That housecleaning project I started over my birthday – I finished it, and then I decided that if I was going to clean the parts of my house that I could see (my literal house this time), then what better time to clean the parts of the house that most people did not see? When I moved into my apartment here, I brought with me four bedrooms worth of “stuff”… most of it stuff I haven’t looked at since I got here. And so I made a new rule – if it was a box I hadn’t opened since I got to Florida, I was going to toss it, and its contents, without looking in it. Obviously if I hadn’t looked in it since I moved here, I didn’t need it, right?
When I told my mother this, she expressed her opinion that not at least “looking” might be a mistake – what if I threw away something I’d regret throwing away? I laughed at her, and purged my bathroom in such a way that if I had been trying to keep something in those boxes (I knew they were mostly expired cosmetics), I’d be out of luck. I wanted this project done… and there is something cleansing about throwing away junk I don’t use. And then I moved on to the closet in my bedroom – tossing things I didn’t need, reorganizing boxes, relocating Satine’s litter box and filling that empty space with the extra boxes that had been littering the corner of my dining area for over two years.
I decided that while I was at it, I’d do the hall closet – half of which is occupied by the furnace and water heater, the other half cluttered with cleaning supplies and, you guessed it, more boxes. I started by pulling out the boxes first. I hadn’t touched them since I got here. Two I kept – they had bathroom décor in them from the three bathrooms I’d had in Indiana. I don’t have three bathrooms now. But I liked this stuff, perhaps I’d have more than one bathroom eventually (if not, I am convinced thatI will have failed as a human being). That stuff stayed. Two other boxes were prepped to go. And then, hearing my mother’s words in my head, I decided it might be worth it just to look in there.
After all, I am no stranger to mistakable purging. Last year, when writing my books, I was searching high and low for some materials from my past to use as a supplement to what I was writing. I knew I’d kept them – old letters, school notes, a journal, particularly, that I’d shared with an ex-boyfriend of mine as we tried to work through a high school long distance relationship. There would be good stuff in there. I remembered seeing it in the house as I was packing up my things but for the life of me, I could not remember whether it had ended up victimized to the purging I was doing or if I’d packed it in a box. Having not found it when searching everywhere for it last year, I was assumed I’d destroyed it, and I was so mad at myself.
And then, yesterday, in that box, toward the middle, hidden underneath a windsock that my ex mother-in-law had given me, was a manila envelope. And the journal, still in the same condition it had been when we stopped writing in it. I won’t lie. I squealed a little. In those pages lies the biggest part of the second half of my senior year of high school. In that envelope hides letters from old lovers, prom photos, winter formal dance pictures, birthday and Christmas photos from 1999 and 2000 with boyfriends – ones that existed before I began doling out nicknames to all the exes as they progressed in succession. I found all of those things, and even birthday cards from my nineteenth and twenty-first birthdays – cards from a person I was not even supposed to be talking to, who I’d gone to so much effort to keep in contact with.
I spent the larger part of that day reading through all of these archives – the “contraband” as I call all of those things from those days – things that survived the purges of pissed off adolescence, purges that survived my marriage, purges that surprisingly survived the move. Memories flooded back the way that they haven’t in a long, long time… I was taken back to a place where life wasn’t so complicated – though it certainly seemed complicated at the time. Was I happier? I can’t say that for sure – things were different then.
What I discovered in the midst of all of that discovery, and what I marveled at most of all, were the undertones of those letters. There I was, eighteen years old, still in high school, just graduating, at camp, and finally leaving for college. I didn’t have all the answers then – I knew and readily admitted in these entries that I didn’t have all the answers. I was still questioning where I stood on religion, where I stood on my morality. But in the grand scheme of things, my philosophies on life, my philosophies on love – twelve years later, those are still the same.
I wrote these entries in the same handwriting that I have now (perhaps a little less messy – I had not yet gone to college and was not yet frantically trying to take notes from rapidly lecturing professors). My outlook on life, probably thanks to what I went through in 1997, is, for someone that young, very developed. I’d held the world on my shoulders at that point for four years. I had learned a lot, I had grown up because I was forced to grow up. I’d dealt with very grown up issues, and while maybe I would have dealt with them differently as an adult, I was (and am) satisfied that I did everything that I could and maximized the resources that I had.
I do not want these boyfriends back – I do not love them anymore. But their words, all echo through these letters: “Thank you for the sacrifices you make for me every day.” “Thank you for coming into my life.” “Thank you for doing the things you had to do to make it possible for us to do this.” “Your selflessness blows me away sometimes.” “…even though you weren’t that interested in what was going on, you hardly complained.” And these words reflect the things that I have always tried to be: unselfish, dedicated, loyal, thoughtful. It was what I wanted in another person then, it is what I want in another person now. My philosophy is and was to never ask for more than what you are planning to give in return. I have carried this with me since 1997, at least, when I began to figure out who I was, and I apply this to my relationships, romantic and otherwise. It has worked for me – not always in that I get out what I put in. Largely, I do not. But that when it all crashes down around my ears, I know that I did everything I could and I gave everything I had.
I wonder, especially recently, if it’s been enough. It seems like the older I get, the more relationships I get into, it is recognized less and less – or what I have to give is not ultimately enough and they continue to ask for more out of me. And yet I still give, and I give, and I give. Because that’s what feels right. And because, ultimately, it is what I think makes a relationship successful – you go into it not asking yourself, “What can I get out of this.” Rather, you ask yourself, “What can I give to someone else?” If two people are asking the same question, then it works – the investment you make is given back, with interest. My philosophy remains unchanged – I don’t get into relationships trying to get something out of them. I still give everything that I have – to the point that I stretch myself thin, too thin, and I begin to wonder how much more elastic I have in me before I snap and break.
I guess, in the long run, I needed to find these things. I needed to re-read this stuff, not just to supplement the plot of my books, but to reaffirm my belief that I haven’t really changed that much. The optimism I have now is the same as the optimism I had twelve, thirteen, fourteen years ago. I needed to remember that, once upon a time, I was doing these things. I knew what made relationships work and I put everything I had into them, the same way that I give everything now. I didn’t have as much to give then, but comparatively, it’s not really so much the amount that you give in this case, but the overall ratio of what you give versus what you can afford to give. I can’t lie and say I’m not jaded, though I try desperately not to let it show. I am jaded. I have spent the last fifteen years putting everything on the line for the people that I care about the most, risking everything at times, giving everything at others, ending always with the same result – empty handed with a few more good stories to tell. Someone once said the proof of insanity is that a person keeps repeating the same mistake over and over, hoping for a different result. Maybe I am insane. I very possibly may be. But on the other hand, if it is insanity to treat someone else the way that I myself would like to be treated, then I don’t think I want to be sane.
Recently, I met someone; someone who stood out, who grabbed my attention, who I could not get out of my thoughts. And after giving it much consideration, a characteristic thing for me to do, I decided to let myself fall for him. I decided to embark on another journey. And, at least for the moment, this journey may be the hardest of any that I have undertaken in the past – the challenges here are great, the physical distance between us is massive for the moment. And this is unlike anything I have ever tried before – but maybe that’s what I need: a change, to distance myself from the ordinary and try something new. I believe firmly that all of the experiences we have had in our past prepare us for our future. I am strong. I can handle a lot. And I believe that the overall gains to be had from this journey will more than compensate for the initial bumpy road of waiting for this distance to close – this is a bumpy road that is out of either of our control. (See? Optimism again.) Maybe this is a brick wall that I keep throwing myself into. I don’t know. But if I keep running into the brick wall, then eventually it has to give, right?