Looking Back.

Recently, I’ve noticed people reminiscing on social media about where they were – physically, emotionally, mentally, what have you – 10 years ago.

It’s been interesting seeing people’s photos of their younger selves alongside their current selves, or sharing what was happening with them in 2009.

It’s funny, because 2009 seems like a lifetime ago to me. So I decided to peek back through my own social media to remind myself of what my life was like.

Man. What a different time.

Thirty-two-year-old me, frustrated with work (amid job cuts), travelling overseas,  flitting around to various parties – costume parties, dance nights, a wedding – trying to navigate online dating, pining over young men, deciding to hang up my backpack to save for real estate, considering joining Twitter, agonizing over what getting a Blackberry for work would mean for my personal time, and wondering what the future would hold.

But still optimistic. Still having authentic interactions with strangers.

And my dad was still around.

Who I am now: Older, heavier, wearier, starting to grey. I’m less prolific with my writing in this space and not mooning over men. Grousing about work much less, but still grousing. But at least I’ve resumed trying to satiate my wanderlust when I’m able.

Has my optimism been extinguished? I don’t know. I suppose there are times I still look for the silver lining. But I think my youthful hope has been replaced by wariness.

I feel like I’ve shrunken inwardly. Maybe it’s due to sadness. Disappointment. A constant awareness (and dread) of my own mortality. Despite my ability to still be social and outgoing, despite all the good moments I’ve had in the past 10 years, I feel quiet and small.

***********

At this time 10 years ago, I was probably preparing to ring in the new year with friends.

Today? I’ll probably just head over to my mom’s condo for a few hours, then head home to ring in the New Year, quietly, on my couch.

I’m sure my 32-year-old self would be a bit bewildered.

But I’d probably tell her to pipe down, adding that when she’d understand when she got to my age.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In a world and at a time that feels like it’s rarely quiet, some peace and solitude is sometimes necessary.

So, my wish for you is for some peace and solitude for the first few moments of 2020, so that you can gather your strength to take on the moments that follow.

Letters and Cards

As I may or may not have mentioned previously, I’m a bit messy when it comes to my personal things. I have a rather large, unwieldy amount of clutter.

But since I wrote this post back in October – and spurred by my brother who moved out this fall (in a fashion similar to a squatter who’s been evicted) – I’ve been fighting a slow, protracted, passive-agreessive War on Clutter.

Amid the days where I alternate between lazily staring at my junk and impulsively chucking stuff before the urge passes, I’ve set up a couple organizational projects for myself.

One has been putting photos I developed years ago (by which, I mean as far back as 1996), into albums. A lot of them now have homes, but it’s still a work in progress. 

The other has been sifting through old letters and post cards. I’ve been procrastinating about dealing with this because:

(1) the number of letters I’ve kept over the years  is HUGE – good grief! I truly had NO IDEA until I started pulling them out from drawers and out from underneath piles of other junk I have to deal with. (No, seriously – today I found a birthday card I got from my dad when I was FOURTEEN.)

(2) I’ve been having an inner struggle over the type of karma I’ll create for myself if I throw out the letters and cards people have taken the time to write me. (And part of that is also emotional attachment.)

I recently informally canvassed some of my friends on Facebook for advice and suggestions. 

Some said, get rid of it all. Others – who’ve kept every single letter and card given to them, and have only recently purged a bit of their own collections – said to find containers to keep them in, if I didn’t really want to get rid of them.

Other friends – who are quite resourceful and crafty – suggested reusing/recycling them in different ways, such as making little gift boxes.

So as a compromise to what I’ve been advised, I’ve started re-reading cards and letters I’ve gotten over the years and casting final judgement after.

I’ve tried to keep my current methodology very simple:

Postcards and letters from abroad: For now, I keep. No question. What I do with them could be a future project.

Cards: Hand-made ones, I definitely keep. Ones that don’t have anything more than a generic “To/from/merry Christmas/happy birthday” greeting, get chucked. 

Letters: if it doesn’t elicit a reaction or evoke a memory, OR if I no longer keep in contact with the letter’s author, I re-read it, and out it goes.

