One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Event of Fire

This week's theme: Ashes.

Friday night I was cleaning my room. In the struggle to impose order on the chaos of novels, volumes of poetry, comps books, papers, and clothing, I picked up a copy of Rilke's Duino Elegies and an envelope full of letters fell out. While not love letters--such as they normally are-- they are letters from someone about whom I cared deeply, and for whom I still have conflicting emotions. My first urge on seeing these letters was to cry. My second was to get rid of them: throw them away, run them through the shredder, rip them up and flush them down the toilet, do whatever was necessary to get them out of my life.

I didn't do any of these things. I didn't read them either. I tucked them into the top drawer of my nightstand between a bouquet of lavender flowers I picked from my mother's garden and an impromptu speech topic from my Academic Decathalon days. The top drawer of my nightstand is where I store things with a sort of bittersweet sentimental value. Flowers from my childhood home. A speech topic card from the most influential teacher I ever had. The letters from a person who taught me what I want out of my relationships. These are little things--objects that I would not choose to save if I had to save just a few things from my house--but I keep in that top drawer regardless.

While I was putting the letters away, I started to think about this magpie tendency I've developed over the years. Surely the next time I move it would be easier to clear out this drawer, throw these things that I've collected away, and start fresh.

It would be easier. Just like it would be easier not to remember working in the garden with my mother as a child. Or remembering that at 18 I imagined my life at 25 much differently. Or thinking about the relationships at which I've failed and why I've failed. These memories are painful, surprisingly so. But these events are all a part of me in a way I could have never anticipated and don't know if I'll ever fully understand. That's why I hold on to these things that I wouldn't bother to save if my house was burning down. It's just some dead flowers. Just a recycled business card with a corny speech topic on it. Just a few handwritten pages.

Just a little record of the person I thought I was going to become.


In Event of Fire

Please grab the family bible, its pages full of every birth and death, wedding and baptism since 1850. Try to make sure the dog gets out, and pound on your sister's door. We always said she could sleep right through a disaster. I'll take your granddad's purple heart and your grandmother's wedding rings. The other important things--car titles, birth certificates, passports--are all in the safe deposit box at the bank. In the locked bottom drawer of Great-Uncle Marshall's desk? It's a packet of letters. Let it burn.

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