There’s this drawer in my room that got stuck shut about a year ago, just after my family moved from the only other house I had ever lived in. Trying to pack things more easily, I had stuffed everything that would fit inside it, anything I wanted to keep but didn’t use on a daily basis. Eventually, I closed it one day only to find that it wouldn’t reopen – something inside had gotten wedged, and couldn’t be budged. For days I worked at it, at first not knowing what was keeping the drawer closed – was it the stack of cassette tapes my parents recorded for me when I was little and they went out of town, because I couldn’t bear to go a night without hearing their voices read me to sleep? Was it all of the notes from birthdays and holidays my mom’s parents had sent me over the years, from even before I could read or understand the concept of a letter? Or maybe one of my old journals, filled with cliched ramblings and angsty breakdowns, all the best and worst of a pre-teen’s life?
Regardless, I couldn’t get any of that stuff out, and as weeks and then months passed, I gave up. Sometimes, when I was looking for something and remembered it was in that drawer, I would make another few dozen efforts; I must have tried every material in our house to shove whatever was in there out of the way. When I found my hands couldn’t fit far enough in to reach the offending object, I tried books, pencils, CDs, scissors, an umbrella, my dad’s collection of screwdrivers, shoes, a wire hanger, a plastic hanger, a wooden hanger, and even once, in a poorly planned attempt, one of those snap-on bracelets from the ’90s, which gave me a nasty bruise trying to shove it into the small space, but didn’t work any better than anything else had.
At last, one day last week, on a summer day with nothing much to do, I decided to take a hike with one of my old journals and read through some of the entries, and try to fill it up before buying any new notebooks. Knowing I would fail, I begged my dad for help, and after all of his efforts also met with disappointment, he flipped over the entire ridiculously heavy wooden drawer, and started to shake it. Suddenly, it opened, disgorging its contents all over my bedroom floor, where they joined the stuff that I had thrown off my dresser so that my dad could turn it upside down. And what had been keeping it shut? Nothing special, just a binder of my old sheet music and monologues that I hadn’t really wanted to keep but couldn’t justify throwing away, as they could be future audition material. Really, the only thing in there that might have a concrete purpose in my life, but the only thing I had never searched for or tried to open that drawer for, the one thing I found, when it came down to it, I didn’t really need.
Going through everything that I had lost by locking it away in there, finding old pictures to tape to my walls and CDs I hadn’t listened to in years, I realized that part of the crushing nostalgia I felt every time I wanted to open that drawer, or every time I thought about moving to a completely new city for college, was because I felt like I couldn’t take any of that stuff with me in the rest of my life, even simply to a new house in almost the exact same neighborhood as the old one. But I now saw, as I began to confuse the letters on my floor – which had been inside the drawer, unread for ages, and which had just been sent to me, piled in a stack on top of it? – that that really wasn’t true. All of this stuff is still a part of me, and while I obviously can’t take all of it to my tiny dorm room in the fall, I am the only one who can choose what to bring.
In our lives, we have to make conscious choices what to keep – which friends are dearest, which books best, which letters longest, which clothes most irreplaceable, which hobbies most fulfilling, and on and on. It takes an effort to keep things. If I leave my room as it is, a complete jumble of keepsakes with no rhyme or reason, then my letters will end up chewed by my dog, and eventually no one will have a way to play my cassette tapes and they’ll be useless. And if I lock all of it away in some drawer – or maybe a cabinet this time – chances are I’ll forget what’s in there, and it will all meet the same sad fate. But if I box away some of it and keep the most important bits of it with me, if I convert those tapes to digital, and stick those old Polaroids up on my walls…then I get to choose what I see every day, what stays a part of me, and what stays with me in a smaller way, boxed up in my parents’ house to be rediscovered at a later date. There is so much that’s uncertain about the future, but what I can control is what I bring with me from the past, be it from ten years ago or two. Although sorting through it all is going to be a lengthy process, I can hardly call it a chore – I’m excited to dig through my past again, to bring bits of it with me; and I’m excited for what necessitates that journey, the journey in the other direction that takes me forward, into the future.