The music player surprised me with the Avett Brothers somehow knowing my heart ahead of time, they could foresee the future years ago, they must have. How else could they have known I would be delving into a box full of memories, heartaches and love this silvery-gray afternoon? My heart contracted and my throat tightened around a bolus of emotions, rough but not entirely unwelcome."Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin' in the swarms
Still can't find out how to hold my hands"
I was searching for photos. More specifically, CD's with photo files or a flash drive containing the same. I've been thinking about my twins lately, and I wanted to find the pictures I had taken when they were still in the NICU. Scoured my computer, the external drive, no luck so far. I thought that perhaps I had copied them off. I hope I did.
So it was a riffling through my desk, ransacking my briefcase, checking some shelves. I was avoiding the large box of mementos I had packed in my last move, but with no luck finding the right discs I knew I would have to open it.
It was among the very last boxes I sealed before moving. As I cleaned up my old house, I kept discovering the odd bit of physical memory, things I didn't want to discard, or couldn't discard. You know how it is when you move things that have been in the same place for long periods of time. Layers and strata develop. Chunks of memory form under the compaction of more stuff and time. Photos. Kids' drawings. Notes and cards and letters. Knick-knacks and curios. I had more than I remembered.
They all went in the box so I wouldn't lose them. The box itself had been set aside in a corner, resting there in the months since I moved. It was with some hesitation that I slid the knife through the tape holding the box shut. There was pressure, in my head and heart. I was hoping it wouldn't explode.
The Avett Brothers began to croon, the box opens, and into my hands fell shards of memory and love. I clutched to my chest artifacts from two pasts, one that will only be a future in my mind, and one of a future still developing. A small blanket, a picture or two of my son and daughter in the isolettes, drawings by my lovely Wee Lass, small crayon pictures scrawled with "I Love You Dad" in letters etched deep in the stone of my heart. Bits and pieces of my past youth and my Big Bro, all tucked away into 1.5 cubic feet.
The pressure in the box blew these fragile papers and relics up in a cloud, the words and images swarming around my head as I frantically scooped them up to contain them all. The world swam and blurred, liquid diamonds diffracting in my eyes. The papers, the pages, these miniature stelae forming the library of my history. Books beneath my bed? Jesus H., how did they know that?
I never did find the discs for which I was looking. As I placed the things back in the box, they came to me as more books on the shelf. Books I am reading and still writing, because I know no other path to follow.
The box filled, I closed the flaps and pushed it away to another corner. Sitting there in the chair, I looked down at my trembling fingers. I clenched them, feeling small and sad knowing that, in some sense, I still can't find out how to hold my hands.
Lyrics from "Ten Thousand Words", by the Avett Brothers.