(fanfare) We are in our new house! And after three weeks, we now have internet AND an official mailing address! And you know what that means: Not only do I have my things about me, but now I am at liberty to AQUIRE MORE.
I have realized much about myself during these past few months which shall heretofore be referred to as “The Time I Wished I Was Dead” or at least “The Time I Wished I Was An Inanimate Object With No Hopes Or Dreams To Crush.” One such revelation is that I have too much stuff. So not only did I purge a great deal on the El Paso end, I have also jettisoned a significant amount here. And have “encouraged” my family to follow my example. And by “encouraged” I mean of course, “waited until they were not paying attention and selected items I deemed useless, broken, or stupid and threw them into a box for goodwill.” As I was doing this I had flashbacks of my own inconsolable rage at my own mother for giving away my things– things I OBVIOUSLY had use for, regardless of whether or not I knew I had them. She knows the list: The Strawberry Shortcake intercom phones, the grey poodle, “Mickey Baby’s Sister” doll, etc. Years later, I received a package in Germany. It was “Mickey Baby’s Sister” doll, found on eBay and purchased for me, a then 28 year old woman. It was fantastic. My mom is the queen of all mothers. And now that I am a mother myself I see that perhaps she was always the queen of all mothers. My 8 year old self would refuse to accept this, but Mama knew what she was doing.
Possessions are wonderful. I love my things. Before I had children, I had books. Lying awake at night mentally planning how to escape burning buildings or evade murderous intruders, I war-gamed how to save my journals, my manuscripts on 3.5 “floppy” disks, my set of huge hardback Outlander novels– now THAT was going to involve some fancy footwork and strategic planning. (Clearly, more thought could have gone into the safe keeping of various pieces of jewelry, but I’m trying to let that go…)
When the packers had swept out of the El Paso house with all of our belongings I breathed a sigh of relief that at least one more phase was completed. I walked through the empty rooms, and as reluctant as I was to be going to the particular place we were heading, I took great satisfaction in the thought that we were moving on, leaving such a stressful and sad time behind us.
And then I looked down.
When I was little, my mother had a very small black box with the picture of a unicorn surrounded by a tiny fence. It was no more than two inches long and inside was a tiny crystal. She told me it was a unicorn tear. I was enraptured. I don’t remember when she gave it to me, but it has been one of my favorite things. When I see it I feel a little bit of magic is left in the world.
On the floor of the empty El Paso guest room was the top to the little box. Only the top.
I picked it up and turned it over to see the unicorn in its tiny fence. I searched the entire area of the carpet for the crystal tear, went out to the hallway on the chance that it dropped out there, and then froze. I had vacuumed. Hastily. And dumped the contents in one of the many trash bags sitting in the boiling hot sun outside. If you recall, I’d had a hard time of late. This did nothing to improve my mood. It was a small thing. In the grand scheme of things, it was an extremely small loss. But it was a loss. On top of a growing pile of losses. But I wiped my eyes (apparently I’d been tearing up) and went on. At least I still had the top.
The first time I walked into this house in Hawaii it was on the heels of the movers. Literally. I stepped on one of their heels as he carried something in ahead of me. He asked me where I wanted this dresser? Juggling Bella on one hip, my ridiculously oversized diaper bag filled with everything on earth EXCEPT diapers, and trying to figure out which room I was actually standing in, I said, “Uh, the guest room.” He asked where that was. I said I had no idea. It was quite a day, but a great day. As paper was torn off large shapeless things to reveal my own furniture it felt like Christmas. I couldn’t wait to find my desk, my CLOTHES! (3 months in the same 7 shirts was humbling and a great exercise in appreciating all I have, but I never want to see those outfits again), and the prints and paintings of all the places I’ve been. The day ended and we were left to excavate our lives from the boxes and paper, paper, paper. Only two things were found broken that day and we counted it a victory.
The next day was very productive and much was unpacked. The house looked like a curiosity shop–every surface covered with both the mundane and the interesting. We found great amusement in reading what was labeled on the box and then discovering what it actually contained. Everyone who moves frequently, or at all, I imagine, has a story about their movers and the school they undoubtedly attend to learn the Art of Nonsense. Why do they wrap a wet sponge or a travel mug with coffee STILL inside, but can forget to pack a nightstand? And the baffling grouping of contents–what would possess them to pack a crisp white lacey bedskirt with flower pots encrusted with El Paso sand and dirt? Your guess is as good as mine. The large family heirloom bible we were slightly freaking out about because we couldn’t find? In a box labeled “Papers” in the garage. Technically, I suppose, it is paper… So when I found the box marked “3 della robbia,” picked it up, and it rattled, I prayed they had packed Legos or something in there. But they hadn’t. They had packed three precious Della Robbia ceramic pieces together. And not at all well.
While both Sam and my brother were deployed to Iraq, my parents had met me in Germany and taken me with them on a trip through Italy. In a tiny Florence shop I found him: The Baby Jesus Head. A beautiful white patina baby bust surrounded by a circle of the trademark blue. I carried it on my back through trains in Italy, Austria, and back to Germany. That trip was extremely special to me. Every time I looked at The Baby Jesus Head I remembered the weird combination of fear and joy.
I am standing by an open window in Rome, talking to Sam in Iraq for a few precious moments before he stops mid-sentence and says, “Um, gotta go! I love you!” and the line goes dead.
I am eating something wonderful near the water in Venice as my parents make me laugh so hard the wine almost comes out my nose.
I am lighting candles in a small gorgeous chapel in Verona for two men I love in a war zone.
I am on a bus tour laughing my brains out on the way back from Assisi.
It had survived the move from Germany to England and then from England to Texas. And now my little time machine was cracked apart right down the center of his beautiful serene face, his small smooth shoulders jagged and red with terra cotta where the glaze was shattered away. I didn’t even try to stop crying. I just let it happen. What was the point? Texting with my mother, because I couldn’t talk about it, and lamenting The Baby Jesus Head, she wrote, “Not one of your tears will be wasted.” It was a beautiful thought and a very sweet thing to say. But obviously it was crap. I’ve cried more over these last few months than I have this entire decade. (Not counting movies. I cry like a little girl at movies.) Crying out of raw heartache or pain? I don’t like it. So I try not to do it. Not that you would know this if you’ve made my acquaintance recently.
They’re only things, right? Keep perspective.
Last week Sam and I were unpacking a box in the guest room. Who knows what was supposed to be in the box, I think we stopped reading the labels. But as he unfurled a ream of packing paper something sparkly dropped to the floor. It was the unicorn tear. I grabbed the paper from him (rather rudely, actually) and yes, the other half of the box was there too. Bless him, he probably thought I’d finally lost my mind as I ran out of the room and down the hall with a ridiculous grin on my face to put the box back together and the tear safely inside.
See? Mama really does know what’s going on.