It looked pretty innocent really. “Feb 2000” in black marker on the side, the handwriting was my mother’s; predating that in cursive “Cin’s box. Do not open.” Oh, certainly that had been too much for her. My mother, the woman who bore me and who always wanted to understand me, to love me better. I could never let her.
At some point in the past, I had rescued my read diaries from that box, only vaguely glancing at the other contents. My heart and stories again violated, the secrets I could barely admit to myself, all my happiness and shame. This was the second time. I wondered with whom she’d discussed her complicated daughter’s words. The truths I gripped so tightly were mine and mine alone. Her forced intimacy made me ashamed of what my words could expose. For years I couldn’t write. When I did I couldn’t share.
I needed distraction desperately that day. It had been almost a year since the red string that had once darned my heart had been gently tugged. Thinking I would be better for it, I let it unravel, I let it unmake me. For a year now I had been suffering my unmaking. Trying to build a new home with the pieces of myself that had been returned to me. Tides rose and fell. I told myself it was just a moment.
I wanted some guidance and I hoped I would find it in the stars. Somewhere in that box was an astrological chart. I didn’t believe in astrology really. I don’t see myself in space, time is always playing tricks on me. I just wanted to distract myself from the my lurking fear that you can’t cut red strings. The red strings are your ARTeries. They are attached to your beating heart as long as you are alive. How I wished to be free of all my veins and capillaries.
The warning was on the box. I saw it marked clearly and I ignored it. Not distraction but destruction. Inside the box was all that I couldn’t throw away when I ran into the big world hoping to lose myself. The yellowed masking tape disintegrated easily.
My ancestors were in that box: the blood that ran through my veins, my inherited characteristics, my genetic memory. In old broken frames, the forms of their faces, their strengths and weaknesses, their stories of love and pain, printed in black and white, their lightness and their darkness. It was all mine. It was my origin. I understood their darkness differently now. It became very clear I could never have come from anywhere else.
I took my maternal grandmother from that box. She was unconditional love. I needed her. I would rescue her from my grandfathers wall, in the box also by relation. Somebody should have rescued her from him.
To the geography teacher and careers advisor that once told me my only hope was to marry an important successful man: I am a writer you arsehole!
My grandfather: adventurer, horseman, geologist, opal miner, builder, plumber, electrician, gardener, instrument maker, husband, father, grandfather, story teller, christian, jew, victim, rapist, pedophile. I kept a letter from you in my box. I kept the photos from your wall. Your genetic imprint and the photo of the woman you married I will carry, the rest, I will give away.
My parents, you are here too: young and beautiful, full of love and hope, the future stretching out before you, accomplished, colourful and flat... this is the way I saw you first, when you were my entire reference, and I didn’t understand how I could have come from you.
What shocked me to the core was how much God there was in the box. Catholic school reports, tracing the education of a little girl who grew further and further away from faith in anyone or anything. My First Holy Communion certificate, accompanied by work sheets in my neat trusting printing. The Catholics get you young; colouring in Mary and the baby Jesus, copying prayers and learning them by heart, confession. CONFESSION. What the fuck does a seven year old have to confess?
A large, dark, cruel crucifix with a silver emaciated Jesus, dead. What a delightful ornament for any child’s room. Confirmation certificate. More worksheets covered in copied broken promises. Gifts: small porcelain angels, good little girls praying while tending sheep, pictures in tiny frames of Saints... this should be funny but it isn’t.
Mary, the mother. Even today I still place a candle at your feet when I sneak through the door of the church, after service, to look at the pretty windows and smell the cold, high space. My circular tour, the stations of the cross, my programming.
“Mary,” promised my mother, “can take away your bad dreams and protect all the children from harm.” How I wanted to believe this. I stared at the tiny green snake at her feet. How may times have I sat exhausted and inadequate at Mary’s feet and thought about my own children.
My hand goes to my throat and there they are again, a cross with a tiny diamond and Mary- my maternal grandmother’s medal, complete with toothmarks from one of her many difficult labours. I never take them off. I have tried to disguise, or balance, I’m not sure which, this yoke with other charms: the hand of fatima, a spinning disk with the promise of love, the buddha.
Covering my charms as if to protect them from the sweep, I bundle everything into and empty red shopping bag. I am angry. I really don’t need that shit.
A very pale, self conscious little girl with wire frames glasses and blond plats; the same little girl slightly older and cheekier; glasses off now and old beyond her years; what the fuck is going on with her hair?
Old friends, mostly transient witnesses I have escaped but some red string ones too; those who know all the girls I have been, those from who I hide nothing. I am grateful.
Pictures drawn by old school friends as a gift during a stay in hospital to remove skin cancers. Every dance and gymnastics certificate I ever received. Athletics ribbons won by a little girl who wasn’t athletic, just so much bigger than the other kids her age. Best Dressed Pet? Six tiny books of fairytales the size of postage stamps from a christmas stocking in 1981. What do these things say about me, other than everything.
My first flatmates are in here, young and funny. My own Jack Kerouac, I will never put you in a box again. For 20 years you walked behind me ready to catch me if I fell. I have lost your thread but found your words and face.
