My processes to many things often go backwards. I suppose that comes from learning backwards. My dad taught me how to swim by throwing me (sometimes repeatedly) into lakes and pools. I didn’t quite catch on until I was in Navy boot camp, but once I got the hang of it, most of what he taught me (that I’m bouyant and prone to floating if I give myself in to it) came back.
When I was 16, he tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift. He pointed the truck up the hill, switched seats with me and told me, ‘if you can balance out on a hill, you won’t have any trouble driving a stick shift.’
I fell in love by getting divorced. I improved my credit score by maxing out credit cards and neglecting to pay the bills. I learned how to properly use a semi-colon by tutoring other writers. When I cook I taste a dish as I go, then looking up the recipe when it’s close to done.
I make a bigger mess by cleaning my house.I’m especially good at that.
Lately, I’ve been talking (and thinking and writing) a lot about writing and my process and my ideas and the voices in my head. And I’ve been learning that what I lack is discipline. Order. Structure.
So I began cleaning and organizing my house. This weekend I stripped the covers off the couch cushions and cleaned and vacuumed away dog hair and stuffed animal innards; I washed heaps of clothes and boxed them up to take to Goodwill; I framed and hung photographs. I began to unpack a suitcase that had been sitting in the same place for three months.
And it’s there that I stopped.
The smell of my mother remains on the sweaters in that suitcase. Two days after Mom’s funeral, my dad and I cleaned out her closet. We boxed up all of her short-sleeved shirts and pants and shoes to send to Haiti. We set aside medical equipment to be returned or given to charities. We found a small safe and pondered its contents. It could not be opened with any of the keys in Mom’s jewelery box and it remains on the bottom of her closet, trapping away whatever secrets she was trying to hide. (That is a story in itself.) As we sorted through her clothes, my dad kept insisting that I take her sweaters. His rationale: hey would keep me warm in cold, rainy Seattle. My dad is mostly practical.
I, on the other hand, am mostly sentimental. I like to have things around me that remind me of people, places or moments. So I hung on to the sweaters, knowing I would never wear some (if not all) of them. Dad gave me one of his suitcases, and I brought it home with me, packed tight with my mom’s sweaters and a small plastic box containing some costume jewelery, two flowers from her funeral, a jar of buttons and a sock darner that belonged to my great-grandmother and, as far as I know, my mom never used.
The sweaters are still in the suitcase. In an attempt to discipline myself, to clean and organize my house, I tried to put them away. But they still smell like her. And for that reason I am consumed with thoughts of my mom and how it came to be that her dying should open up this part of me that wants to write everything about her.