Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

Headed Home

It has been said you can’t go home again, and I can attest to that. Home changes as you go through life. Home isn’t a real place. Home is a feeling, and depending on how you were raised or what your life was like up until this point those feelings can vary. When I was young, home was many places. Home was my house, my grandparent’s house, school, and church. I dwelled in those places, lived there, made them my own, shared memories there, and finally left them. Those places are actual places, but the memories are the real “home”. Once my father died, my grandparents died, I finished school, and the church ceased to be home because of the people I lost no longer attending I didn’t consider those places home anymore.

Home, once I married, was a place where my family was. It was a place where my children learned to walk and talk. They grew and made memories there. They lost teeth, they celebrated birthdays, they played outside, they hunted Easter eggs, and Santa showed up. Once again, those places ceased to be home once we moved on and moved to another home. Each time we moved more memories were made, and each time those places took on a sense of home.  Memories are the childhood.  Memories are the home.  You might not be able to go home again, but you can’t lose home totally as long as you have your memories.

So what happens when you lose your sense of home altogether? It turns out you don’t die. You feel like you might at first, but you don’t actually die. A few weeks ago, on the heels of moving out of my “home” because of my impending divorce, I lost my job. That job was what kept me afloat this past year. You see, I teach. Every day was something new and every day I lived to go into the building and see these tiny humans and share their lives. I loved the pictures they drew me, and their smiles fed me. They kept me human. They made me laugh at times when I didn’t feel like I would ever laugh again. They got me out of bed each morning and made me sad to leave each day, and they never even knew it. They were my home when my own home felt like a war zone.  I lost two “homes” in one week, and now I have a clean slate to start with. Sounds empowering to some, but it’s a daunting task in actuality.

What should home be? Home to me is a place to feel safe in your own skin. It’s a place to share conversation and laughter. It’s a place for inside jokes and great food. No one judges you at home. Home is a place you hate to leave, and you love to return to as soon as you can. It’s a place to make memories. Home is where your desk can be a bit messy, or you can read tacky fiction and no one is the wiser. Home is where you can decorate however you want. Home is where no one tells you how many books is a tolerable amount. Home is a place to be you with no one telling you differently. It’s a place for your people, or your person.

Being in search of home is an odd place when you are in your 30’s. Most people my age have it together, and here I am feeling a little lost. The good thing about being lost is you can’t stay lost forever. Even if you don’t move, the places you are become home. Memories are made there, and you can develop a sense of home anywhere. It is okay to feel lost. It’s okay to wake up and feel like you don’t belong somewhere. It’s okay to know you are on the way to somewhere great, but you just aren’t there yet. In a way that’s where we all are. We are all on our way to somewhere great, and we aren’t there yet. And that? That’s okay.


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.


Packing Up A Life

I’ve moved before, and with moving comes a lot of feelings expected and unexpected.  I’m a survivor of my feelings.  I can feel them and move past them and keep right on putting things in boxes.  This time though, something is different because packing up a life is different than packing up a house.  I’m not moving my entire family to a new place and unpacking everything.  When you get a divorce you must decide what will fit into a new life that you can’t even imagine yet. I can’t fathom what it will begin to look like when I have my children half the time. Because of this  I can’t seem to finish a box or tote without a tear or at least a heartfelt sigh.  Sorting through things no longer needed brings up memories of when those items were important to me, and this can be a bit overwhelming.

When you pack up a house, you carefully put your belongings wrapped in newspaper into boxes and label them.  You do this because you have intentions of unpacking them in your new place.  You might envision them already sitting on the shelf, counter, or coffee table.  You are putting them in boxes to save for later, for another time and another place.  You are packing with hopes and dreams of a better life.

When you pack up a life, you are carefully packing your hopes and dreams alongside the items and putting them to bed.  You are labeling them in a different kind of way, but labeling them all the same.  You do this for closure.  You are deciding what is important, or necessary. You are swallowing your fears, guilt, and failures while you pack.  And the biggest difference is when you get those boxes to a new location there are no guarantees at what you will find.  Each box contains a different memory of its former residence.  Each box contains a hope and dream that has hopefully morphed into something new and worthy.  But there’s no way to know until you open them.  Packing up a life is a daunting task that isn’t for the fainthearted.  It’s a good thing I’m up for the challenge.