murdered today. And I am helpless. I can do nothing for them. But I can do something for other babies, who are trying to reach the future. So I called. Please realize, I’m not saying you should call. This is not a piece about how you should give money to someone. But I am telling you to do something for someone else. To draw yourself out of the sorrow just a little bit, so you don’t drown. Do something to help you remember that, even though there is evil in the world, there is good, too. And there is a lot of evil, a lot of bad, a lot of sad. So we need a lot of love and a lot of good and a lot of kind, just to find some kind of balance.

I keep hearing the same question over and over. What kind of world are we living in? This is what I know. We live in a world where evil exists. Where evil presents itself on a daily basis. Sometimes, evil walks into an elementary school and murders babies. Hearts get broken, lives get taken, and those who survive are enveloped in devastation. There is no doubt, we absolutely live in a world where evil exists. But I also know this: we live in a world where real life, every day heroes exist, too. We live in a world where educators will do anything they can to protect children they did not even birth. We live in a world where first responders will risk their own lives, literally running straight into a deadly situation instead of running away from it, for the sole reason of saving lives of people who they have probably never met. We live in a world where a group of grown men trained to battle burning buildings will stand inside a firehouse, making silly faces at kids and comforting hysterical parents, entertaining everyone to keep them calm in the midst of pandemonium. We live in a world where our leaders stand strong when facing panic - where the governor of a town affected by a mass shooting decides that it is more important to talk first to the families of those who lost loved ones than it is to talk to news crews, where a president first addresses a nation as a father with tears in his eyes instead of as a politician with an agenda. We live in a world where, when tragedy strikes, citizens drop to their knees in tears, lifting prayers up for strangers. Lighting candles for strangers. Holding vigil for strangers. Grieving for strangers. Loving strangers. Pausing for a moment, laying down our own worries and taking on the sadness of strangers. Helping each other realize that really, truly, we are not strangers at all.

“This is how we know what life is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Like someone's gonna wreck your world.

i wish i had a mood ring
one just like vada’s
i’m talking ‘bout my girl
and i wish it could tell the future
warnings of what’s to come
grey clouds like
it’s about to get stormy
black swirls like
someone’s gonna wreck your world
green like envy
and blue like breathing
and purple fit for a queen
with a child’s ring on her finger

Sunday, May 13, 2012

She is home.

Every year on Mother’s Day, I remember this quote from Brian Andreas at StoryPeople:
"There is no one who comes here that does not know this is a true map of the world, with you there in the center, making home for us all."
I think of it because I am pretty sure it was written about my own mother. She is the center of a true map of the world. Or at least, the map of my world.
If everything is going right, home is the place I want to be, because it’s the only place I know of where we can share in my joy. If everything is going wrong, home is the place I want to be, because it’s the only place I know of where I am safe.
As far back as I can remember, our home has been full of people. When I was a child, we had huge pig pickin’s and all our family members and friends and neighbors would come hang out in the back yard to eat and drink and relax.
When my parents split up, my mom moved in with my grandparents for a few years until she was able to buy a house of her own. Their house was a huge two-story home on a large lot with acres of woods and land. My sister, my mom, and I lived in this house with my grandparents and my Aunt Janice. My uncle, his wife, and my cousin lived in a log cabin on the land behind the house. Our neighbor, Julie, was my age, and was at our house every afternoon. My grandmother’s siblings and their families would sometimes come to visit and stay. No matter what time of the day it was, what time of the year it was, there were always people around. It was loud living, and I loved it.
My mom bought our house the summer between my third and fourth grade years. The neighborhood was full of children around our ages, and there was never a shortage of friends to play with. We had block parties for all occasions in the back yard. We pulled out card tables and computer chairs to make room for the entire family to sit during holidays. We don’t live in a big house, but somehow, there has always been enough room for everyone we love.
When I was older, all my friends gathered here. Annual birthday slumber parties were held in my bedroom, and my best friend down the street stayed here several times a week. I don’t know how my mom put up with the sounds of squealing and giggling teenage girls so often. My friends on the football team hung out here before games, energizing themselves with whatever food was in our kitchen. One of our dining room windows was missing a screen, and we would leave that window unlocked for anytime I lost my house key (basically, every day). I would come home from school and find two or three friends sitting in my living room waiting for me. We finally just started leaving the door unlocked so the cops wouldn’t get called if the neighbors saw kids climbing in through our windows.
During college, friends knew our home was always open to visitors. If someone couldn’t make it back home for a holiday, they could stay and eat with us. If we came home for a weekend and partied a little too hard, our house was the safe place where friends could crash to sleep instead of driving. One New Year’s Eve, the cops were called for a party up the street, but they showed up at our house instead because we had so many people spending the night.
When my roommates both moved in with their boys and I had nowhere else to go, I came home. And even though my mom never wanted pets, she let me come home WITH A CAT, who I had adopted during college. More recently, when my uncle had to move to Germany for work for a few years, my mom took in his Rottweiler, Summer. And really, anytime I find an animal in need of rescuing, it ends up here for a little while. I have brought into this house countless kittens, puppies, hamsters, fish, and even a bird, until we could find better options for them.
And though I will move on and out (hopefully sooner rather than later!), I know I will come back here anytime I need to feel at home. I will come back to wherever she is, my mother. Because she is home.
She is the center of the map of my life.
Happy Mother’s Day, Momma. Thank you for the safety and the noise and the open doors and the people and the love. Thank you for making it home, wherever we are. I love you!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Be young now.