So far, it’s been helping me to deal with old letters and cards with minimal guilt.  

When I started a few nights ago, I came across a bunch of letters my mom wrote me when I first went away to school. I found one and started reading part of it to her. She actually said, “I WROTE that?” The next thing I know, I went through letter after letter, reading them aloud. It was great.

It also took me by surprise when my mom admitted to me that, after getting me settled in my new residence room and leaving the building to make the five-hour return trip home, my mom sat on the front steps of the residence and actually bawled

All these years, I’ve never thought of my mom as a crier. I can  probably count on one hand – maybe three fingers – the number of times I can recall seeing her cry.

But it gave me a new appreciation for what she went through as a mom letting go (sort of) of her first-born, and re-reading the letters again – with the proper context – gave me a fresh perspective.  

I still have a LOT of letters to go through. I’m putting off  dealing with the piles of letters from friends who constantly wrote me letters and notes.

But at least in this way I can – if only briefly – re-live the memories in those letters before deciding to keep them … or finally let them go.

Family, Lost and Found

The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the running joke with respect to my family is that, yearly, I either (a) meet new relatives I didn’t know I had, OR (b) “find” cousins I met – and lost touch with – long ago. 

It turned out to be the latter, when the phone rang last Sunday evening.

As the walls in my folks’ house tend to be quite thin, I overheard my mom pick up the phone in the kitchen and start talking to someone named Christine, unsure of who it was …

Followed by the “Oh my God!” and the increase in the volume of her voice when she recognized who it was. 

And I must admit, I was taken aback as well.

The last – and first – time I saw my cousin Christine, she was nine years old and skinny. I was only six, probably equally as skinny, and visiting some of my mom’s side of the family for the first time in my entire little life.

I don’t know if we were as thick as thieves when my mom, little brother and I visited for those three weeks, but from what little I can remember, we certainly ran around a lot together in that short period of time.

And to this day, there’s one story my mom will never forget, nor let me live down:

Picture it: Jamaica, the summer of 1983. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was huge. Kentucky Fried Chicken was still edible. And one day Christine and I decided to have a little fun with my aunt’s cat.

Keep in mind, the cat in my aunt’s house wasn’t so much there as a pet as it was to help catch the mice.

I don’t remember the details which brought this about,*** but one thing led to another and we decided to take the dear Cat With No Name and put him somewhere special.

Namely one of my mom’s big, tan suitcases.

My mother found the cat later on in the afternoon, in the suitcase, in the closet. We didn’t completely zip up the suitcase, so the poor thing – understandably petrified – had shat over most of the shoes in the closet and inside the suitcase.

To say she wasn’t amused was a GROSS understatement. Needless to say, I’ve never done anything like that again or since.

Incidentally, I also really like cats.

But I would never see Christine again. I heard dribs and drabs about her through the years through my mom, who would get news about her whereabouts from time to time through my uncle Ucline.*

Fast forward about 25 years, and I now know she’s alive and well. Speaking to her briefly, I found out that she’s now in Connecticut (probably Hartford where, from the sounds of it, there’s a sizeable Jamaican population, which includes relatives from my dad’s side**), with three kids, working as a legal assistant while waiting for her green card (don’t ask me how this works – I’ve no idea).  

And the strangest thing? About three weeks before she made the phone call to our house, she and a co-worker were having a conversation and ended up on the subject of cats … prompting her re-tell the very story that brought us together in the first place.

That Sunday evening, she mentioned that her phone call was prompted by the fact her own kids are getting older and starting to ask questions about where they came from, and who their family is. 

If I could talk to them, I’d say, good for you. Not just because I think family should be one of the most vital things a person should know about him or herself. But because you’re helping people like me rediscover and re-connect with people I shouldn’t have lost touch with in the first place.

Fingers crossed she gets her green card, so that maybe one day I’ll get to see her again and make up for lost time. 

 

*His real name is Harold. If you’re from a West Indian family, you know most people have two names … or you know this if you’re from a culture where a lot of family members get a “second” name.

**A prime example of what I’m talking about. I didn’t really know about them until I met some of them last year.

***Christine says it was because either she or I wanted to take the cat with me back to Canada …