I drove by our old house the other day and immediately wondered why I did. I was alone, wanted to pay homage to the place, I guess. But I shouldn't have done it.
What a strange feeling to see once cherished possessions scattered carelessly across the driveway of an abandoned home. So many things that mean so much, lovingly packed away for safekeeping over the years and now it all sits in a heap of ruin. Photographs, love letters, mementos from so many relationships, milestones, important events... It is surreal to me that these things I had collected since I was a child, these things that feel as much a part of me as the memories in my head, now litter a driveway. A pile of garbage waiting to be hauled away.
A couple days after the fire.
After the fire we used our hands and later a rake to sift through the charred remains, searching for anything that could be salvaged. A letter here, a photo there. It was both physically and emotionally difficult to sift through the blackened remains of our lives. But, like panning for gold, each new find was invigorating. I spent hours rummaging through that pile. My clothes and hands turned black, I cut myself on shattered picture frames and splintered wood, but still, I searched, hoping against hope that I might find our journals.
Yeah. I know. Paper? Surviving a fire? I had about as much of a shot at finding those journals as I have a hope of getting Brad Pitt to notice me if I show up and spend a day lurking around one of the 25 homes he owns.
I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember. There are entries from a 7-year-old Monica writing about playing with her best friend who lives next door, about the profound experience of reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. Entries from a 13-year-old Monica who kissed a boy for the very first time. A 16-year-old Monica excited about picking up her drivers license. A 17-year-old Monica writing about her pregnancy and subsequent abortion. A 20-year-old Monica detailing her relationship with a married man she can't seem to escape, a 27-year-old Monica meeting a guy in a band and getting married.
All of those girls would be strangers to me now at 35. Difficult to understand their motivations for doing the crazy stuff they did. Except they weren't strangers because I could always go back and read the how and the why. When Violet asked what in the world I was thinking when I told her the story of meeting her dad I would know exactly what I was thinking. Because I chronicled it all every step of the way. Even though I lived it I have forgotten so much of it. Not the major events, but all the stuff in between, which, in retrospect, is the important stuff.
Memory does that. It turns entire years of life into faded photographs stored in our brains. We remember snapshots of faces and places and then with the passage of time even those eventually recede into the darkest corners of our minds. But I had written it all. A Monica Was Here manifesto to the world... Or anyone willing to read. Most likely my children and maybe their children...
I can't even begin to articulate what it's like to lose something so priceless, the words of yourself, your entire life, essentially, from the age of 7 to 35. It's like losing a part of yourself. Because as much as we like to say that memories stay within us forever they don't. Time marches on and we forget the details. Forget about that one junior high crush, what it felt like to touch lips with a boy for the very first time, to fall in love, to have sex.
I thought I lost it all. And I did lose a lot. So many priceless mementos. But a lot was found too. Including all my journals and a couple notebooks Serge kept as a way to write letters to me while he was touring with his band just after we got married. Charred, yes. But still legible. What kind of miracle is that? From the ashes of burn and black and stench and destruction...all five journals.
Fire is so random. The way it burns reminds me of those towns you see after a tornado roars through. This house - totally gone. That one left untouched. And so it was with fire. This book totally burned, that picture gone, but these journals, although a little worse for the wear, pulled from the ashes.
It's how I feel. A little burned, fragile, but still here.