Moving My Emotional BaggageMARCH 29, 2008
- Apparently I invited someone on a picnic.
- (John Moe)
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I have this box down in the basement. It's THE box. I'm sure you have one just like it -- full of letters, photos, journal entries, term papers, birthday cards... Mine's a big Rubbermaid tote, 30 gallon size, blue. Pretty much me, as told in paper, from early childhood to about age 24. It must weigh 80 pounds. And I never open it, I never look at it. It's not like framed artwork or photo albums. I never get an urge to go down to the basement and read a birthday card from my mom from 1992. But moving means sorting through everything -- so I gotta sort through the box.
Some of this stuff inside is quite lovely. A picture of me at 21 working at a summer camp. I'm happy, tan, hopeful. Strutting toward the future.
A lot of what's in here belongs in the "why in the world did I KEEP this" file. An envelope of hair from the barber visit that ended my hippie period. Recipes for couscous. And this:
Ben would not be who he is if it weren't for you. Thank you for your dedication. Much love, Chris.
Who's Ben? Who's Chris?
Then there's the hard stuff. A postcard from my brother in 1987. He says he's sorry he didn't get to say goodbye before he left. I don't know what he's referring to. It was written 20 years before he died suddenly. There are angry letters from friends I treated badly telling me how much I hurt them. I saved them all. Locked them away. I never read them. That can't be healthy, can it?
Also in the box: stuff so horrible it's funny. This, in a note from a very ex-girlfriend:
Your problem is you're way too needy, John. And it's not just me who feels that way. I've talked to people we both know and we all agree that you're needy.
Maybe I should call and see if she likes me any better now.
There's a world of stuff in here. And after spending some time with it, I want to set it on fire. I want to throw away the box. All of it.
How can you say that? That's your past! Those are memories! That box is who you are!
No, that box is who I was. Like when I was 10, I was a huge football fan. Football defined me. And I horded football trading cards. To this day, I still have this one card: Chris Bahr, kicker, Cincinnati Bengals. I reached Bahr at his home in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania I asked him if I should keep the card.
"Should you keep it?" he asked. "For what reason?"
"Well, because I've always kept it. I've had it since 1978," I said, meekly.
"Then I'd hang on to your cards."
Bahr still has that card himself. "I have them all somewhere along the way. I know I have a helmet, a jersey. You know, I've moved and they get into boxes. Like I said, I never really put anything out."
Maybe he should put it out. It's paper. Dead trees. Chris Bahr has the same box I do. And my box is dead weight, a corpse of memories, that I have to ship or load on to a truck and then haul into my new basement in my new city where it will spend even more years never being looked at. I'd rather destroy it.
The things that mattered are already memories. This is excess baggage. And I'm moving, I'm trying to start anew. The new me, waking up in the new city wouldn't have to bear this weight.
Thing is, I can't bring myself to do it. The stuff has a hold on me. Want to chuck it. Can't. I'm held captive by ghosts.
Erik Larson is in my box. He was the editor of my high school newspaper. I have numerous editions in my box. They feature the worst writing I've ever done and they trigger agonizing high school flashbacks. Erik was a journalism star in high school. Not long after graduating he started selling insurance.
"Oh my goodness. I'm almost ashamed or embarrassed to admit I've probably got at least a couple of dozen. I probably have every issue," he said when I reached him by phone. "They're in some of these Rubbermaid containers in the garage. They have been neatly or cleverly or subconsciously positioned next to my wine cabinets, refrigerators. So as I go out occasionally on the weekend to grab a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to bring in and decant, I'll see the box there and I will, from time to time, take a stroll down memory lane."
Erik's made peace with his box. He's made peace with himself. I guess I'm a little different than that. I don't wish to give up the people I love and the memories I cherish. But I'm willing to sacrifice all the papers, the evidence, the reminders, the senior prom tickets, the better-than-expected report card, the desperate resume from a period of total unemployment... all in order to achieve a kind of psychic lightness.
I talked to lots of other people from my box. Every one of them has a box of their own, or several. Some of them had entire storage lockers of boxes and spend hundreds of dollars a year to store them. And they never visit those boxes. Everyone wishes they could throw stuff out. No one has.
But one night, after a long, emotionally exhausting session sifting through my box, with the pressure of moving day weighing on me, I found my nerve. I carried the box to the carport, placing it next to the garbage cans, to await the garbage truck. I have never felt so free. I could move to St. Paul and be only who I wanted to be, not who I was.
But before the garbage truck came, I went out to the carport, picked up the box and carried it back in. And when the moving truck to St Paul came, I put the stupid box on board.