After the holidays, cleaning my office is like an archeological dig. My attempts at organization are evident in research files for two novels, but they’re not just in one place. Then, there’s the financial stuff that I couldn’t make my mind up about, the old payroll receipts from my previous career, and certain emails which I print and treat as a diary, labeling them by year. I have every intention of rereading them at some point in the future. There are also letters and cards from friends with description worth keeping because I mentally and emotionally chart their lives alongside mine. My sons made holiday cards for me when they were in grade school. I especially love the Valentine’s Day ones, back when I was their only sweetheart.
Photographs are everywhere interlaced between folders like the special sediment created in a volcanic blast. What seismic event rained down the array of photos that seem to crop up everywhere? My children’s pictures span their lifetime - holding a soccer ball, a violin, sulking in front of the camera. My plan has always been to organize everything into scrapbooks when I retire, in those hazy, long-into-the-future days when I have nothing new to do but consider the past. But how can you look at a photograph, especially one with you in it, without a nostalgic backward glance?
Take the Christmas photo when our son was four. He was the first grandson so my in-laws went nuts with the presents. Eric is in a frenzy over his loot, and is stretched out full length on top of his hoard reaching into the recesses under the tree for more. His brother, 4 months, is in the stroller looking like a chubby replica of his brother at the same age. My husband is behind the $ 800 video camera we gave to each other. His mouth is curved in speech because he’s narrating the present for the future. What a clever man I married.
There I am, holding court over the proceedings, a young self-conscious mother. I look uncomfortable and avoid the camera while still holding my head erect, acting like I’m royally pissed about something. My diffidence disguises shyness, my sharpness masquerading as matriarchy. No smiles from me. Not like now.
I look at myself, and think that I was beautiful, and that all my bravado hid a deep well of fear. Did I find joy in myself? I think not. Those were days of stress, and overwork, and pervasive loneliness.
My sons are grown and come to visit on the holidays, sometimes with lovers in tow. Even with an empty nest, I’ve learned to cherish my aloneness. I think it’s because I’m not so fearful of making mistakes with my children. No fear, but I do remember my insecurity.
Now is better than then, but then is still in my now.
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