Monday, December 8, 2008

Love Letters

It’s funny how so rarely in the moment you realize the importance of something that may later become so valuable to you. If only in that moment you had something to tip you off that what you are currently experiencing is important, perhaps you could enjoy it even more. But that’s not usually how it goes. It’s usually the usual, the mundane, what you think you experience as the boredom or nothing. Later, it becomes something, and sometimes it’s not even yours.

When I was a girl, I’d sometimes get notes in my lunchbox from my parents. They were usually from my dad, because he was the one who made the lunches – the bran bread all-natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I guess you could say my parents were health nuts. I grew up wanting nothing more than tiny marshmallows in my cereal, and I all I got were raisins. I hate raisins. And I’m not sure if the Raisin Bran did it to me or not, but if a marshmallowless childhood of breakfasts didn’t cause me to hate raisins, then I don’t know what else did.

For lunch it was health food again. I can’t even remember what accompanied the cardboard sandwich full of thick and tasteless peanut paste and fraction-of-a-millimeter layer of jelly. Maybe grapes? Grapes and a note. Several bites from the center of the fiber brick get eaten, the rest shoved back into the bag along with the note and thrown away. You’d never want your friends to see the note. You were embarrassed by the note, and if they saw it you could be made fun of because of the note, especially as you got older.

These days I pack the lunches. I hardly eat sandwiches now, not because I don’t love them but because I have guilt issues with bread. I’m more of a salad or last-night’s leftovers girl, and at this time of year I’m heavily into soup: split pea with ham, lentil, French onion, chicken and corn chowder, or pretty much anything they have made from scratch at the deli in the basement of my office building. And the only note I get now is a bill.

Recently, my mom has been on a cleaning streak. Basically, she’s afraid she’s going to die before she gets the basement clean, so each weekend she “goes through things” down there to make it more manageable for me when she’s moved up to that big uncluttered house in the sky. She’s not dying, she’s just overcompensating for my dad’s lack of preparation preceding his unexpected move to the uncluttered house in the sky.

Several weeks after my birthday, my mom comes to give me my present, and I was surprised to see her pull a jewelry-store bag out of her bag after she had already given me a card full of cash. I told her she shouldn’t have, and she started to cry. She didn’t. What she pulled out of the bag was a tiny frame containing a note she had found in the basement. I was instantly paralyzed. I knew what it was immediately from the handwriting – all capital letters, evenly spaced and angular. It was an undated note to me from my dad that started: “To my loving and lovely daughter…”, and it came at a time when I really needed it. The words written on that note gave me an eerie feeling, like at that moment I was reading it, my dad was watching me read it right over my shoulder.

Nearly two months later I left for Nationals, the framed note on my dresser beside my alarm beside an open notebook that had “GET UP! PORTLAND TODAY!” scribbled largely in black Sharpie, perpendicular to the lines on the page. I live by notes – reminders to myself to do everything from calling someone back to not hitting snooze fifteen times, because I have something fun to do that day. And the Northwest Knockdown was fun indeed.

After an exhausting several days in Portland, we were leaving the venue for the last time Sunday night, and as I was walking out toward the rear of the building, watching poles and curtains disappear like magic and sections of floor being torn up and hauled away, I thought about how great the weekend had been, and I allowed myself to wonder for a split second if what my mom says to me is right – that my dad would be proud of all I’ve accomplished, that his is.

Assuring everyone I’m coming, I duck into the bathroom to pee one last time. The once bustling skater bathroom, full of a constant stream of women fixing their tights and putting on makeup before bouts, was completely vacant. Ah, quiet. As I was walking out toward the sinks to watch my hands, something tucked in the top of the soap dispenser on the wall directly in front of me caught my eye. Like that moment several months earlier, I was paralyzed. After a second I snatched the tiny piece of paper ahead of me. A note. In all capital letters, evenly spaced and angular. “I’m proud of you.”

Immediately breaking into tears, I jolted myself back into reality, shoved the note in my bag, and decided I’d look at it again later – after I got back to Baltimore. I knew I’d have to write about this moment, and since I’ve been back it’s all I’ve ever wanted to write about but couldn’t bring myself to actually write about until now.

What gives these things meaning?

From the embarrassing lunch-box notes to the forgotten and rediscovered notes to notes that aren’t even mine, the feelings these notes evoke are what gives them meaning. The usual, the mundane, what you think you experience as the boredom or nothing. It always becomes something, and at times something is better than nothing at all.


Midlife Crashes said...

dammit, you made me cry.

Big In Day-town said...

What a terrific story - thank you for sharing it.

ATP said...

tears here too!!!

I never got notes as a child :(

Tami said...

I loved that story, I can't stop crying. I was thinking of my Dad last night.

Erica said...

I wish I found your note at Nationals. I found skating at nationals to be the hardest thing in the world. It still weighs heavy on me thinking about it.