I come from a family that left their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs, so it's interesting that I have little, if any, attachment to personal belongings. I detest clutter, but my mother hoards all her countless knick-knacks with the possessive zealousness of a child. Her life is measured by an inventory of things she owns, whereas my life is measured by an inventory of things I've done.
I sometimes wonder if her sense of loss inspires the compulsion to be a pack rat; I also wonder if my seeming detachment betrays some fear of loss. This much I do know: what I possess should never possess me.
I once promised myself, however, that I'd always keep a treasure chest -- one simple box filled with all the little things that shore up memories.
Recently, after making the decision to free myself of most possessions, I rummaged through the box and came across a stash of notes from high school. I laughed at myself for holding onto such peculiar keepsakes -- the yellowed ruled paper, folded into little squares, carrying words that are now over two decades old, evoking the thoughts and feelings of people who filled my life with joy then, reviving long-gone friendships that left their mark on my heart.
I had to pause and think about high school in the digital age. Do friendships forge differently over text messages? Do students know the mischievous pleasure of writing long letters during boring classes? Do the hands of lovers touch in the hallway as they exchange secret notes?
I picked a random note from the stash. It was from Alexander, a friend with whom I once shared a night of passionate kissing -- a night that took both of us by surprise.
You remember that night, don't you? I know you do, even though you weren't there.
Alexander and I were studying for college placement exams when we realized we already knew everything we needed to know except the one thing we didn't know -- each other.
David Bowie serenaded our tentative bodies. To this day, I cannot help but think of Alexander when I listen to Major Tom. Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do ... specifically, I cannot help but think of Alexander's tongue, his smooth blond hair and long hands. If I close my eyes, I can recall a faint, salty scent and the intangible softness of his love making. But I didn't know he was so gentle then, because I didn't yet know much about men's embraces. This was just the beginning of my life's inventory.
It's 12:50 am, post-facto. I've been thinking to myself -- not for long actually, just the ride home. This is the way I see it. At the beginning of the school year, nobody could've predicted this . . . and no one can predict what will happen now. I understand exactly what you mean -- "all or nothing." I think we should wait to see what exactly happens between us -- tonight and this week -- before we make any standing decisions. Could this have been a whim? I don't think so, but it certainly wasn't planned to work this way. If it comes, fine; if it doesn't, that's fine also. I need a friend, let's not ruin a good friendship over passion.
All my love,
Alexander and I would never become lovers and while the night passed into memory without any awkwardness, our friendship would dissipate, as so many friendships did, after graduation.
We weren't in love; we were just curious.
I smiled as I read his note, twenty three years and many embraces later. I was impressed by his diction and touched by the delicacy of his feelings. The fact that he took the time to write the note, that he thought of a potential "us" that warranted contemplation, that he handed it to me first thing in the morning at school -- all of these details led me to the conclusion that perhaps we weren't so immature at 18 years of age.
No money can buy this memory, a memory that swells my heart with a life lived well. I'm glad I stashed this old, crumpled piece of paper because over the years, it acquired new meaning and afforded me a glimpse into that hazy realm of the eternal. A life's worth of loves, of writings -- these are the things I'd keep under lock and key, these are the cherished possessions.