Making Space & Letting Go

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I am a memory hoarder.  I keep scraps from events and significant moments and store them away in large clear under-the-bed storage bins.  Typically, upon moving back or moving out I go through these memories and relive the feelings or remind myself of things far off in the past.

Due to this, I have also kept an obscene amount of items from past relationships.  Each relationship filled a box donning a boy's name in thick black ink.  Tickets from movie dates, birthday cards, even a cup from Starbucks commemorating the night I met a boy eleven years ago this spring (I got water, so it was a plastic cup and I'm not that creepy).

In December, I was cleaning my room and "the box" glared at from me underneath my bed.  Since moving home, I purposely avoided this particular box.  One of my past boyfriends requested I go through it and review the items.  He's writing a book and wanted me to go through old journals and the box to bring up any old memories.  He wanted me to deliver him the truth, the honest bare truth.  So, I kicked the box further under my bed because I knew what I would find inside of it.

The box was a gift I created for this past boyfriend at the end of our first year of college.  Only dating a few months, I filled it with items to remind us of our tragic romance (it seemed to be at the time) and keep us together over the long summer months apart.  Upon our breakup months later, he returned the box with his own additions, effectively cleansing himself of our relationship.  I, on the other hand, shoved the box on the top of my closet shelf where it remained for some years until I perused through it a couple of years back and placed it underneath my bed where it remained until this day.

So, why did I hold on to so much?

If I died tomorrow, the quote people would most remember me by is probably "I don't want to get married." My second most famous quote would be "I don't want to have children." So it will come as quite of a shock to openly admit that most of my relationship hoarding is because I've always had this image of sitting down with a future-non-existent daughter and going through these boxes filled with letters, trinkets, and faded photographs.  She would ask me questions and I would explain to her what I learned from each of them and how I felt.  In this hypothetical situation, I'm hoping to teach her how to avoid some of the mistakes I've made or to at least better understand her own mistakes.

This day, though, I ran my fingers over the box cluttered with pictures and words torn from magazines representing our relationship taped together to completely cover the former frozen pizza logos.  I didn't want to open the box.  I was sick of lying to myself to feel better about the girl who lived these moments condensed into scraps of paper and stuck into boxes hidden underneath her bed.  That girl was a miserable, horrible girlfriend.  She belittled her boyfriends and made them feel small and did everything she could to get them to end the relationship with her.  They never did.  Holding onto these moments was an attempt to justify why I had stayed so long.  They were false signals to deter me, make me believe I had been happy once, but I wasn't.  I always wanted to leave; instead, I stayed.

I opened the box and just stared inside.  I didn't smile looking at those things.  Instead, I wanted to rip the face of the Jen smiling back in those pictures into little shreds.  I hated her.  I hated her for her inability to voice her frustrations.  I hated her for not leaving because she was terrified she was hurting someone else.  She hurt them anyway, and she hurt herself.  I hated her for hurting me.

I dumped the box onto the carpet.  I quickly sifted through the notes and pictures without lingering, taking one last glance at this past.  I tore at the slivers of tape fraying at the ends of the box.  Surprisingly, the pictures peeled off without much struggle.  The layers remained largely intact and stretched to their full length on my carpet.  I flattened the box out and collected the layers, placing them in a trash bag.  I tossed the box in the recycle bin and as the lid slammed shut, I didn't want to stop.

The contents of three more boxes representing other relationships and a "date" box were efficiently gone through.  I tossed rotted flowers from prom, letters (but, admittedly, not the ones from this guy), and programs from musicals.  The lessons of these memories were stamped upon my heart, reminding me what their physical manifestations could not: I didn't love these boys.

My mom questioned the amount of stuffed animals (I hate stuffed animals as a present, I'm not six) and bags of trash scattered throughout the hallway.  "I'm throwing things out from underneath my bed.  It's prime real estate," I joked.  But it wasn't a joke, not really.  The space under my bed was also metaphorically space in my head and heart that was littered with my past failings.  They were keeping me from moving forward and making new memories.

I know what I would tell my daughter as we go through the very limited number of items now left: "I don't know why I didn't love these boys and I don't know why I felt I had to love these boys, but I thought I owed it to them to stick it out.  Never stick it out.  If there is something in your gut that tells you to go, go.  I never ran when I should have because I didn't believe I'd meet someone I wouldn't want to run from.  Then I met your father and all of that changed."

At least, it's nice to hope so...but of course, if there is no future daughter or future father of said daughter, it won't be because I wasted my time.  I will never again fight the feeling to flee.  Wanting to leave is enough of a reason to go.

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