i can’t imagine myself ever getting old
nope, not me
and not you either
losing teeth
colors changing
shrinking down
hunch back
skin folds
cotton mouth
and not from sex
it happens to everyone
but it can’t happen to us
we are too young
too able
to ever be ancient
but it happened to my parents
they were never old before
until they were
and today i found a wrinkle
on my own forehead
a crease in my skin
like a tiny mouth whispering
and it said time has passed
it will happen to you too
be young now
it will happen to you too

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Walk beside her.

she doesn’t like twang and rhyme
but write her a song
soul words
six string heart chords
when she hears her name in a melody
it happens in that instant
she doesn’t like chains and shackles
but tell her she is worthy
lifetime material
forever goods
when she realizes she is significant
it happens in that instant
she doesn’t like diamonds and Godiva
but bring her things that matter
a first edition copy of her favorite book
a single sunflower
when she feels understood for the first time in her life
it happens in that instant
she doesn’t like to be pressured
but give her time
thinking space
a pocket of breathing air
when she feels safe
it happens in that instant
she will not be swayed
she will not be tamed
she will not be wooed
she will not be rushed
but in that instant
she will stop running
she will let you walk beside her

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


we got drunk at three on a wednesday afternoon

we flirted with the waiters

miguel, i like your eyes

chigo, let’s dance

and they stuffed us with free tequila

and we let them have our phone numbers

but we will never answer their calls

we left with some guy she met once

went back to his place

he introduced us to his roomies

and showed us the back yard fire pit

this is where the magic happens, he said

she kissed him a little

and then we waited until he went to use the bathroom

and we made our break for it

nice meeting you

we got thrown out of a club

we were dancing too hard

too many eyes on us

and she called the bouncer a douchebag

so he grabbed her by the back of her neck

dragged her to the door

kicking and screaming

we were crying in anger and laughing hysterically

and we bolted when the cops arrived

just another story to tell someday

you will be

never had leftover sick days in school

never kept one boy around for too long

never had a plan ‘cause we can’t stick to them

we are the ones who bail

the ones who disappear

the nomads of our time

like trying to make a flower keep its color

like trying to pet a stray dog who's been hurt

like trying to nail water to a tree

we are never cornered

its us against the world


Monday, April 16, 2012

Walk it off and get in the boat. [Five years, today.]

Five years. Five years since he’s been gone.

Year one, my life was falling apart. I lost my faith in just about everything and it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again. And it wouldn’t. I wrote, “People would tell me, ‘You just can't understand the way God works. He has a plan.’ And I think that's bullshit. Bad things happen to good people, and there's nothing any of us can do about it, not even God.”

Year two, the shock had worn off and I was just sad. I missed him with a dull and constant aching that never faded away. I wrote, “I don't think it gets easier like they say it does. I feel like my life has stopped in it's place, but the world keeps going around me.”

Year three, life was moving on and I felt guilty. I had stopped thinking about him every minute of every day, not because I didn’t love and miss him terribly, but because it was too painful to keep opening that wound. In quite the opposite fashion of year two, I wrote, “The sadness, it doesn’t go away. And no matter what anyone says, it does not get any easier. But I put it away and pretend it isn’t there most of the time, and I sometimes realize how much it hurts and I cry and feel like life will never be the same, and it won’t. But life, it goes on.”

Year four, I was struggling to remember all the details. After suffering such a grand loss already, it felt like the universe was rubbing salt in my wound as his voice and face faded more and more from my memory. I decided to make an oath of sorts, to him and to myself. I wrote, “I hope he knows I love him and I miss him and I think about him so, so often. In memory of you, Dad. I promise to never forget.”

