All That We Keep

I have moved from place to place for the past ten years of my life never really knowing the difference between going back and going home. During these unstable years of my adolescence and early adult life I have amassed a collection of oddities that sometimes I regard with a bemused confusion, as to why those few tokens of my past have survived the years and never seen the inside of a bin bag.

There is the stuffed lady bird that I bought from a charity shop in Walton less than twenty four hours before my daughter was born. My sister Lizzie was living in Cyprus at the time and she was one of the only people I wanted on that day, yet she was one of the only people I didn’t have. I saw this lady bird poking out of a basket of teddies and toys that was bathing in the mid spring sunshine of the baking pavement. I picked it up and instantly knew I could not leave it behind. It wasn’t until I climbed back into my mother’s car, thoughts of my impending hospital stay weighing heavily on my mind, that one of the stuffed lady birds wings flipped up and I saw “Lizzy” embroidered into its back. Since then I have never had the heart to confine it to the injustice of a charity shop basket again.

Then there is the empty Woodbine packet that I have carried with me for nearly five years. When I met my ex-husband we were young and terribly romantic. I was smoking Woodbine’s, a filter less cigarette that harked back to my years in the second world war, or so I mused, and every day during our tender courtship, he would appear at my front door with a packet of said cigarettes in his hand. We would sit and smoke in the cold sunshine of the autumn we met, his hair longer than it will likely be again and my heart far more open than it is willing to roam these days. For the life of me, I cannot understand why I have never thrown this memory away along with the empty cigarette box, but there are some things that remind you of the good before it turned bad, a reminder I feel bitterness is all too quick to dismiss and discard.

I have given away a number of bracelets and necklaces to the people I love throughout my life and my best friend could probably start a collection of odd bits of tat that I have given her over the ten years we have known each other, and likewise I too possess many random fridge magnets, scraps of paper, knots of thread and beads that I too will probably never lose for her spirit and the spirit of our enduring friendship is symbolised by all of them. There is one piece of jewellery though that meant so much to me from the moment it came into my life to the moment it left that I cannot help but wonder whether or not it is treasured in the same way I did regard it when it was mine.

A grey clay pendant with Ugarit wedge writing blacked onto the face. I loved this necklace and parting with it was difficult but it was something that tangibly meant a lot to me and knowing the person who now owns it, I knew it would mean a lot to them too. There is something sacred about giving an object to someone, something so personal that has lived and breathed against your skin, been chewed at, rained on and shone in the sun that saturated the days the person wore it. I suppose that is why you give rings to those you love to not only quantify but cultivate your love for them.

And that brings me to the final thing I hold onto that I have no earthly business to endear. My engagement ring. It’s a simple white gold band with a diamond big enough to matter but still not so big as to cause offense to my rather peasant like tastes. It was given to me by a man many years ago, a man whom for the briefest of moments was my everything and I his. There was frost on the ground when he gave it to me, in a small silver box and asked that I be his for then and forever.

I must say since the day I took it off and placed it in the box with my parents wedding rings, as well I my own plain white gold band and his, I haven’t look upon it too much. But I know its there for those moments when I question when and how I came to be sitting where I am no writing what I am, as the person I had no idea I would become.

I think this is why we hold onto such seemingly superfluous reminders of our past that to someone else would be misconstrued as junk – train tickets, buttons, badges, key rings, strips of fabric fallen from a favourite t-shirt, a shoe lace from that one pair of shoes you always hoped would be immortal, clothes that don’t fit and never will again, empty bottles, photographs, notes that survived the years since you have sat in a classroom, dried flowers, mugs, sticks of bark, pebbles and stones from somewhere you found peace.

Then above them, buried somewhere that spring cleaning and moving houses cannot accidently dispose of them  are the things that we cherish most. The intangible but ever present and ever growing bank of memories. We hold onto these physical oddities as a physical reminder that what we went through actually happened and that the things that sometimes feel like they were too good to have been true, actually were.

You were a child. You did fall madly and irrevocably in love. You did like that song. You did laugh until you couldn’t breathe. You did sit on that shoreline. You did say those things. You did dance in those shoes. You did pick that flower. You were friends with that person. You were another half of a whole. You were an innocent. You did treasure those most pointless of things. Once.

When you’re young and the future is something you need not comprehend you are instinctively inclined to cherish the memories you have and you hold onto anything that will remind you of those days. As you get older you find yourself wanting to forget as many memories as you want to remember. Now those who choose to forget, granted get to experience a much more painless life through the entire process of moving on.

But to forget the bad memories, in favour of the good ones, is to live half a life, to breathe with half a soul and love with half a heart. You didn’t get to where you are now living a life of one sided grief or joy. Remembering the calm before the storm will only serve to desensitize you to the enormity of emotion that those storms can bring. I try to remember everything I can that helped to beat the path I was inclined to walk.

And when I am asked what defined me I will answer in all honesty I was not defined by the memories I chose to cherish, but by the memories I hoped to forget.

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