My first resume making so much of so little. The idea of becoming which quickly degenerated to shrunken, skinny, sold out, made up, track marked arms covered in a fake fur coat, wearing what looks like a nightdress. The world she had believed was her oyster, had closed around her like a giant clam. What is she doing in my box? It is so hard to look her in the eye. I am sorry. I want to apologise to her and brush the knots out of her hair. She is only just sixeen.
I have hidden from her for 20 years. I have hidden from her drug consumption and her pursuit of men, her homelessness, her desire to charge straight towards death. For a long time I have kept her very quiet (except on the nights where I find her in the bottom of a bottle, screaming).
Miracle Max you are here in the form of a cat, black and white cleaning a delicate paw in the long long grass of the knock down that became a refuge. You are in my box and my inbox still. You have watched from the couch, me sleeping around and falling in love with the men who would never love me back, as though I am a reality tv show. You shoved me into the arms of the first man I would trust myself with. You have been an enemy and a fast friend, a prisoner, a dad and brought back my Wesley from the dead. We laugh at the darkness that should scare us.
Pay slips from nursing, the first job I would ever truly love. My old ladies who needed to talk as much as I did; gentle touch that demanded nothing. I took love to work with me every day and tried to make amends for the damage I had done (to whom?). I found some confidence in myself again. I imagined a future. I learned to study.
Salvation, through you I discovered relationships were more valuable than oblivion. With you I became the part time mother of a little girl; a role I was safe in, competent at. I found my way back into the garden, put some roots down, risked my first tight blossoming. I shared my bed and body with one man, long enough to actually enjoy both.
I wanted to believe I was safe forever and that you would be my family. That wasn’t our story. You woke sleeping beauty. You didn’t want a ridiculous prince role imposed on you.
Friends and furniture were divided. I found a flat and fucked myself up.
There were the months where I tried to keep functioning, I tried again to give my body to strangers and found that either I couldn’t or they wouldn’t take it. My back left shoulder blade burned as though pierced by a hot knife. The heart that would gently open, recognising the beauty of things in the world, remembering itself would suddenly close, tight. A fist. A sea anemone.
Then I met H, but the diaries and photos from that time have been rescued from my mother and the box.
What remains are old greyhound tickets, the paper ones and the laminated ones. We were so young and happysilly together. That trip. Most of that trip I took with me 20 years ago when I left. They are A4 black and white pictures. We are walking together. I am wearing some very ugly overall shorts that don’t really fit. I am looking at H with all my honest love. He is looking out into the world.
Last night, compelled beyond my very limited self control I had been on the telephone to Wesley. Emptying my heart and glass after glass of wine, I wanted my friend back... only he wasn’t my friend. The Wesleys of the world defy such labels. I don’t know what to call him.
Once we were, very definitely, friends. We had been friends for years. Wesley’s first true love was one of my few female friends. I found her in the box, smiling and lively and confident. He had gone to school with Salvation and somehow, GEOgraphically perhaps, I had been allowed them when we had divided the furniture and friends.
He heard my stories and I heard his songs.
When I came home full of the future but very much alone, Wesley’s first love had gone. When they divided furniture and friends, somehow, GEOgraphically perhaps, I had been allowed to keep Wesley. I had never been so frightened and unhappy in my life. I wanted the child that was growing inside me, but I couldn’t even look after myself. He, had been abandoned by the woman he had loved since he was a boy. Together we grieved our imagined lives.
We were consolation. He was the prize of my consolation. For months we listened to each other; he played, I talked. It was never too dark or too late. He touched me in a way I had never been touched, without wanting anything in return. I was safe when I was with him. He looked straight through my fears as though they weren’t there. He saw nothing to fix. I had lost him 20 years ago but he had found his way back to me.
And here we were again, broken. Not only was he outside the box, he was inside it too and I found him amongst the cruel evidence of my unwantedness. I found him with Malou, the girl who would be his wife, banish me from their lives.
The hardest thing to see in the box were H’s letters. The letters he wrote me when I had come home to have our first child. They filled me with fear and remembrance. Our pregnancy was the biggest mistake he had ever made. He had never been so desolate. He didn’t know what to say to me. There was no love in these letters.
Our finding each other, back then and now, should never have been a punishable offense. I had found consolation because I was alone. I had let it be a lesson. Evidence of my nature. No better than a stray dog in the park.
Then there was reconciliation. Hopeful baby footprints and messages infused with enthusiasm and optimism. Cards congratulating me on the birth of my first son. A beautiful, creative card from H to celebrate my birthday. And more baby footprints.
I came home again with two beautiful children to wait for H to grow up and be ready for us. I mothered them alone and I did it well. I returned to school part time. I began to learn french. I tried to be worthy of all of them. My books were here, proof.
He came back for us eventually. We started practicing being a family, first in Australia, then in France.
There was a card from my grandmother, now long dead, wishing me Bon Voyage. I had just come home.
~ Cinthia (Sydney, Australia, 1990's)
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.