I spent a good portion of last weekend cleaning my house. It needed to be done, and it always feels great having order restored, however temporary that order may be. But, when I found myself house-bound with a sick child both Monday and Tuesday, I was sort of at a loss for what to do. I could have folded the three loads of laundry that are sitting in a basket on my couch, but for whatever reason, I just can’t quite bring myself to deal with that. I did my normal avoidance routine, consisting of screwing around online, and binge watching yet another show (Mom this time, on Hulu- if you haven’t watched it, check it out. It’s pretty hilarious.). Eventually, though, I had to do something else, something productive, and I knew it was time. Time to deal with The Closet.
The Closet is in the hall, four doors, two on the bottom, two on the top, and I have been avoiding it for three years. Well, three years in March. That’s when I moved into this house, and that’s when I shoved The Closet full of bags and boxes of paperwork and keepsakes and God only knows what else, and left it to rot. I was still getting loaded when I moved into this place, and to be honest, I’ve been a little afraid of what I might find if I went poking around in there.
But on Monday, I put my big girl pants on and started digging- one bag and box at a time. There was a lot of junk, sure…things I should have thrown out eons ago. Printer cartridges for printers I don’t own anymore, file folders full of bills that no longer exist, insurance information for cars I no longer own. I filled up my recycle bin in the space of a few hours. I didn’t find anything to be ashamed of, though, and certainly nothing that put my recovery in danger. So that was a relief.
And then…and then I found some other stuff. I’ve kept boxes for each of my children- those fancy, pretty banker boxes- not the plain brown kind, but the ones you can buy at Marshall’s or Target with the beautiful designs on them? I’ve kept them for my kids and for myself for quite some time. I never really thought about how long I’ve kept them, and I don’t know if I’ve every thoroughly, soberly, gone through them since I started, but…I’m really glad I did.
Although I am working hard on my opinion of myself as a mother today, in the present, my opinion of the kind of mother I have been in the past has become rather concrete. I was a horrible mother, I decided, with no redeemable qualities, and my daughter would have been better off with anyone else. I was heartless and unloving and drug addicted, and I can rarely think of a time when I didn’t suck, heartily, at the task of parenting my eldest child. But her box of mementos tells a different story. I have every art project, every note to Santa and the Tooth Fairy, every report card and hand-made note she ever made for me- so many that I might need a bigger box. This “horrible mother” wrote things my daughter said to me on sticky notes and kept them, all these years. There are pictures of us that I had forgotten about, and we are laughing and playing, and clinging onto one another with love. My mind, my awful, lying mind told me a story and I believed it, and I have carried it around with me for all these years, without question. The things in this box tells me that maybe there is more to that story, more that I need to remember.
In my own box, I found cards and letters- real, hand written letters- from people whom I love, and who love ME. Letters from my best friend Grace, and letters and cards from my grandparents and mom, and a whole bunch of letters from Joe, my friend who died in August. You can’t imagine, you really can’t begin to imagine, how much that meant to me. Reading through all of those words from people who cared so much about me, not just when I was clean, but throughout the worst parts of my life, reminded me that I still had value, I was still worth so much, even when I believed myself to be worthless. I may not have been well, but I was loved, and I was worth something to all these people.
It blows my mind that living the crazy, chaotic life that I lived for so long, having lost nearly everything I owned on more occasions than I can remember, I managed to save these amazing items. I lost households of furniture and closets of clothes, but I have the discharge papers from my daughter’s birth in 1997, and all the cards from the people who visited me at the hospital. I lost everything, except the most important things of all- the slips of paper, the glossy cards, the letters that could fill in for me the memories I lost along the way. The story of a girl who wasn’t all dark, who always had a little light, a little more worth, than I could have remembered on my own.
The Closet is nearly done now- just one more shelf to go, and it will be neat as a pin. I put those boxes away after shedding a few tears, and I sat down on the couch full of wonder and feeling so much lighter. I am not exactly who I thought I was, and for once, I was so glad to be wrong…and anytime I start to forget, or start listening to the lying voice in my head, I know I can just pull one of those boxes down out of that closet, and find all the evidence I need that I’m not all bad. That there was something worth saving in me all along.