Year five. Here we are. Doctors and scientists and professors say there are stages of grief. Some say five. Some say seven. I say, grief is a cycle. I have felt anger and shock and unbearable pain and guilt and peace, and I have felt each of them over and over again.

A friend of mine lost his father as well, and his mother wrote about spending time at the beach grieving. As she put it,

“I felt safe in the dark as I sat looking upward into the heavens as they overtook my sense of loneliness. I was not alone; I was being loved by God through the beauty of His creation. The song the waves played as they pushed toward the shoreline soothed me like a mother’s lullaby. I heard an unevenness in the wave song as some make a louder crack sound at times. It was here I realized what I had been saying was true, mourning comes in waves. Some waves crack harder than others, it is the motion of life. I find myself crying harder at times, sometimes less, and sometimes not at all. There is no guilt in the amount of tears and there is no set pattern. Everyone is different. Every wave is different.”

(As an aside, they should really give this woman a book deal. No one can put it into words like she can.)

In a most eloquent way, she describes the grief cycle as I have experienced it. Some moments are harder than others. The grief is constant but life is always moving. Waves come and go and the only way to cope is to ride them out.

I spent yesterday, a beautiful and perfect Sunday, on Jordan Lake. This was an impromptu fishing trip my friend’s husband came up with. We woke up nursing slight hangovers from Saturday night’s bonfire party and Chris thought it would be relaxing to spend the day fishing in the sun. We loaded up coolers and tackle boxes, put gas in the boat, and hit the lake. We joked around and cracked ourselves up and caught a total of two tree branches and nothing else. The sun started to set and we were all a little tired. We fished a little longer (still caught nothing) and in between a few bits of quiet conversation, there was only sunset and the sounds of the water lapping against the boat and the shore. I felt such peace.

As we were heading back to the dock, I told my friends what I knew. How this was the day before the anniversary of my dad’s death. How I used to come to this particular lake on this particular day to think about my dad. How I found it ironic that, one day before the anniversary, people who never knew my father decided we should spend our time on the same lake doing the same thing he loved to do. Chris said it was like a tribute to my dad, and I couldn’t agree more.

My dad was never one for tears. Even being the father of four girls didn’t soften him up in that regard. Crying was for the weak, and he could be heard telling his girls to “walk it off” or “dry it up” anytime we started the waterworks. So I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to sit on the side of the lake, crying to myself. Here is what I think he would tell me: Walk it off and get in the boat.

Life moves on. The grief never does. Both are like the waves. Some moments are harder than others. Some waves will wash over your feet like a healing touch, others will knock you to the ground and pull you under. Climb in your boat and ride them out, the good ones and the bad ones. Let friends and family and memories hold you afloat. Experience the pain and you will feel the peace that follows. “It is the motion of life.”

You are alive, so live.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I am a keeper of secrets.

People tend to tell me things.

Not just friends.

Even strangers want to show me little glimpses of their lives.

Happy memories.

Bad habits.

The shiny. The sordid.

I am a keeper of secrets.

Oh, if you only knew the things I know.

I think it has something to do with the way I read people.

I’m good at figuring out what it is you need.

If you must be surrounded by loud voices and excitement,

I will go a little crazy with you.

In the throb of the music, in the heat of the moment,

while we are dancing on top of a bar,

you will shout something to me,

something you never told anyone else before.

If you need a dark corner and shady whispers,

I will sit with you, still and silent, for as long as you want.

And I will turn my head so as to not look you in the eye.

If that’s what you need, I’ll do it.

And you will open up like a book. You will.

You will unlock the chambers in your mind,

and you will share things with me.

You will show me the hidden crawlspaces in your heart.

(Writing poems almost-daily has been a big fat FAIL so far. For me. But not for Amy Turn Sharp. She's still going strong. Still writing every day. Check her out on Facebook: A poem a day for a year. And one more linky link: I save all my most favorite things she writes to my Tumblr.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The lasts.

There aren’t many worse things I can think of than getting old, except not having the chance to get old, maybe. But even that sometimes seems like a better alternative once people reach a certain place in their lives. And as I watch my grandparents deteriorate in front of me, I think a lot about the lasts. Because as their minds and bodies fail them, it’s hard and sad to realize that there are so many things that will never be the same again, for them and for me. So I think about the last time they said or did something and I wonder, will we ever experience that again? Or was that it?

