"Thank you, sir! May I have another!?"™, Day 18: Dude, where's my stuff?

This is Day 18 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House. bottom shelf

My other sisters have lost far more of real value because of our alcoholic mother: substantial money; their youth. Things get stolen out from under from you when you have an alcoholic parent that you don't even realize until much later, when you start comparing yourself to your normal friends.

I lost a little money, true. And a little of my youth, I suppose. But what I miss are my words.

I've been doing this crazy scribbling for much longer than this blog's brief existence. I began a diary back when that's what we called them, when they were bound in leather and came with tiny locks and keys and their heavy, gilt-edged paper only allowed for five or six lines of information per day. I've been writing stories and drawing pictures since I could pick up a crayon, manufacturing worlds for my imaginary creatures to live in that rivaled Middle Earth in their detail and complexity. I knew I could not keep everything; when you move a lot, which we did after my parents' divorce initiated our long, slow slide into intrafamilial dependence, you learn to do with less and less, to cull down to what is most important to you. Good training for the apocalypse, I warrant.

Before my escape to college, I got my stuff down to a few boxes, and then, on a subsequent visit where I was told to pare down, to one that I had to keep. It held the best of the best: all of my journals, best (or favorite) drawings and keepsakes, an unsigned Picasso print from my grandfather (well, so he said, anyway). One box.

You're not supposed to think about the stuff you leave at home. You're supposed to put up with your parents nagging you to pick up your damned stuff, already, so they can turn your bedroom into a sewing/guest/crafts room. But you don't even imagine that, outside of horrific acts of God, your stuff will just disappear.

Sometimes I wonder when I pick through stuff at thrift stores about how it got there. The same way I wonder how someone could just give up a good dog like Arnie, I wonder how someone's handmade photo frame with a family picture ends up in that great unwanted pile called the Goodwill. But I do know, someone dies...alone. Or someone gets on drugs, goes crazy and wanders off. Or someone loses his job and is forced to move out in a hurry.

Or someone's alcoholic mother can no longer pay the fees to the storage company and her things are sold in lots. Poof, a lifetime of chairs scavenged from estate sales, of knickknacks and out-of-print childhood books, of ski clothes and stuffed animals, of words and words and words, gone. Because of booze and shame and despair. Because you are broke and too embarrassed to ask for help. Because, because, because.

Of all the things I have had, it's the loss of words that haunts me. I don't trust my memory, you see, but I trust the words. I trust what they say, and I trust in my ability to read between them and recall the rest. Right now, my memories begin at age 18, in college. I still have every single journal with every single cringe-inducing entry. The photos I have that predate them? They help me to remember, but they were taken by other people of me; they are not my memories. I'm making those up now, as I go along.

I get a hollow feeling right now, even now, thinking of that box. And yet, I'm thankful to have lost it. It has made me treasure the few relics that have turned up in other dead people's things even more. And it's made me appreciate that no matter what exists, or doesn't, it is my story to tell, however I see fit. My story to distill meaning from.

Most of all, it has helped me find compassion in my heart that I might not have found otherwise for my mother and for people like her. People who cause pain even while surely they wish they could stop. We've all of us let something be sold out from under us, done (or neglected to do) something out of carelessness or fear; in this case, it was just something tangible.

The love is not in the beloved childhood doll any more than the stories are in the written-down words. These are things that are in us, that we carry wherever we go, and that come to life when we share them.

Let's put it this way: maybe, just maybe, if I had those journals, I never would have started writing out loud, for other people. I never would have had the experience of having my words played back to me, of hearing what resonated and what didn't, of what landed and what didn't. I never would have met the people I've met and learned the things I've learned and changed the way I've changed.

A Picasso print, signed or not, legitimate or not, will last as long as it lasts. The feelings unearthed by looking at it are what lives on.

xxx c Image by orbitgal via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.