I haven’t mentioned it much on the blog, but my husband and I separated in the spring. It was not somewhere I had ever wanted to be, even though I think it was necessary and right at the end, and we have remained, above all other differences, our son’s parents first and finally. So I moved. And I left things behind and came back to the place where I grew up and have a plethora of family that can help a single mother. But I left things behind.
My son’s father delivered a trailer of some of those things a couple of weeks ago. He was kind enough to pack them up and send them north along with some of our furniture, so I’ve spent the past couple of weeks sifting through books and artifacts, some from when we were first married, some toward the end when our tastes were different and we had grown closer in some ways and dramatically apart in others. All my books made the trip, along with my bookcases (thank goodness), and so I have been unpacking.
I’m not a sentimental person when it comes to objects. Other than a very few things like a childhood toy that I still have and my grandmothers’ china and silver, I’m not terribly attached to things. So it will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the first boxes I unpacked contained my books.
And I thought about packing and unpacking while I organized them. I thought about the things we keep and the things we are willing to leave. (Old Nora Roberts novel in the donate pile, Michael Ondaatje on the shelf.) And I realized while I was thinking about these things and unpacking my books that each one that I keep in the main bookcases (Calvin and Hobbes collection on the bottom shelf where son can discover them, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths a little higher) was an artifact in its own way. Not the physical book in most cases, but the story and the memories attached.
The Hobbit, which I remember reading as a child around the dinner table with my family, and The Lord of the Rings, which at one point in my life I reread every year like a kind of ritual. The Captain’s Verses, by Neruda, which was small, so I carried a copy in my backpack the summer I went to Europe and was a gypsy. A Room with a View, Charms for the Easy Life, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. All stories that, more than any object, bring a wash of memories and feelings to my head.
Stories are my artifacts. And more than the things in my life (most of which I’m not vitally attached to), the stories will travel with me forever, even if I lose the physical objects that contain them. Some will give me a momentary pleasure, like a pretty vase I use for a few years, then pass on to someone else. Some will be bring wonderful, magical memories. And others will bring pain that will make me stumble. But like every object packed in those boxes crowding my garage, at one point they had a purpose in my life. I learned from them, ignored them, loved them, hated them. And each one was another small point—positive or negative—in the journey my life has taken. Because every story serves a purpose.
What story is your artifact? Talk to me. (There’s a comments section for a reason.) What book has transformed you some way, be it positive or negative?