I could blame this on the doctors who are always saying “six more months...” and “one last Christmas...” and “this summer is it...” but the truth is, I’ve been around death and the dying my entire life, so I’ve thought about these things always and often. Probably more than would be considered normal. Probably enough to be considered morbid.

I could also blame it on the fact that I work with children. Adults can get so caught up in the firsts, first smiles, first words, first steps, that we don’t think about the lasts often. But I do. I think about the lasts for children. I wonder about the last time they will crawl. And the last time they will drink from a sippy cup. And the last time they will ask for a hug from you because it can fix their world.

I could blame it on all the things in my life that ended so abruptly and left me wide-eyed and in shock. My parents separation when I was five, my father’s unexpected and deadly heart attack, friends that suddenly moved away. You might say that I formed a habit of looking back on the lasts in life. The last Christmas we spent together, all in the same house. The last Duke game I watched with my dad. The last time I snuggled up next to a particularly handsome boy before he left me at the end of the summer for bigger and better things.

I think about the lasts.

The other day, my grandfather told the new caregiver that he didn’t mind her being around as long as she didn’t try to take his keys. He couldn’t stand by as someone told him he couldn’t drive. When he says things like this, it breaks my heart a little bit and makes me laugh at the same time. Because, really grandaddy? You cannot see. You cannot hear. You can barely walk. Sometimes, you think that branch hanging from the tree outside is a goat standing in our yard, and sometimes you see the tall grass at the top of the hill swaying and you swear there are people standing up there, spying on you. Driving a motor vehicle? Out of the question. And I know it’s tough, this loss of independence. And I know the word tough is the biggest understatement of the century.

As I’m having this one-sided conversation in my head, I start wondering. I wonder when the last time he drove was. And I wonder where he went. I’m sure it was somewhere my grandmother ordered him to go. The drug store? Grocery shopping? McDonalds for a chicken sandwich and some apple pies? I wonder how long it took him to get into the car. It takes about three minutes just for him to fall into the passenger seat, so I’m sure getting ready to drive, the folding of legs under the steering column, finding and buckling of the seatbelt, searching for the ignition, it was probably an exhausting length of time. I wonder if he swerved as he drove toward his destination. I wonder if he slid into the wrong lane at some point, causing some other poor soul’s heart to leap a little. I wonder if they yelled at him, cursed at him, shouted gramps-get-off-the-road-you-old-bastard like I sometimes do when I’m behind the anonymous curtain that is my windshield. Did he remember where he was going the entire time, or did he get a little lost, like the time he went out for groceries and I found him driving up and down a new street on the other side of town three hours later? And did he know, somewhere deep inside, that this would be the last time he would sit behind the wheel of a car? Or did he hope for one more chance, even though driving now scared him, did he want one more taste of what life was like before? I wonder.

About all the smallest things, I wonder.

I think about all our trips to the old Hyco house, and I wonder about the last time we took the boat out on the lake. Was it just a short little trip before lunch? Did we have time to pull out the skis and knee board? Did we park near the power plant and jump from the edge of the boat into that warm water, and did he jump in with us? Or was he already too old, too fragile by that point?

When was the last time he made love to my grandmother? I hope they were already creaky and wrinkled, ancient and still wanting each other. I wonder if they were careful not to hurt each other, gentle and aware, like they were young again. I wonder if he held her a little closer, if he kissed her a little more deeply, if it even crossed his mind that this would be their last rendezvous.

The last time he mowed his own yard before my mother took over. The last day he lived without depending on a hundred different little pills to keep him breathing and moving. When was the last time he danced down the hallway like he always used to do? The last time he took a long flight of stairs? The last time he walked any distance at all without stumbling? I wonder what the last coherent and meaningful sentence he said was, or maybe, hopefully, what it will be. I think about the last time he will say my name, the last time he will recognize my face. And I wonder, will I know? Will I recognize the significance of this seemingly mundane occurrence? Will I know to treasure it, to thank God for one last time? Or will it slip by, unnoticed?

Will it leave me wondering, like every single other last did?

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to be alive.

I painted a picture with a four year old girl today. My name is Arianna, she told me, but my friend’s name is Sophia and that sounds prettier so call me that, k?

As Sophia-who-is-Arianna talked about mermaids swimming in a pink sea under a green sun next to an island with a tree, I dipped my brush into the water. And then, as blue and purple swam together across my page, my mind wandered back in time.

