The Things We Keep

For an English class we were once asked to choose three objects and write short paragraphs about their meaning. I wrote of a pink crochet baby dress made for me, how it won a prize at the county fair, how I placed it gently over the tender heads of my own girls. How it sits in a shirt box, folded neatly. Waiting for something.

I endeavoured to clean out our large, oddly shaped closet the other day. I took all the clothing down and sorted through, and filled a bag to give away. But it’s struck me in the days since, just what that closet contains. There’s a laundry basket that could easily be pressed into service as, well, a laundry basket, but it holds folded clothes that come up from the laundry and no longer fit anyone. Maybe it’s a shirt Kaia has been wearing and she’s suddenly experienced an overnight growth spurt, or a dress of Ave’s that I noticed was too short last Sunday. There is music for marching band, still in its neat little holder, photocopied pages of a Sousa March from 1997, carefully preserved. A tin with a white porcelain bull dog with a chipped ear, remnant of a beloved doll house I played with while recovering from surgery, while the sun and leaves painted strange patterns on my bedroom ceiling and neighborhood children crashed around outside without me.

My wedding veil sits loose, on the top shelf, on top of yet another box containing “crochet, afgans, memories”. A black linen dress I bought on a whim years ago that no longer fits, though I hold out hope that one day it will again. A misshapen, cut off pair of yoga pants I wore while I carried our children, with paint on them from painting a dresser while I waited to meet Kaia, a mossy green for a fairy baby, a changeling. A caricature of the strawberrypointe girls.

A box of comment cards and funny cards and business cards from work. Two long sleeve tee shirts I don’t wear anymore because I’m afraid they can’t stand to be washed again, chosen from a shop steps from the ocean on a visit to California when I was 16. Porcelain dolls that belonged to my grandmother, a black sabbath tee I wore while I nursed Ave, when I lived somewhere else. In a life that now hardly seems possible, like I am so firmly installed here that I can’t have ever left, surely it was a dream.


If, God forbid, there was a fire, some emergency, I’d have to find a way to evacuate that closet. It contains my hopes, dreams dusty and long forgotten, items I keep though I’m not sure why. Aren’t I supposed to live now, here, in the present?

Yet there’s a shirt I wore to my brother’s wedding, a nursing bra (that promises all the, er, not prettiness that the garment name implies), a playbill and script from my first show, rolled up and tucked into the jeweled slippers my character wore. A single pair of shorts worn only the summer I was 19, a heavy, soft long underwear shirt that belonged to my dad. A chewed copy of my favorite novel, courtesy of one white faced, cloudy eyed dog who once was an only child and had energy to spare chewing things, who still greets his family with a twinkle in his eye, softly chuffing, pushing his cold nose into warm hands, no energy to spare anymore.

You read about how you need less, not more, how we have too much stuff. How we fill our days and hours accumulating and not giving. Saving and not spending, hoarding time and money and food into some rainy day account. But these things are proof, a reminder to myself that I have not always been just here, in this chair scratched to hell by an industrious kitten, smelling the lake down the street, hearing the birds talk and sing. I have stood on the edge of the world, dipped my sixteen year old toes into the Pacific, ridden a wooden rollercoaster on a boardwalk at dusk, look, here’s my shirt. I was once a star, holding my audience captive, see, here’s my playbill, my script, see how my high school boyfriend signed it too? I once lined up, in white pants and a heavy hat with a white plume, I strapped this music to my forearm and I sweated and fought my way through a parade route on a sweltering summer morning, playing the same march over and over, feeling the drum cadence echo in my bones, rising up through the street into my shoes; left right, left right.

A journal with letters to a boy I once loved, quotations from my favorite books, I thought if I copied them out the words could go on living inside of me after the story was done. I think it worked.

Like this one from 1996. “He fell in October, 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one could see that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.” (All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque)

Or this one, from 2000. “I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)


All of that long before I needed that nursing bra, before I picked mossy green paint and fought my own girth to paint a masterpiece for a girl child. Before I was a Hager, before, before, beforee. To remind me, because it’s easy to forget, that once I belonged to myself alone. That once I wanted things that no longer seem possible.

To show myself, look, you’re growing, you’re changing. To say, look what you’ve done, lived through, skipped through, danced through, trudged through, wept through. Look at what’s possible.

Decide what can come next.


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