When helping your parents clean out their attic, it helps if you approach the task as a recovery mission. You aren’t discarding, you’re salvaging. I know this from experience. I did it three weeks ago.
We found the normal things—Christmas decorations long forgotten, toys long neglected, and several items of which no one can remember using, much less purchasing. We found not-so-normal things as well. Like the box of notebooks.
You could say I caught the writing bug early; I was filling notebooks before I understood what words were, drawing pictures of the sun and trees and describing them with an jumble of mismatched and incoherent letters. These, sadly, were not in the box.
The high school stuff was.
Lyrics mostly, as if the words to Skid Row’s “18 and Life” and Cinderella’s “Coming Home” were so moving, so utterly profound, that they warranted preservation for the ages.
There were thoughts as well. Plenty of them, all sopping with the angst and shallowness that define the teenage years. Some were laughable in their naivety—“The suddenness of life is a guarantee the soul is eternal.” Others, to my surprise, weren’t so bad at all—“We have lost much of the language of religion, but little of our longing for a faith in something larger than ourselves.”
Memories, all. Not the false ones either, the ones that are saccharine in the remembering. These were more a mixture of sweet and salty, proof that my recollections were true. Regardless, the decision of whether the box was to be discarded or salvaged was an easy one.
It all went to the junk pile save for a single sheet of paper torn from the notebook on top. The last page, as a matter of fact. Written two days before I graduated.
It was a letter. Not to the me I was then, but to the me I am now.
“I don’t know who you are (hard to do that, especially since it’s tough enough knowing who I am). I don’t know what you’re doing, either. But I can make the sort of guess with both that people do when they see a falling star or a discarded eyelash, the sort of guess that has a wish at the end. So I’m guessing you’ve made it. I’m guessing you’re rich and famous and happy, and I’m guessing you’re far away. And I figure as long as I guess and wish those things, I’m going to be okay. Because that means I’ll eventually be you.”
I remembered writing that. It was late at night. I was outside, scribbling in my notebook while watching the stars and sneaking a Marlboro red. I remembered how I felt then—sweet and salty, so it must be true—knowing that part of my life was about to fall away and another was ready to begin.
I was afraid. Afraid of the world and my place in it. And in that fear I wrote that night with a sense of purity and honesty that even now I try to capture each time I reach for pen and paper.
I wrote those words in secrecy, and now, all these years later, I snatched them away in secrecy as well. No one saw me stash that letter into my pocket. I’ve kept it since on the top of my office desk, there and not there, like a sickness hidden from a doctor for fear it is a symptom of something more serious.
“So I’m guessing you’ve made it. I’m guessing you’re rich and famous and happy, and I’m guessing you’re far away. And I figure as long as I guess and wish those things, I’m going to be okay. Because that means I’ll eventually be you.”
I couldn’t let those four sentences go. They weren’t supposed to be disposed. They were supposed to be salvaged. I needed to answer myself.
Today is my birthday. I suppose by some sort of twisted logic, that’s why I waited until now to send a note of my own back in time. After all, birthdays are much like graduations. They are a falling away and a beginning.
So on my porch this morning in front of the mountains and the birds and the rising sun, I wrote this:
“I’m not rich. I’m not famous. And though twenty-one years separate us in time, only five miles separate us in distance. But I’ve found things greater than those, and I’ve become happy in the finding. Because the things you search for as a child are not the things you stumble upon as an adult, and thank God for that.”