My childhood room is full to bursting. Odd socks, long faded jeans and a thousand scraps of the past I can’t quite bear to throw away. Tacked to the mirror is a grainy polaroid of me and my sister, gappy toothed grins on Grandpa’s old boat.
There is a scratch map of the world that required much less scratching that you’d think. A sketch of my sister and I as adults in a wooden frame. The artist was feeling generous and we look like thinner versions of ourselves with bigger lips and fantastic hair.
Tins of useless crap like a tiny golden bauble with my name on and a collection of battered USB sticks which may or may not have anything on them. A graveyard of mobile phones through the ages and a couple of chargers which don’t fit any device that I’ve ever heard of.
Piles of sun-faded books clutter every surface and ledge. Some have spines and corners missing from where my house bunny used to nibble them and drive me to despair. Peek beneath a light green cover and you’ll find a message written by spidery hand.
‘to Rachel, with all of my love, mike. Xx’
A boyfriend that only lasted a couple of months and yet he gave me his favourite book with love and I don’t want to cast away his thoughtfulness.
And that’s not the only sign of men that I have loved. Root inside my chest of drawers, past the couple of soft toys that made it through all 24 years of clear outs. Like Anna, my plastic doll in a pink dress that stood in for Jesus at the reception nativity play. Push her aside (gently of course) and you’ll find a veritable dragon’s hoard of heart break memorabilia…
Antlers shed by a young deer on Jackson’s land. He crammed them in my suitcase when I left Arkansas for home, with the shiny stone he plucked off the bed of Buffalo river because it looked like a heart.
There’s a photo of him somewhere, stuffed in a shoe box of emotional baggage. Wearing a red chequered shirt and cowboy hat he looks like the boy that bought me a yellow dress and taught me to swing dance in the sunshine, country music blasting from his truck.
Look closer and you might see the other things he did. Like crush stolen pain pills into powder and whisk them into my glass of wine, or heat a knife until it turned blue and burn my cheek to the bone.
My shoe box of not letting go.
Photos of an ex-boyfriend in a green cord shirt, clutching my velvet covered waist and stubs of train tickets for journeys that meant something to me long ago. A love letter from my first, telling me he would never leave me side. A love letter from my second, also telling me he would never leave my side.
There’s a note from a friend as he left for a tour at sea, telling me he’d be back for me soon. We fell out. We don’t speak at all. The only evidence I have that we once cared is this scrap of paper and an exotic silver coin he gave me, now rattling around with other loose currency in my cardboard box of complications.
Birthday cards from people I love, the thoughtful ones that made it to the shrine of clinging to the past.
Diaries I wrote in a teenage haze of hormones and social anxiety. With poems I vomited up from a dark place and a stream of consciousness I scribbled down to order the chaos in my mind. I read a few pages and my heart begins to hurt again. A time when a bouquet of flowers and a promise that he’d never hurt me again was enough to buy my trust.
I cast them aside and pick out postcards from my Mum and Dad, telling me they’re proud of me and reminding me to do my laundry. They reached me all over the globe and now I’m home I brought them back with me, little paper birds returning to the nest.
I don’t know why I’ve kept this tat for so long. I don’t know why the past has damaged me more than it seems to have done my friends.
And so, in late December ( that funny bit between Christmas and New Year when you eat chocolates for breakfast and don’t even know what day it is) I decided it was time for the shoe box of not letting go to go up in flames.
It wasn’t as dramatic as I envisioned.
When I flung the diaries into the stove the cheerful little flames went out like I’d thrown a bucket of bloody water over them. Then the smoke alarm went off and I had to rip it off the wall and stick it on the outside bench.
But I tell you what, once I’d found enough firelighters to get the thing started again it felt nice to see the photos curl up and melt away. It felt good to turn Valentines cards to dust and love poems to ash.
I thoroughly recommend burning the shit out of your shoe box of not letting go.