The Town Was Paper, But The Memories Were Not

Once every blue moon I find a book that contains a page that requires more than one read in order to really let it sink in.  One of these books for me was John Green’s Paper Towns.  At first glance I didn’t have much in common with the main characters, but I think the heart of the story is relatable by most.  Who hasn’t felt misunderstood, lonely, and been full of uncertainty?  Who hasn’t questioned what is important in life? Who hasn’t questioned who really knew the real person beneath the masks we wear at school, work, and sometimes even home?  So, the main character finds himself at a crossroads: the end of high school.

“My locker was an unadulterated crap hole- half trash can, half book storage… I put it inside my backpack and then started the disgusting process of picking through a year’s worth of accumulated filth- gum wrapped in scraps of notebook  paper, pens out of ink, greasy napkins- and scraping it all into the garbage.  All along, I kept thinking I will never do this again, I will never be here again, this will never be my locker again…”

I hate things.  Given a book, a glass of sweet tea, and sunshine I’m pretty much set.  I have a fondness for highlighters, good pens, post-it notes, and things that make the air around me smell pretty.  I might be a bit of a snob about sheets, but if Egyptian cotton is my worst vice, I’m okay with that.  I hate clutter, unless it’s a books and important papers clutter, so I relate to this kid cleaning out his locker.  It’s exactly how I feel when I’m deciding what to bring with me to my new home after my divorce.  This kid is lucky; he only has a year’s worth of stuff to sort.  I find that I’m opening drawers and asking myself why this stuff is even in there every day.  Most of that stuff goes the way of the locker stuff.  Yep, it has gone right into the garbage. But even with my hatred of stuff, it’s weird thinking it is the last time I’ll be cleaning out that drawer.  It is the last time the cabinet will have my things in it.  I no longer inhabit this place.  This is not my home.

“And finally it was too much.  I could not talk myself down from the feeling, and the feeling became unbearable.  I reached in deep to the recesses of my locker.  I pushed everything-photographs and notes and books-into the trash can.  I left the locker open and walked away.”

I’ve faced this a few times, but mostly when it came to things that belonged to my kids, and I’m packing them thinking of when those items came into my life.  I might need a break after finding a binder of my daughter’s drawings or the outfit my son wore home from the hospital.  It’s not the items.  It’s what they represent.  The life I lived, and the things I felt were important enough to save invoke emotions in me that I can’t really dig deep enough to feel the enormity of every time they wash over me. That’s when I do one of two things, I either throw entire boxes of things away, or I just put the entire box into the move to my place pile.  Knowing memories are there and confronting them are two different animals. But, in the book, he leaves his locker open.  That’s where I differ from this character.  I am ready to close the door. Leaving it open is far more painful than closing this hall of pain I’ve been living in.

“And as paralyzing and upsetting as all the never agains were, the final leaving felt perfect.  Pure.  The most distilled possible form of liberation.  Everything that mattered except for one lousy picture was in the trash, but it felt so great.  I started jogging, wanting to put even more distance between myself and the school. “

The weird thing is the more I sort, decide to keep, and throw away the more I know I’m doing the right thing.  It feels so clean.  It feels so final and perfect.  Would I have been ready for this before right now?  No, I don’t believe I would.  It’s time.  In the midst of all the sadness, anger, hurt, and confusion is this freedom from the pain and lonely I’ve felt growing for years.  Might I be lonely anyway? Sure, but I don’t have to live amidst the lonely.  I don’t have to face each day attempting to get the attention of someone much more content with a glowing screen then a real person.  I don’t have to emotionally starve for conversation and affection in the presence of someone incapable of giving it.  So, I completely understand why this kid is not just walking away from school, but instead jogging.  Sometimes putting distance between you and something that hurts you is the start of the healing process.

“It’s so hard to leave- until you leave.  And then it is the easiest …thing in the world… Leaving feels too good, once you leave.”

Deciding to leave was much harder than the actual leaving process.  Deciding to leave requires hurting someone, and if you are a decent person hurting another person isn’t on your top ten list of fun ways to spend an evening.  In fact, with your empathy in play you can be downright miserable of your own accord only to have the misery of the person you are leaving exacerbate the problem until it’s almost unbearable.  The worst night of my life was spent when I finally gathered the courage to say what I needed to say, but it was also the best night, the most healing night, and the one I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Leaving a place when the time is right feels great.

“But then what?  Do I just keep leaving places, and leaving them, and leaving them, tramping a perpetual journey? …I had to tell them no, because I was closer than I’d ever been before.”

I never like to give up, but this time I feel like only good things are down the road.  Maybe it’s because I have a stronger dose of optimism from birth, but I believe things are going to be better.  I don’t expect miracles, but I expect progress.  A lot of times progress is its own reward.  I know I won’t make the mistakes I made again, and you can’t put a price on that reward.  I don’t leave, but I did leave.  My goal is to make sure I don’t have to leave again, but realistically we all leave.  We all grow and change.  We might not leave people behind each time, but we leave parts of us with every month that goes by.  Life is a perpetual journey.  The key is when we leave to be better, to love deeper, and to live instead of just exist.  I don’t want to just exist.  I don’t want to be the person that just phoned it in.  I want to be first in line to see what’s out there and take it on.  I’m ready for this.


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