I have always kept a shoebox full of junk. There are small trinkets of things I can’t let go of. Old pairs of sunglasses, buttons with funny sayings on them, comment cards given to me from former guests I had the pleasure of serving, old notes passed between friends in middle school. I keep my box underneath my bed. I very rarely pull it out and look through these items and I’m only reminded of their presence when I’m searching for a missing sock or earring and pull up the bed skirt and see that it’s still tucked away, between old books and picture frames.
They are memories from different times and places that I like to be reminded of from time to time. Like a certain scent that reminds you of your grandmother’s house in the summertime or a song that reminds you of the day you got your first car and you drove around town with the windows down and the radio up.
About a month ago, out of the blue, mid conversation about something unimportant Chris says to me: “How long are you planning on keeping those letters that you have under your bed?” I know exactly what letters he’s talking about. I was taken aback by the fact that he even knows I have letters under my bed and I felt a bit disappointed in him for going through my things. He told me he saw them when we we’re fixing the box spring last fall. He said he took note of the name scribbled on the top of the envelopes. I said: “I don’t know, I never thought about it before. But I’ve never had any plans to dispose of them.”
The letters are from my ex boyfriend from when he was in jail in 2006. There are probably two-dozen or so. I’ve never re-read them since that time; I just keep them in my junk box. I would say for no reason but I’m sure there are numerous deep in my subconscious for why I haven’t disposed of them yet.
Last night I was laying in bed, thinking about these old pins that I have kept since high school. They too are in my box of junk. I crawled down onto the floor and dug around for the box beneath my bed. I pulled it out and placed it on my lap. As soon as I lifted the top of the box the letters popped out at me. I hadn’t forgotten that they were there; I just never have any desire to look through them again. I haven’t even opened the box since I moved into this apartment over a year ago. Although, last night, for the first time in eight years, I picked the first letter off the pile and opened it.
The glue had resealed the letter so it was like opening it for the first time. I felt like I was doing something very wrong. Like I was sneakily listening in on someone else’s conversation. I felt really dirty and then, as I read, I felt really sad. Sad for so many different reasons. The letter took me back to the reason I got the letters in the first place, where I was living, the color of my sheets on the bed where I sat when I first read them, the old beat up Nissan Sentra I drove, the College Algebra course I was taking at the time. It was winter, February 2006.
It was the year that I decided to stay in a relationship that intricately stripped back the layers of who I was and left me with nothing but a broken heart and a shattered spirit. I have never cried more or felt more stress, anxiety and loneliness than that period of my life. I was with him for about a year and a half before he picked up and moved to Asheville. I soon followed him to the mountains upon my graduation from college in 2008. But our first year together in 2006 was a turbulent one.
Over the course of our relationship, I ruined friendships and built a very thick wall between my family and myself. I did all but listen to their plea to get my act together and ultimately I chose a path for myself that forced me to learn lessons you never want someone you love to have to learn. Because of my decisions, I am now versed in desperate love, devastating loss and unending defeat. I now know that If you give someone else power over you, they can use that power to break you down and manipulate you into doing things that riddle you with crippling sadness, shame and regret for a very long time to come.
I was so young at the time; ripe for the picking, craving for the skin to be broken. Before I met him I thought that I was a good, strong, smart, funny, attractive person and I was exactly what he needed to get clean and sober and on the right track. In the end, my unconditional, obsessive love for him allowed him to take advantage of me. He allowed me to believe that I had no self-worth and it’s taken me almost 7 years now to realize, once again…I am amazing, smart, beautiful, and most of all, loved.
So, as I read the letter I wondered why I was still holding on to the stack of sad memories. Now that I’ve read only one, I realize that they don’t bring up any happy times for me. I’m reminded of who I used to be. I feel so sorry for that girl. She was so pathetically in love and oblivious. Blinded by desire for a change in someone. Needy.
I also felt like I was hurting Chris’s feelings. That in some way I was betraying him by reminding myself of all those old feelings and how I used to be in love with someone who belittled and stunted me for a period of time. I do not talk about that life or my experiences with Chris. I cannot explain to him the decisions I made and the people I chose to surround myself with. It does not translate to the life I have now. I am so infinitely distant from that girl. I understand her but I cannot make him understand her.
I do think that I am a better person because of everything I went through then. I do still speak to him from time to time and I’m actually quite proud of the man he has become. He has grown up too and from what I can tell from our brief conversations, he is in a good place. He has become a happy and healthy individual, or at least that is what I picture in my head. That is what I hope for him. I have no hard feelings. We were both young, naive kids from two separate worlds. I honestly believe, despite how much hurt there was, he helped form the woman I am today.
So, maybe it’s okay that I’ve held onto the letters. I put them back in the box and pushed it back under my bed. I didn’t read any more than the first letter on the stack. I don’t feel like I needed to. Maybe sometime I’ll come around to throwing them out. But, I’m not ready to let them go. I’m not sure why but the idea of chucking them in the trash gives me an unpleasant feeling. For now I will keep them tucked away in my junk box under the bed between the old books and the picture frames.