What’s the word for when you remember something you didn’t realize you had forgotten? You know, like those lists of beautiful words for obscure feelings that actually have names, or sensations that don’t have an English translation?
Whatever the word is, the feeling has hit me relentlessly over the past week. I’ll open a box with baited breath, not sure if I’ll find something that makes me laugh or makes me cry, and I’ll be met with something I can’t believe I forgot.
First, it’s a picture frame. We had complementary photos from a Daddy-Daughter Dance that Dad took us to in, like, 1999. It’s instantly recognizable when I open the box; I am sure of the picture before I even pull it out.
Hers was portrait-style, with a hot pink border. Mine was landscape-style, with daisies over a light purple background. Dad’s eyes are half shut in both pictures, and we have matching hairstyles and beautiful dresses. I faintly remember the event, as much as one can remember an event that took place when they were four-years-old. Of course I still have my picture, but I can’t remember if the frame shattered when I threw it at a wall, or if it simply dropped off the top of my dresser when I was rummaging around. Both are equally plausible. Either way, my picture from the dance is in a new black frame, on top of a new dresser, in my new apartment. I loved that we had these matching pictures, and I see mine every time I leave my room. Maybe I’ve seen it so often I don’t process it anymore, but I can’t believe I never thought to miss her picture and her frame, her version of this memory.
Next, I rummage through the top layers of newspaper clippings and old yearbooks and pull out her backpack. It’s pretty beat up, but it’s unmistakable.
How many times had I seen it rushing out of the house in the mornings, because she was late for the bus? How many times had I lugged it off my computer chair because she dropped it there instead of behind the door, where we were supposed to put our school bags? How many times had I marveled at the weight of it, certain that the only thing heavier was her brain? Seeing it again reminds me that it is colossally unfair that a Traumatic Brain Injury betrayed her and her brilliant mind in the end.
I think about this as I sort through massive piles of homework and old notes, the intellectual quality comparable to some of my best work in college. I wish she had gotten to finish high school. Who knows where her formal education would have led? I can’t believe I never thought about her backpack.
Then it’s her red pouch from Encounter (her favorite summer camp) from the year she worked with United Cerebral Palsy. I can’t remember if that was her first year, when she was allowed to attend early as a rising 8th grader when usually you have to be in high school, or her second year, where the pictures of her riding the Metro with some of her favorite people come from. Those are some of my favorite pictures of her. I can’t remember if she went for a third year. It was one of her favorite weeks of the year, though, so I’m not surprised it’s one of the many contents of these boxes. I am surprised I didn’t think to miss it. I went to the camp for the first time a few summers later and they announced that the Sister and Mom of the Encounter Girl That Died Last Year were there during the Welcome Talk. I didn’t keep my red pouch.
I don’t know what I’m looking for in these boxes… these boxes, her life entirely reduced to cardboard storage in the rafters of our garage. I guess it’d be nice to find a guidebook on How to Keep Doing Life Without Her, but I’d settle for finding a little note she wrote me. Some kind of sentiment that proved she loved me. Some kind of artifact that makes her real again, if only for a moment. Instead, all I’m finding is proof of perfect handwriting, and all of the things that I can’t believe I forgot.
My brother packed up her bedroom a few years after she died, and the boxes have been stored in the garage ever since. I’ve heard of some families who keep bedrooms perfectly preserved, but we never did. The day of the accident, I stripped her bed and washed her sheets and picked up her laundry so that my grandparents had a clean place to stay when they arrived from Ohio later that night. In less than a day, it looked wildly different than how she left it that afternoon, and she never came home to restore the organized chaos.
There wasn’t a big or emotional reason for why we packed her things up when we did. My brothers had been sharing a room, but if we converted her bedroom they could each have their own. The older of the two couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 when he transferred everything that was left of her into boxes leftover from our last move, marked with nothing but the four letters of her name.
If she could open them tomorrow, it’d be like not a day had passed. Her jewelry, notes passed between friends, newspaper clippings, and old CDs… a sweet sixteen, perfectly preserved.
The boxes have remained undisturbed ever since, partially because they’re stored so high up that it’s not worth the physical or emotional effort of getting them down. In the last couple of months though, my parents have started talking about cleaning out the garage in an effort to start preparing the house for the next move. Dad can’t stay in one place for too long, and it is nothing short of a miracle that we’ve lived in this house for thirteen years. I guess I’m more like him than I care to admit; I can’t put roots down