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.

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