Even as a child, the sky at sunset amazed me. I didn’t know much about anything, but I knew that sky, those colors, the way orange turned to red turned to pink turned to purple turned to blue, I knew this was a God gift. I knew enough to appreciate the beauty above.

I knew how to sneak up on a lightning bug, how to cup my hands just right so I could catch one without causing harm. I knew they needed friends, companions and light to comfort them throughout the night, just like me. I knew they needed leaves in their new home, a Duke’s mayonnaise jar, and holes poked through the lid, because they also needed air. Living things must breathe, I knew this much.

And I knew when the sun rose again, I had to release them because freedom, room to fly, space to just be, that is the most necessary of all.

I didn’t know much, but I knew these things.

I like those stars you painted, Sophia-who-is-Arianna told me. I almost corrected her. Almost said no. Almost told her they were lightning bugs. And then I realized she was right. I didn’t know it back then, but those bugs against that perfect sunset sky, they were my stars, guiding me through my childhood. They were teaching me about life before the time would come when I needed those lessons learned. They must’ve known. Known I would lose you, that I would not know how to go on without you. Not until I remembered.

Look up for God. Feel small against the sky. Appreciate beauty. Be gentle, with myself, with others, with this world. Surround myself with friends. Keep a soft place to land and fly when I can. Bring light to others. And make sure I have holes in my jar, moments when I can step away from it all and just breathe. Just. Breathe.

My childhood summertime night lights became my stars, my navigation system for life. This is what you need to survive, they said. This is how to be alive. This is how you live.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Something like love.

When we are laying in bed

and we’ve adjusted to the dark,

enough so that I can see the moon reflecting in your eyes

and nothing more,

that is when I feel closest to you.

I am most honest in that moment.

I open up my heart to you

when you cannot see my face turning red,

my lips trembling,

my teeth starting to chatter.

And I like that you know what to do,

even if you do not know what to say.

Or more often,

if you know what I want to hear but will not say it.

You care enough to keep lies out of this moment.

I can appreciate that.

Still, you know what to do.

We pretend for a little while.

We make believe this could be real.

When you pull me close

and search for my lips in the dark,

when you are hungry for my kiss,

I finally feel something like love.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The trunk.

I own a trunk. It is brown with two leather handles and three metal latches that used to lock but no longer do, and if you look closely, you can see the letters MS stamped across the top. MS because it once belonged to Margaret Schroder, my great-grandmother. It journeyed here from Germany, on a ship that carried my great-grandparents to a new life where war was not so close. When I was a child, it lived in my mother’s room. It held spare blankets, or my sister during games of hide-and-seek, or gifts from Santa at Christmas time. Now, it holds my most valuable possessions. People say lifeless belongings don’t matter, that we should not hold them to such high regard, not when there are more important things. And it’s true that nothing is closer to my heart than the living, than the family and friends I love dearly. But sometimes, I lay in my bed and I pray to God that my home would be safe from fire and flood, because I know I would die trying to save my trunk of things.

Every once in awhile, I need to unwind and cry a little. I can’t explain it, except that I am a woman and I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and I must stay strong until no one is looking. Or this is how it feels. And when all eyes are finally averted, I need to break down for a little while. To release tears like they are toxins. So, I lock my door and sit in front of my trunk. I cross my legs, like I am a child again, and breathe deeply.

To any other person who might open this trunk, it’s a holding cell for garbage. I know better. Amidst old concert and movie tickets, bracelets and notes passed between school-aged girlfriends, any pictures my nieces and nephews ever drew, birthday cards and obituaries, amidst all these things, secrets and memories lie.

I flip the three latches that hold my special trunk closed, and lift the lid. The smell hits me, musty and ancient. At first, I am almost repulsed, but then I breathe in my ancestors and calm fills me. Piece by piece, I pull items from my trunk and I close my eyes and I remember.

First, I remove the slim, wooden cane that helped to carry my father, and his father before him, through the ends of their lives as their bodies failed them. I hold the simple handle and run my fingers across the smooth wood and wonder if it’s walnut or mahogany or maybe rosewood that was strong enough to support the men I miss most. I prop my trunk up with the cane that held them, and I continue my journey back through time.

I lift out three blankets, though only I would recognize these scraps of fabric as such. A yellow, scratchy square my nana crocheted for my teddy bear. A purple and green, smaller square she made after I requested a blanket for my teddy bear’s teddy bear. And a gray, almost rope-like piece of fabric. It used to be blue and covered in Care Bears, and I ball it up and hold it under my chin and breathe it in. It still smells like life at eight years old, when carrying a blanket was no longer cool but everything was too scary sometimes, so I would cut small squares from it and carry them to school in my pocket and rub them between my thumb and fingers when my heart got heavy.

