The package arrived while I was at work and I saw it by the door as soon as I walked in. Three pairs of small-to-large baby blue rain boots stood guard around the cardboard box.
I knew what it was and knew that I’d wait until after everyone was asleep before I opened it. After the last request for another bedtime song, drink of water, and cheeseburger (the last was not granted), I poured myself a glass of wine and sat on the living room floor with the box in front of me. The dog sat a few feet away with a sad look on her face. Like she knew what was in the box and that I was about to cry, or maybe her super-dog nose detected the molecules of her long lost friend. Her friend, my mom.
A few months before I’d heard from a woman who lived next door to me when we were both teenagers. Her parents still lived in that house, the one next door to our old home. The current owners had found some pictures, she said, in the attic. I asked her to send them to me. And that is how this box came to be in front of me. Its contents squirreled away at the dawn of the 90s when we moved to the house on Superior Road, and untouched for a quarter-century. This old friend sent me a sample before sending the box, a more-orange-than-sepia-toned photograph of my parents holding a small me. I knew that this box would have more of the same, more pictures I had never seen before because they had been lost in move after move. From California, to Hawaii, back to California, to New Jersey, and then three other homes in the same Long Island town before being interred in the attic on Superior Road.
I took a gulp and cut the packing tape. Inside was a handbag, or maybe a camera bag, canvas and faux leather. Faded and stained, bursting at its poorly sewed seams with photographs, letters, old paystubs and tax records, film negatives and Kodachrome slides. I opened the box of slides first and found, squinting as I held them to the light, images of my mom on her wedding day. She was young and beautiful. Next I opened type-written messages, toasts really, apparently delivered on the occasion of my birth and letters exchanged long ago. They were sweet, sage and funny. Just like the adults who wrote them, or as I remember them to be from my childhood.
Grown-ups are such a mystery to kids. To me there was always a magic to adults, an independence and omniscience that I thought all people achieved when they “turned old.” I always wanted to be a grown-up. So much of my childhood felt like a waiting room, a holding place before I could enter adulthood–the place where I would know, could do, could be, everything. I guess I’m there now, on the other side of that door. But I feel practically none of that independence and omniscience I thought would be mine.
I felt lost on the floor, reading the letters and staring at the pictures–at images of the adults who stood tall as redwoods around me as a child. I could not see a world beyond them back then. They seemed so strong and permanent. But so many of them are gone.
I sobbed like a kid denied his bedtime cheeseburger (a legitimately sad cry), touching the young faces of people I haven’t seen in years. My grandparents and uncle, great-aunts and mother. There were other people too, that I remember so clearly, and have no idea where they are today. Their relationships with me and my family long ago ended. I started talking to them, all of them, as if we were in the room together looking at these pictures. Recalling out loud that house or that couch, that tree or the way she smiled and he made us laugh. It was probably the wine, but it felt like they were there. I felt warm and happy, sad and foolish. The dog looked concerned. I stopped drinking the wine.
I laughed at some of the candid images of my parents, taken when they were so much younger than I am now. They looked happy and clueless in their bell-bottoms and disco shirts. Holding their new baby, surrounded by family and friends, partners in a crazy adventure, and in love. They looked like they were in love. That love is long gone. It was gone when my mom moved out of the house on Superior Road. Not in a terrible sense, just in the sense that love can run its course. The way people grow up. The way they learn that being a grown-up is not really about independence and omniscience. Mostly it’s just the opposite. But it was so nice to see them, to remember them, when they were in love.
So now I’m a grown-up. I have more responsibility and fears, less independence and fewer answers than I imagined I would have. And I know that I don’t know a lot of things. Except for this…I know that I need to print out those pictures I take on my phone.
The ones our fabulous photographer takes of us once or twice a year, in outfits that don’t “match” but are super-coordinated in a completely manufactured happenstance kind of way–these are beautiful pictures. The smiles on the kids’ faces are real, but my husband and I are grown-ups and we know the moment captured is staged. You can see it on our faces. The real pictures of us, of him sleeping on a hospital room couch with a newborn perched on his chest and of me looking longingly at the ice cream truck when I’m supposed to be watching a soccer game (though the word game is a stretch when they’re 4), I haven’t printed these yet. Pictures of us together hanging holiday decorations in the front yard and side-by-side at the kitchen sink, where the 6 year old picture-taker’s angle of approach makes us look like giants. And the ones that lack focus but have an abundance of sentiment–these need to be printed. I should put them in freezer bags or that polka-dot Kate Spade purse I haven’t used since I was 20. Then I’ll stash them away in the crawlspace with some snapshots of my teenage years, pictures from when my husband and I were dating and our wedding, and a few of the gems from the attic on Superior Road.
Decades from now they will be found and held, their magic will hopefully be felt. Someday, long after we’re gone, a grown-up (or three) will hold them and have the chance to say hello and goodbye, again.