Trash or Treasure?

One Sunday, in order to avoid sitting down to write, I spent a couple of hours going through an old, beat-up file box. The items were not organized but were just stacked on one another in this box that was filled to the top. I could almost see me putting those items in the box with the intention to organize it -someday . I had no idea what I would find in there. It reminded me “Storage Wars”, a reality show where they auction an abandoned storage unit to the highest bidder. Sometimes there is trash in the units and sometimes there is treasure.

I approached the contents slowly, lovingly actually. I picked up the folded yellow legal pad of paper, which, if possible, was even more yellow than it had been in its original state. There were about 13 names on the sheet, neatly printed. This paper held names, long forgotten, complete with addresses and phone numbers of the women who lived on my floor in the dorm in 1975 when I returned to IU after a 2 ½ year hiatus. Memories of that year flooded back to me.

The next item in the box was a folder marked “personal” which contained poems that I had written in high school. Some of them were handwritten but most were typed on a typewriter on parchment paper. The darkness of the poetry stunned me. I sipped on my coffee as I digested these words that came from a place I was unable to identify. I was 13 years old when I wrote them. Was it my penchant for drama or did they come from reality?  I set them aside.

Torn out pages of an old journal were next. Naïve, twenty-two year old me, back in college, writing of longing to belong, lost keys at registration, and the dreams I had for this re-start. A newsletter I had created that year was stuffed vertically beside all of the other items. I was the governor of the dormitory floor and the newsletter looked so lame at first glance.  I hadn’t even typed it. The contents of the newsletter, however, were illuminating. Along with articles about happenings around the dorm there was an announcement of an all floor meeting I had planned with a guest speaker from the Political Science Department. The topic she would be speaking about was “The Role of Women in the Workplace”. Hmmm.

Below the newsletter was a stack of folded letters on lined note paper. I knew instantly what they were. When I lived in New York City my grandmother wrote me at least once or twice a month and I kept all these letters. The letters were very “newsy” and grandma didn’t waste one square inch of the paper, even writing vertically on the page and filling all of the white space. She kept me up to date on the activities of my family who were clearly grieving about my absence. I was so excited to be on my adventure that I wasn’t sensitive to their feelings.

The next letter I found was from my first born nephew who is in his 40’s now. He and I have always been close.

“Dear Aunt Sherri, I wish you could come out here. I miss you. My parents and I went to New Jersey to the Academy and I hope I get in (I said get in because I’m not sure if it is accepted or excepted and I still don’t know). Jeff and I went to a girl’s house and her parents didn’t know. I asked her if she wanted to go with me and she said yes but she broke up with me and is going with Jeff. I hate his guts. I have to go. This is the longest letter I have ever written! No, actually, this is the only letter I have ever written. I love you!”

I still smile about this.

There was one last worn out folder at the bottom of the box which, from its size, I assumed it contained old tax returns. It wasn’t tax returns. The first item in the folder held a detailed outline of a stage play I had written. I lived in New York at the time and took writing classes at NYU. I had thought that I had lost the folder when my apartment flooded after I moved back to Indiana, but here it was, in my lap, the last item in an old box. Under the stage play was an outline for a novel, complete with character sketches and several chapters of the manuscript written by hand. As I read the detailed sketch of the main character, Amanda, I was stunned to see that I had given her the birthdate of January 9th. Eight years after I had penned this, in 1990, I gave birth to my son on that very date. I still get chills when I think of it. I get nauseous when I think about all of the time I have wasted by not writing. The saddest thing is, that I didn’t believe  that I could or should try to be a writer.

As I placed everything back in the box, I was aware of the treasures this box held. My steps to avoid writing led me back to my writing and to myself. The message was clear.

Time is wasting, keep your hand moving.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

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