Unbeknownst to me, I grew up poor. I had one doll and six colored pencils and, judging from class photos, an entirely rust wardrobe.
“We were poor!” my mother explained, exasperated by that fact. Oh. Orangish-brown was cheaper?
I played Bakery all summer with fresh cow poop pies, scoured our gravel drive unsuccessfully for gold, and the only books in our house were on loan from the library. Someone paid my dad for a favor with a goat, and she became my very first and favorite pet and stayed that way until she was eaten by a wild duo of Dobermans from a neighboring farm and then my dad shot those Dobermans.
(This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re poor, you know. It’s quite a dangerous lifestyle.)
I remember all this at the oddest moments, raccoon sneaky memories scavenged only at my darkest. Sighing sadly as I step into my stuffed closet full of too many options in the same shade of black, and open our toy trunks full of far too much, already forgotten. Excess replaces exquisite so easily, I think, recalling line-drying our family of seven’s clothes daily to save on electricity and extra clothing costs as I sit here with my windows open and air conditioner running. The daily clasp of my Rolex crushes me guilty when I think of my dad’s dress watch: a gold-esque Timex, rarely worn. His best wasn’t even my everyday. I don’t want that to be my truth.
I guess there comes a point in our lives when we realize that everything we own tells our story. There maybe sometimes comes yet another moment when you can’t look at all your stuff without feeling all of your yesterdays puddle and threaten to flood if you dare look down. I haven’t looked down in years.
We’re packing up our life again very soon, and I’m struggling with my story. I’ve too much stuff I don’t need and too big a tale to tell and some very sad chapters that I don’t want to remember and don’t want to forget, and it’s gutting me to edit.
The other night, I took a blanket fresh from the dryer. It had been my sister’s, one of at least 20 gifted by our other sister, Jeanie, when she was dying. You would’ve cried if you saw how many of these blankets she bought, each one hand-picked because it was softer than the one before and this one a brighter red than them all. God, she just wanted to wrap up their yesterday and make it warm again, when life was good and simple and Lin used to ride no-handed down the hill in the sunshine and bite off chunks of green apple she’d swiped from the neighbor’s trees and hand them to her mid-bicycle ride so she wouldn’t break her capped front teeth. I swear, Jeanie would give up everything she had to get those moments back. But we all know that would be impossible.
It’s been six years without my sister Lin and longer than that with a broken-hearted Jeanie, and this blanket is torn beyond repair. And it smells, no matter how much fabric softener I use. And the red reminds me of unhappy. And so I announce to no one that there is just too much stuff in this stupid house and something has to go, and I walk out to the trash and throw away one of my most precious memories while I swallow sobs and look up at the stars, trying like crazy to keep that yesterday with all my others.
I’ve been sick about it ever since.
Write down everything you’re wishing you had right now. Title it My Wish List. Now, cross out that title and write in its place Things I’ve Lost So Far. Same list, yes?
It’s not so bad to be poor, I think. You miss a hell of a lot less.