For many years, I had two stories that seemed to define me, maybe three. The first were about my father (he died; he was a very difficult and often scary person to live with) and the third came later, and was about my sister, who died, too. For many years, through much discussion with friends and therapists and family, through all my writing, I presented this little package of the past for all the see. My loss was able to move in, settle down, and start to simmer in almost all contexts.
"Who are you?" the world would ask.
"Oh, all this," I would say, moving my hand like the woman in front of the curtain in "Let's Make a Deal." I would highlight my three shiny packages, making sure that everyone could see them.
I've met many people who have the same little package(s), and I can almost see their stories like presents with bows, boxes they carry in front of them. Here is their dead family, a brother, a mother, a husband, a wife, a child. Here is the hard scrabble childhood. Here is the mean grandmother with a switch and a starched apron. Here is the father who left, the mother who stayed, the sister who went to New York and never came back. The boxes seem to shout: Here is the country I had to flee, the starvation I experienced, the river I swam, filled with snakes and men in boats with guns. Here is the island I finally found to hide on. Here is where I had to wait until dawn.
All of our pain is ours and it's all important, even if you only had the sister who ran away and not the starvation. It doesn't matter the extremes, the causes, the results. It's all about how it feels inside and how much we relate to it. We are who we are because of our wounds and stories. But we are also who we are based on what we do with our shiny boxes.
A few years ago, I realized that I was no longer carrying round my packages. I'd grown so tired of them and the stories they were pulling out of me. For a while, another story threatened to become hardened into box form, but I decided to recycle my divorce box and just view the past five years as years with issues. But the big boxes? Well, I unpacked them, threw away the tissue paper, and put the boxes in the recycling container, too. I can't throw them away, really, but I don't have to put them in my house. I don't have to stare at them. It's so tiring, so consuming. And how nice to walk inside and not have to look at them any more on a daily basis.
They don't go away entirely, though, and last night I had a dream about my father, had a glimpse of him, breathing in the smell of tobacco, hearing the voice I haven't heard in thirty-one years. Before, I would have been sad for days, thinking about what I lost. Today, I woke up thinking, Thank you. Thank you for helping me remember. And thank you for helping me let go.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org