Packrats and Treasure Boxes

As some of you may know, my father passed away in September of 2007. I use “passed away” instead of “was forcibly ripped from my life by the cruel hands of fate” in most instances because it just sounds more polite, but you know what I mean. This past summer, my grandfather (who he lived with) made the transition into a nursing home. Though I’d already gone through my dad’s apartment and took various mementos and chotskies and donated the rest, apparently there were other things strewn around the house that I’d missed. At my cousin’s graduation party my aunt handed me two boxes of my dad’s things that she thought I would want to have.

Those boxes have been in my car ever since.

When something terrible happens in my life, I deal with it in a way that might not be the textbook response to a “healthy” way to to handle grief–I pretend it’s not there. A good example of this would be my breakup over the summer. I knew that, if I let it get to me, it would be much like my high school breakup where I wouldn’t eat or sleep for weeks and ultimately sink into a deep depression where I just felt sorry for myself all the time due to lack of love from a person I deeply cared about for over two years. I take things hard, and it takes me a long ass time to get over it. Instead, I immediately severed all ties of online communication, tossed every gift and picture and physical representation of memory into the trash, then did my very best to keep my mind as occupied as possible until the hurt was far away enough to handle. My days of hysterical crying were two at the most, whereas I was expecting more like fourteen.

I assume this is a leftover coping mechanism for how I dealt with the death of my father: I was studying abroad at the time, returned for the funeral, then hopped on a plane back to The Netherlands. I did so because I couldn’t afford to waste an expensive semester abroad now that the refund date was up. Being in an entirely strange and alien place helped me put a pause button on the hurt. Nothing there reminded me of what I was going through. Sure, there was this huge gaping hole in my life where the most important person in my life, my father, once was, but that hole was across an ocean. By the time I got home it had been four months, and I could handle the hurt.

The key here, folks, is that I need to not be reminded of the thing that causes me pain.

Therefore, two boxes of my dad’s personal belongings hiding in the trunk of my car was a very terrifying concept. I could get over an emotionally deficit boyfriend in four months time, sure, but to get over the death of my father in just four years was something impossible. I had no idea what was even in either of the boxes, just that they were there, waiting for me, pieces of my father who was no longer on this Earth. A reminder of how gone he was.

If you were to look at my room right now, standing in the doorway, it might look slightly cluttered, but overall fairly neat and organized. Turn the corner, and you’ll see piles to the side of my bed, shoes stuffed underneath. Open my closet and be careful something doesn’t fall on you from the stacks I’ve made. Each drawer and shelf in my life is filled to the brim with… things. Little treasure boxes full of junk that mean nothing to anyone but me. I find it really hard to get rid of anything. I’m pretty sure I’ll someday wind up on Hoarders when I’m an old lady who can’t occasionally get a grip on herself and make a Goodwill pile (which I do, sometimes). I’m one of the most absent minded people sometimes but I pick up an object in my room and I can recall the entire history of where it came from, who got it for me, if I got it for myself how much it cost. I have never thrown away a birthday card.

I was taking another weekend trip last weekend, and needed the trunk space. I decided to pick up the boxes and bring them to a corner of the garage, doing my best to not look at them, then leave them there and continue to keep up my refusal of their existence. Unfortunately, a box had spilled in my trunk.

What I found were boxes inside of the boxes. Little piles and bundles of pictures with rubber bands and treasure tins with items that meant nothing to me but must have meant something to my dad. A letter he wrote describing the missing $20 in his summer job’s till, various college pictures from when he looked like an Abercrombie model (a shirtless one was matted and framed–a little egocentric are we, dad?) doing shots with his buddies, two old watches, a few sketches of maritime scenes. Pieces of my dad that I didn’t know about and could never ask him about.

I guess I’m not the only packrat in the family.

I did put the boxes in the garage, but now they interest me. What will I find when I look deeper? What will I learn about my dad’s 47 years that he never told me about before he died? I took a cookie tin, the one I found the watches in, filled with various papers and a picture of Big Ben on its top. It’s in my closet, behind one of my other treasure boxes, waiting for me to explore it once I can work up a little bit of courage.

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