I pull out books and open them, one by one. The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, bargain sale finds that I remembered from my earliest years and bought for a quarter each. I am saving them for the day I have my own children, for when I can sit with them to read the words of Margaret Wise Brown, and I hope they hear the love that I heard in my own mother’s voice when she read them to me. I Love You More Than Anything, the book my aunt crafted from laminated paper, pink ribbon, a magic marker, and photos of us, her heart swelling with joy as she created it and thought of a niece who was the closest thing she had to a daughter. A passport book, containing a picture of my father and two Japanese stamps from 1999, proving that even the most rooted people can still fly away. A notebook full of Pokemon trading cards, worthless now to dealers but priceless to me because they were gifts that bonded a father and daughter, proving that even when people fly away, they can return to their roots. Three copies of The Holy Bible. A tiny, white, cloth-covered New Testament with my name across the front in pink, my first copy of scripture. The giant Reader’s Digest Illustrated Edition, which turned out to be too graphic for twelve year old eyes and gave me my first glimpse of male genitalia. A smaller, NCV International Children’s Edition, which gave me my first glimpse of God, and is still my go-to choice when I need to understand the Word in my terms.

I gently scoop out two corsages from my high school proms. I think back on my junior prom and remember the worry and anxiety leading up to the event, after my date had been in a horrific accident and we almost lost him. And I remember the joy and pride I felt walking through the doors holding his arm, triumphant that we still had one of the best people I’ve ever known and I was going to dance with him all night long.

Sifting through my trunk, I discover I am a collector. I wade through collections of coins, foreign country keepsakes, porcelain dolls, Duke Blue Devils memorabilia, and North Carolina Lighthouse Christmas ornaments. I stop at my stuffed animal collection, and pull each toy out, one by one. Moonbaby, who is just that, a stuffed moon with a baby face, my first love. He still jingles, and the wording on what’s left of his tag is no longer visible, long ago rubbed away between tiny, plump infant fingers. Three elephants, one my grandmother sewed and stuffed for me, one small and full of rice, my first Beanie Baby, and one my mother spent much too much on at Disney’s Animal Kingdom after she scraped and saved and borrowed enough to take us there. I didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now. I hug each of these toys and picture a little girl who could’ve grown up too fast but had these friends to help her keep her footing in a topsy-turvy kind of world.

I heave out a file box containing the most important papers in the world. More essential to me than bank statements, social security cards, or diplomas. In this box are papers with words that made up my life. Poems I wrote for ones I loved and ones who broke my heart, and a poem someone once wrote about me. A “Greatest Dad In The World” certificate my sister and I created on our first home computer and presented to him on Father’s Day. Copies of every high school and college newspaper issue I wrote articles for. The first testimony I read in front of our entire church congregation. A letter I sent to Seventeen magazine, thanking the editor for featuring a piece on Chrone’s disease and telling her how it affected my close friend’s life. All the words that came through my head and begged to be written down, I read them and cry. I cry for relationships that once were and people who no longer are and all the things that existed a lifetime ago.

Last, I dig around all the paper towel-wrapped dolls and tea cups until my fingers hit something cold and ceramic. A small, hand-painted pond sculpture. And under it, wrapped up like the other breakables, a miniature duck glued to a magnet. When I was a child, my aunt owned this sculpture and it fascinated me. Inside is a music box, and when I would wind it up, flip it over, and place the baby duck on top, he would dance across the pond to the most beautiful music. Before I knew there was a revolving magnet underneath the pond, before I understood any laws of science, before time took over and my imagination clouded with facts, I really believed that when the music would play, this duck would come alive right before my eyes. Years later, my aunt moved away, and she gave me the duck pond. And even now, as the music plays and the duck dances, I am taken back to a time when the twist of a music box latch made miracles happen. I watch and listen and I am calmed.

When the music is over, I replace my belongings, piece by piece. The duck and the pond and the box full of words. The stuffed animals and the flowers. The books and the blankets. I gingerly lay the cane of the mysterious, dark wood down over these things I love, and I close my trunk. My legs are cramped and my are feet asleep. I stand and stretch, and then push my trunk back into it’s corner. I cover it in spare blankets and pillows, and to any unknowing eye, it might be a meaningless piece of furniture. I know better. In the corner it will sit, covered and hidden, until the next time I need to cry and unwind and remember.