Some of us, I believe, are the librarians of the world. Some people keep keepsakes and gather photo albums, documenting the history of their family, past and present. They have birth, marriage, and obituary notices carefully placed behind acid-free plastic for anyone who wishes to thumb through. They know all the dates of importance, for relatives and their relatives’ relatives… they will regurgitate stories and entertain—even bore—their audiences with family histories and mementos.
I am not one of them.
Eventually I throw away all my “let’s be best friends forever” notes, letters from my brother during his time on the Teddy Roosevelt, health records of now departed animal companions, old bank statements, and baby blankets. It isn’t that I’m not sentimental—by no means, tears roll down my face the whole time, which is why I can only do it every five years or so—but it is how I keep myself free.
I’d like to blame this on my youth, remembering how as early as the precious age of five I learned of life and death on our homesteaded ranch, seeing some animals brought into the world and others taken violently by raccoons and pumas. We had no running water or indoor plumbing at that time, for a while until we finished building our first house. And in that time we often spent multiple days a week at one river or another, where I learned of danger too. One of our young friends dove under a small waterfall yet got caught under the pounding current. He almost drowned and never came out with us again. We had our own share of accidents, two involving a raft, one in a place where someone else died the following week at that exact spot, and another near miss when my brother had a weight belt on that he couldn’t unbuckle while he was stuck underwater, rolling down the bottom of a fast-moving river. I don’t know how he didn’t pass out before it finally came undone.
I don’t know how I didn’t receive enormous brain damage when on any one of three occasions I could have been crippled or died. One was falling off a single story roof while playing with my younger brother, and being left behind for faking sleep for a few hours, another was falling out of a parked truck onto my back, passing out yet again when nobody was there, and a third was having the claw end of a hammer find my skull as it fell from two stories up.
When I was about six, on one of our family outings (this one required two station wagons, there were so many relatives) we stopped at a beach in central California, which was actually near Candlestick Park, S.F. to gaze at the sea and collect a few shells. I come back from around a bush – lo and behold, both cars were gone and they didn’t even realize I wasn’t there. I went running out into the highway, cars buzzing by, until a man stopped in a van to ask me what was wrong. He had a boy with him, about 10 or so, and a German shepherd dog. He told me to climb in; he would take me someplace safe. He happened to be telling the truth, and dropped me off with the San Fran police. I’ll never forget the officer sitting me in the chair, tossing me a newspaper, and telling me to “read the funnies, kid.” The front of the paper was a headline about a girl getting raped and killed. Yeah. Real funny.
Yes, my parents eventually realized I was missing, turned around and broke several world speed records getting back to the park - namely, Fastest El Torino in a Four Lane Median, and Most Trash Kicked Up by a
My reward for being found? Stopping at a roadside vegetable patch and picking all the snap-peas I could eat. I still love fresh, raw pea pods. Guess I did what psychologists call “anchoring” that glorious moment of reunification. It could be worse; I could have anchored to the greatest hits of KC and the Sunshine Band. I personally like the peas.
A couple of my uncles were in
So I guess all this impressed on me the impermanence of all things. Maybe I had forgotten these lessons, and that’s why I had to go through them again, in concentrated form, last year. And with my most recent, and happy, move to a new apartment, I once again find myself cleaning out the cobwebs. To me, the more things I have around me, the more I am separated into little bits. While I have always loved homes, and I’m talking ‘we’ve lived here forever and provided shelter to family and friends’ homes, with the right amount of pictures on the wall and knick knacks in the bathroom, they have always been a refuge, never a goal. If I am not changing, I don’t see myself growing; if I’m not growing, I must be dead already. I love going through memories, but in my particular life, there are just so many that I would spend all my time reliving things that I would never have done if I had been at home thinking about things I’d already done… falling forward off my horse and somersaulting down her neck; skiing down a flight of stairs on a cruise ship on the backs of my four inch spike heels; wandering through Monterey Peninsula fog for hours; seeing a wolf eel while diving off the California coast; climbing to the top of a three-story pine tree; driving a free-upgraded convertible Sebring because they ran out of Ford Foci.
OK, so I still have my First Dollar of Profit, signed by the patron of my art, and the subsequent - and sequential - three dollars she gave me for materials... but I would simply need multiple apartments if I kept all of these things. I might become wistful, stopping long enough to contemplate their physical existence, if I weren’t so busy with my own.