My ex always used to say that I spent much of my energy in life looking back, while he spent much of his looking forward. I wouldn’t argue with that. I am, fundamentally, a sentimental person. And with the recent death of dear Von Freeman, something deep within my melancholic nature has been stirred. I’m made keenly aware of time’s passing. Elihu is no longer a very young boy, my father is now a very old man, and my hair is run through with silver. I’ve been here in New York now four years to this month. Time enough to have graduated from high school or from college. I’ve completed a four year term of life, and now, before I embark on the post-graduate study of life to come, I need to assess and file away what I’ve learned and accumulated thus far.
Over the past year I’ve been working at sorting through all of my household stuff, so that I might know the contents of my house – of my life – down to every last one of my mementos, recordings, art, writing and possessions (and the same of my son’s). Now I have reached the final – and most challenging – phase of the project: my office. Going through this archive of my life is an emotionally charged job. In some way it seems I’m bearing witness to all I’ve done and created thus far that I might now lay it to rest and begin the next chapter of my life’s work with renewed enthusiasm. When this room is finished, when the evidence has been considered and put away, it will create a good, clean emotional place from which to go forward into the adventure. But with all the retrospection going on today and all the poignant discoveries, for the moment I’m feeling a little sad, a little hesitant to say goodbye. A little stuck.
In this room is the fountainhead of all the things I’ve ever created and saved: work from grade school, papers from college, art, recordings, photos, writing, old programs from early in my dad’s career, ticket stubs, backstage passes, bits and pieces from every corner of my forty-nine years on the planet. What to do with it all? My goal, as I sit right now in the midst of a room full of paper, is to create systems. Binders will house the finest pieces of art, file boxes for the rest. Much has already been burned, much more is yet to be. Items – things – the stuff I really have no room for, it will be thinned to a manageable amount – put into a clear plastic box (for if it can’t be seen, it can easily be forgotten) and then onto a shelf. When will they lose their meaning? Will I end up tossing them or will that fall to Elihu after I’m dead? I am stopped by the quandary of stuff. What have my peers, my friends, my readers done with the sentimental things from their lives? I wish I knew. I’ve culled the best I can, I must simply store the rest that I can’t say goodbye to. I’m not good at taking my own advice. These things are not the person, not their love, not the memory, I know, I know… Yet I can’t throw out the postcards from my grandmother, nor the clay figure I made in second grade… I’m in a sentimental fog, and I’m trying to clear my head.
My load has lightened, it has, yet there’s still so much crap. Driving down the road today, I saw an open garage whose wall was covered in boxes. Likely the boxes that never got unpacked after that last move. I personally know plenty of folks with that story. So what then? And what, exactly, is actually in those boxes? Me, I’m finding mostly art in my boxes, some letters and lots of musical programs. I find a box of tax docs from our old Cafe and realize I can toss em now. That helps. Physically it gives me some room. Psychologically it frees me up. Ok. Progress is slow, but it’s there. One box down is one box down.
Then I come upon some photos of my last recording session. It was with Von. Wow. I look so much younger. And thinner. I remember – I was newly pregnant then. What a good time that was. It reminds me, and I’m happy to find these. I’d forgotten all about that session, I’m so grateful to have these pictures. I remember Von had said he thought he sounded like Ben Webster on the ballad… yeah, I remember that. I still have that recording. It gets me thinking. Maybe I should release it. Don’t know, but it’s something to think about. It’s a possibility.
Everything is a possibility right now. In a way it feels like I’m about to emerge – in earnest – from my old life. While reading my old letters to Fareed still brings tears, and while it’s still not easy to understand that Elihu has two brothers and a sister I don’t even know, things are better these days than they were in the beginning. Things are settling into their own new pattern. No longer is my story new and fresh. The hurt is there, but truly, it has dulled with time. I’ve come to realize that I love living alone, that Elihu and I have great adventures together, and that yes, two people can constitute a family. I’ve examined my life, and now I’m examining my possessions; taking a full-life inventory. I’ve moved through a phase of aging, of growing, of learning these past four years. I’m ready to move into my future.
Ever onward, yet ever mindful of the past. Nostalgic yes, but eager to create new memories. I think I still have a little space for a few more boxes….