A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.
-- J.R.R. Tolkien
I stood to survey the piles surrounding me and took a deep breath, letting it out with a long sigh, the vibration of which tickled the back of my throat. Hardly a dent, and I'd been at it for hours. There's a reason professional movers get the job done in so short a time -- these things hold no significance for them. Paid strangers are not compelled to read every note, examine each doodle, or reflect on the day my sister gave me that particular chunk of lavender wax that had been sculpted into the form of a fairy resting in a glen.
To consider the immensity of this job would be paralyzing, so I sat back in the center of my clutter circle, placing my bum in the one clear area of floor, and picked up where I left off. The books had been easy -- stack 'em up, pile 'em in the boxes. I had chanted this to myself as I did so, creating a rhythm by which to work. The clothes were almost as simple -- this for Goodwill, this for me. But now I was sifting through papers, the biggest threat to my productivity thus far.
Not a day goes by that I don't scribble something in one of my journals, and the result is ten years' worth of filled notebooks, diaries, and folders. I flipped back through one journal to investigate what I'd been thinking exactly three years ago: July 23, 2001 -- I feel like that girl in the movies who lights a match, drops it in a puddle of gasoline, and saunters away as the flame works its way toward the tanks of gas and explodes behind her as she continues to walk, laughing and untouched. "Huh. I wonder what that was all about," I muttered.
I wanted to read more, but I knew that giving in a little was the first step to giving in a lot. I settled for reading a notebook of poems I'd written from 1995 to 1998, ages 18 to 21. Before I set the tattered, spiral-bound book in its designated box, I held it in my hands and let scenes play out before me -- I saw friends who caused me anguish, men for whom I harbored unrequited love, and wondered how the me reflected on those pages was able to get through each day when I had been so unhappy.
Another hour was lost to reminiscing and the piles still loomed above me. "All right, no more dicking around," I said aloud. "I need to see a dent here, or else." I had begun making the same kind of empty threats to myself that my mother had made to my sisters and me. The unknown, intentionally ambiguous "else" I would suffer if I did not finish the chore at hand was as effective as the boogeyman that kept me, the child, inside at night. It worked like a charm. I'm not kidding around, I thought. I really mean business. This needs to get done!
I stacked my papers neatly in one box and promised myself I could read as many pages as I wanted when I opened that box in its new home. Displayed on the bookshelf, with no paper beneath it, was a green and black glass paperweight. This would be packed away with other fragile things -- the tiny lead figures I painted so many years ago and my embarrassingly large pewter fairy statue collection. I lifted the glass, and no sooner were my fingers gliding over its smooth surface than I wondered why I didn't handle it more often. If you look closely, you can see the imperfections a few bubbles here, one blue spot there, and two yellow dots.
Though I have difficulty remembering Grandmere's face without first looking at a photograph, when I cradle the heavy glass I can picture her hands playing the piano or painting a nature scene on canvas in her small Brooklyn apartment. I liked to imagine she got the glass in Ireland; it's green, and she was Irish. But I can't recall whether or not she ever told me, and now I prefer to believe that she found it while window-shopping in Bay Ridge, not too far from the front door of her building.
"This is for you," she'd said. "A gift for my talented granddaughter, something to keep your papers from getting away from you as you write and draw." I held the glass in front of the window and, delighting in the sparkly effect the sun had on the bubbles within, I could once again smell the lobby of her building. I bundled the paperweight in newspaper and carefully set it next to the wrapped fairy statues.
I avoided the giant box of photographs that rested on the foot of my bed -- they were as tempting as my journals. Later , I promised myself. When everything is packed and put away, you can spend hours looking through those pictures and remember each birthday, family gathering, and night out with friends .
I turned my attention to the top of my dresser. "I guess I won't need you anymore," I said to my stereo, a Christmas gift from my mother almost a decade ago. "I mean, don't get me wrong, we had some good times together. It's just, the man I live with now used to design high-end speakers, and, well, I've sort of grown accustomed to the sound." I smiled, thinking, I'm such a dork .
To the left of the
speaker sat a velvet rose bloom atop a small wooden box. I untied the silky blue ribbon and fingered the golden wax "B" that held one end of the ribbon in place. My thoughts drifted back to the first time I touched this box almost three years ago -- the red vinyl booth in which we sat, the musky, vanilla scent of my perfume mixed with the rich, earthy aroma of his leather pants. It was my first date with David.