A few weeks back, I started a self-improvement project, inspired by Jenny Lawson, the Great Bloggess. To read about the origin of my project, look here. For the short version, each week I will set out to conquer something that is holding me back from being the person I want to be. A relationship, a memory, a fear. . .anything that makes me less than I am. I will attack each challenge wearing my red dress as a cape for inspiration and as a symbol of the superheroes we all are inside. My goal is to undertake the daunting task of taking one crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable woman and molding her into a productive member of our crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable society.
I have this bizarre inability to throw anything away. Newspaper clippings, notes from friends, long outgrown clothing. . . I'm not exactly a "Hoarder" per se; more of a "Doomsday Prepper" in that in the back of my mind I somehow believe that these seemingly innocuous items might actually prove to be crucial to my future survival.*
*When I need to barter for provisions at The Hob in post-apocalyptic America those expired red Robin groupons are gonna come in handy, yo!
Or maybe I'm just egotistical.*
*Pfft! Like there was any lingering doubt about that.
And maybe my raging narcissism makes me want to leave a legacy; a flag planted squarely on planet Earth that says "JEN WAS HERE". Shit, maybe that's why I blog. And maybe that's why I've saved every love letter I've ever received going clear back to elementary school when Garrett Meyer asked me if I liked him and could I please check "yes" or "no".*
*Of course, today Garrett is a successful cardio-thoracic surgeon and I'm just some dipshit with bad insurance and a hoopty laptop. In retrospect, I chose poorly.
Some of the letters and notes I keep because they make me happy. The note from Garrett. The handmade Mother's Day cards from my short people, a printed copy of the Tweet I got from Nathan Fillion. Umm, yeah...have I mentioned that Nathan Tweeted me? Oh, I have? Yeah, well, I shall continue to mention it because aside from the birth of my lovely children that is the closest I've come to seeing God. Anyhoo, these are all happy notes. Birthday cards from dear friends, letters of recommendation from professors; things that make me feel special and loved.
But then I have another desk drawer. This one is crammed with memories that are bittersweet and I find myself delving into that drawer on the nights that I feel lonely or when my self-esteem is lower than the combined IQ of the "Jersey Shore" cast. This drawer is filled with pictures of my ex-husband and I when we were dating, and newly married. Atop these photos sits a bundle of letters, held together with a simple rubber band -- love letters my ex wrote to me when we first met, letters filled with promises of a long life together after we were married, and letters of apology; swearing that this was the "last time" he'd ever hurt me and that he would "never, ever cheat on me again" that ran throughout the course of our marriage. In truth I don't know why I've saved them as reading them and gazing at the photos only brings me pain and sorrow, but the tiny self-harming voice inside of me, the one that led me to a life of eating disorders, alcoholism and self-abuse can't seem to look away.
My friend Kelly wanted me to burn these letters as a way of "exorcising" past demons for this week's project and in truth, the thought of a kick-ass bonfire sounded pretty magical. I also considered tie-dying my wedding gown or using it as a dropcloth, but the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts came back to my nine-year-old twin sons.
One small part of me thought that my boys may someday want to know that there was a time when Mommy and Daddy didn't despise one another and could actually be in the same room together for an extended period of time. I want my short people to know that before we became "Mommy" and "Daddy" we were "Jen" and "Gil". I want them to know that they were desperately wanted children and that they truly were conceived in love. I hope that as they grow older they will recognize that we were only human, faults and all, and that we did the best we could with what we had and that for better or worse I will always be thankful that their father was a part of my life because he made me stronger by tearing me down, and he gave me the two greatest gifts in my life. And yes, maybe some grandiose part of me felt that by keeping these relics around I would be cheating Death in some way, but hey! That's okay too.
So, in the end I did not burn the photos and letters. Instead, I boxed them up with my wedding album, taped it tightly closed, and brought it to my bank's safe deposit box. I no longer have access to the painful and self-destructive memories, but someday my boys will have those photos and have that little sliver of our world before they existed. Someday they will open the box and be stunned by how young Mom and Dad were and understand that there was love. Perhaps not healthy, functional love; but there was in fact love. Don't be afraid to put your heart out there, boys. It will get broken, it will get tarnished, but it is only by being broken down that you can truly be broken open. Don't be afraid to let your red cape fly.