Thursday, August 14, 2014


The other day I found my box of letters from high school and college. The pink and purple floral chest lives in our attic now, in a larger box full of framed pictures of people no longer in my day-to-day routine. I can't bear to take them from their frames, but they'd feel false in our house. Anachronistic, maybe. They're pictures from a time before I could sit down to my computer and see almost anyone in my life, past or present. I used to display those frames around my bedroom as a confirmation (to myself?) that that people liked me: my analog friends list.

Tonight I took that box of notes down. For some reason--avoidance of real work, I suppose--I thought it would be good to read them.

I unfolded familiar scraps of binder paper and tensed up. Because I didn't just save the positive things. Oh no. I saved notes that hurt me, too. I printed out emails that made my ears burn for who I was and how I acted when I didn't know any better. Added them to the box. I read them now and cringe for what that felt like to read them then. The words evoke muscle memory very quickly. I don't know why I'd keep letters cataloging my defects, notes that chastised me for being too much one thing or another. Teenage obsession with depth of feeling? (Have I outgrown this? My desire to take the box out tonight so I could feel in any direction says no.) I've always collected words, even the rough ones. So I could study them. And myself. Pair up the two for analysis. I've always been awed by the ability we have to make each other feel by marking things down. Maybe that was why I needed such truth in archiving.

I couldn't read for long, though. I was looking for a note from a particular time period, but those few minutes of reading curled my body into an uncomfortable posture on the couch. My shoulders crept up, I slid down into the cushion, and I wrapped into my own knees. Without thinking, I lapsed into the physicality of that high school girl who smiled and curtsied when she was supposed to, who deferred to anyone who criticized her, and who felt like a failure most of the time.

It's better, with them put away. The letters. I don't want to toss them, but I don't want to remind myself of how awkward I felt. Of how little I knew about how to approach the world, and how little I was able to do anything about it. That's the same reason I'm glad now that social media didn't exist when I was a teen. Not because I don't love it now for what it can do, but because having the record now would be too much. Too human. Beyond us humans.

Feelings are embarrassing.

In the attic, in the box next to mine are all the cards I wrote to Eric when he was 300 miles away for our freshman year of college. Three years before we got married. One of my most miserable years of life (in that way that teenage things feel miserable before life calibrates you), as I was painfully reminded in a recent conversation with K. I put my box back and glanced at the envelopes I'd carefully addressed to Eric, but didn't open any of them. If reading other people's words sent me back into myself, reading my own was out of the question.

I struggle with this, sometimes: how to reconcile the fact that writing, feeling, and creating are so messy and vulnerable. Imperfect and revealing. Beautiful, when they're done well, but scary too. Each sentence I put down on the page is potential embarrassment, a reminder of how fallible I was back when. We're too human, there on the page. Writing takes our feelings out of the safe container. I think most people would say they're thankful to forget.

Would you believe this was going to be a post about the first day of school? I'll save that, but I'll say that I had feelings today. Vulnerable, imperfect, high-potential-for-embarrassment feelings. Not just about starting my 13th year in the classroom (how, already?) but about having a daughter who is old enough to go to junior high. About my marriage, which keeps happening even when I need to do the Mrs. P Show, and which will never (it appears) be anything other than messy and necessitating late night strife.

I use that option on Facebook all the time: I don't want to see this. Abused dogs. Bleeding children. Mean things people say about others who don't share their beliefs. Hide, hide, hide. I hide more than I like. We all do, right?

I realized after I put the box back in the attic that I did it again. I don't want to see this. Even when I know we all carry that box around inside of us, too.

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