Music turned up loud, an effective noise barrier, dishes clinking as helpful spouse packs for our move to Florida, land of perpetual summer, place of memories where time was shared with my mom, who played there several winters; such a busy calendar; shuffleboard, pool parties potlucks, St. Patrick’s Dances, retirement earthly paradise. Now it was my turn to play, although I’d never been good at that. Thought it would come naturally in the land of sunshine. As dishes rattled, I packed the unshared heart of me into a dull green plastic tote, taking notebooks, binders, scribbled notes, one finished novel, poems, columns, a mix of words that poured out of me, like the Red River of the North at flood stage. Words typed, jotted in faded pencil, mostly forgotten, memories of a restless decade, better ignored than remembered. But I couldn’t just throw it all out. That would require a surgeon’s precision or a butcher’s passion. Not willing to read any of it, unable to stuff it into plastic garbage bags, set out for recycling. Not ready for that, not ready to remember or to forget. So I packed it all, emptying shelves in my office, my private space, my secret poetess self-shoved into that green tote. Putting the lid on who I once was, I sealed the lid tight.
Once we arrived in Florida, I stuck the tote in the storage shed. Later, after my poetess mother was trapped in a nursing home bed, I struggled with the truth she was on her way home to God. One evening while one of her precious tears traced a wrinkle on her cheek, I leaned in to kiss her good night and good bye. She stepped out of our word and into God’s while I was gone.
Back at her apartment, I packed all her writing into a transparent tote. Took her back to Florida with me; her life captured in poems and fragments. I’d have my mom with me in her written words. I kept that tote in my office. I could see her journals, her poetry, every time I glanced at that tote. It offered visible comfort as I grieved. But I wasn’t ready to let my insides buried in the faded green plastic tote sit next to my mother’s poetry. She already knew me too well. I simply needed the consolation of her written words close by. She prayed for a dark-eyed daughter who would be a writer, who would write poems. And she got me.
Finally one day I asked my friend, my spouse who does not read poetry, does not read novels, a man who loves me and my scraps of writing that I read to him, if he would fetch that green tote on to the front porch. Close enough to the inside of the house, as a first step. Let’s not rush at this. Merely looking at the tote made me nervous. Then I moved it into my office but carefully avoided opening it. Piled books on it. Too scary to open; thought I heard some ticking inside that tote, like a threatening bomb. What does an older very married woman, a grandmother, a great grandmother, a Christian, a Bible lover and studier, a Jesus follower, have in common with the single, divorced, confused woman I once was? I knew she lived yet in that unopened, unexamined tote. Then one day, remembering a very different life lived long ago, maybe a little lonesome for those years lived lakeside in a small cabin, with only my dog for company, and all those quiet hours to read and write. Such remembered wonderful isolation. I knew it was time. I took a breath, opened the tote, pulled out material, started to read, fought off tears. There I was trapped in poems, notes, bits of memoir. Events rushed into my unguarded heart. I relived my dad’s death to cancer; felt again my long anger over death, an unwanted dictator. Raised both eyebrows as my poems vividly recalled my season of wandering and wondering; my fierceness, my sorrow, my wildness, my weeping. I sat, shook my head, looked away. That intense, independent, confused, conflicted woman exhausts my older self. Still, I leave my books of poetry and journals out. Time to give those words freedom. Time to remember who I was in order to understand who I am. And I smile, say a prayer of thanks to my Creator God, who kept His hand on me. I prayed as a child to live life intensely, to be adventurous, and that prayer was answered. But I also have had quiet, solitude, friends, family and shifted my life’s center to God rather than my own emotional self-directed drama. Gratitude mixes with tears.