When I was in graduate school I trained in the PTSD Clinic of a local VA Hospital. All of my clients were Vietnam veterans. I was a 26 year old woman. What the hell did I know about Vietnam? Not a whole lot, it turns out. I spent the summer before I started educating myself by reading everything I could get my hands on about the war, the era, the soldiers, the Vietnamese. It was an interesting summer. Powerful and humbling.
Novels were the things that helped me the most. A good novel reveals truth. Tim O’Brien wrote a book (a hybrid of memoir, novel, and story collection) called The Things They Carried about a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam during the war. The title refers to just as it says — the things the soldiers chose to carry with them in their rucksack, the premise being that those things were in some way indicative of who carried them. The things captured some essence of their carrier.
That idea, that we keep the things that matter to us close, has resonated with me ever since. It hit me like a ton of bricks a few weeks ago when I opened the trunk to my car. What I saw was a hodge podge collection of stuff, some of it junk, that so completely reflected my life and its particular chaos. So here it is, an ode to Tim O’Brien, and a reflection on the junk in my trunk.
This cut log is from the cemetery where my daughter rests. She is buried in a “nature sanctuary,” which means that she is surrounded by trees. This is why we chose where we chose for her to rest, despite it being a 90 minute drive. It is peaceful and lovely. The sun plays through the trees and dapples Donna’s gravestone. Nothing I plant grows there — I can’t for the life of me keep the deer away. And that’s okay. They keep Donna company. Right now, like so much of the rest of America, they are trying to do more with less. Seems like the sleepy nature sanctuary we chose in 2009 is all the rage now. Green burials, they call it. They are cutting down a lot of trees to make room for more graves. More nature with less trees. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either. I took this log in July, wanting a piece of what was close to Donna to be with us now.
St. Baldrick’s Banner.
Last March, Donna’s Good Things held it’s first annual St. Baldrick’s shaving event. We raised $77K for pediatric cancer research through the kind help of a lot of friends and strangers. Extraordinary. We’re doing it again next March 30. Do you have a head? Do you want to shave it for kids with cancer? You can. I’ll be there and so will this banner. Somehow it never made its way inside. I can’t quite wrap my head around needing to find a place in my home for a St. Baldrick’s banner. It’s safer in the car. I can ignore it more easily there and then take it out when I need it again.
Mary Tyler Son’s Artwork.
What do you do with all this artwork? Where is it supposed to go? I haven’t quite gotten around to sorting it out. Pinterest tells me I should photograph and scan it. Ugh. That requires a level of organization and forethought that escapes me. Some of my friends frame it and proudly display it in their home. I wish I were that Mom. I’m not. That, too, requires effort that I can’t quite seem to find.
This is my husband’s blanket. It is old and ratty. An adult version of Linus’ blanket, if you ask me. He won’t allow us to get rid of it. We keep it in the car because it’s just sensible to have a blanket in the car, but damn if I want that thing around me in an emergency. Ick. They say there are no athiests in a fox hole and there’s probably no germophobes in a freezing car either. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I quit my job last month. Yep. Closed up my cube and now its contents sit in this box in my trunk. There are two other boxes from the last office I closed in our storage room. Mary Tyler Dad complains about them all the time. I can’t quite bear to add one more to that pile, so here the box sits. In the trunk. Sigh.
This twig is in the shape of Mary Tyler Son’s first initial. He found it on a trip to the beach a few weeks ago. I picked him up from school and it was unseasonably warm. I made a left instead of our usual straight, just on a whim, and we headed for the Lake. I am so grateful for spontaneity in my life. There are so many possibilities in it. Like unexpected “nature dances” on a warm fall day that entail nothing more than spinning ourselves around in a circle until we fall in a heap on the sand, laughing, hugging, and kissing. This twig will find its way inside, to be hung on the boy’s wall, so we can both remember a warm afternoon in the sun, spinning in the sand, hugging and kissing and loving.
Lots and lots and lots of glitter. Mary Tyler Son goes to the school where Donna went. We see her teachers frequently. That brings us a lot of joy. Back in 2009, though only knowing her for a few weeks, they came to visit during her vigil. They got to say goodbye and give us some much appreciated love and hugs. The day after their visit, Donna died. As a memorial, they had the children in Donna’s class decorate a pumpkin. A big, bedazzled, feathered, painted, glittered pumpkin that only pre-schoolers are capable of making. For young kids, more is always more. The pumpkin has become an annual tradition in our home. We look forward to it and it brings us joy. This year, because we are at the school, we got to carry the pumpkin home ourselves. That glitter is gonna stick around for a while. And that’s okay. We all could use a little more sparkle in our lives, right?
Separately, these things are just a collection of a lot of nothing. Together, they tell a story. My story. The story of my life today and how I’m a little overwhelmed by it all. Lord, what a mess it is. But it’s my mess. And I cherish it. And I carry it all close. Perhaps too close, but since I took this photo, I moved the log to my coffee table, so that’s progress.
What junk is in your trunk and what does it say about your story?