It is truly amazing the emotions and memories that attach themselves to things we own like tentacles of an amoeba. Swaying, reaching and gently wrapping their tentacles around the objects, they stir such anxiety, we are unable to part with that watch, that necklace, that embroidered handkerchief. If we give up the product, we will in turn forget the comforting memories that lie washed in the soft light of our happy memory banks.
While in Brazil, a family took me in off of the streets when my world fell apart. I spoke only Spanish, and knew not a soul in Sao Paulo. I’d been there only three months when I found myself in a fix, but refused to “give up” and go home. Attending tap dancing lessons, I pulled my shoes off at the end of the lesson and the tears began to fall. The only English speaker in the class asked what was wrong as the other girls crowded around the mess of a foreigner who sat in a heap of tears, still clinging to black tap shoes.
“I had a huge fight with my best friend. She kicked me out where I’m staying, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. She made it quite clear I can’t stay there. She hasn’t spoken to me in almost a week. She said she talked it over with her father and that it’s best if I just go home. I’m not going home. I love it here.”
The English-speaking angel wrapped her arm around my shoulders and said, “Why don’t you spend the night at my house? We’ll talk to my mother. She’ll know what to do.”
And she did.
I spent the following six months using their home as a base, jumping from job to job teaching English. I remember her mother was the one who broke the news to me that Princess Diana died in the car accident. And her mother was the one who sent me to the doctor and paid for my medication while I coughed up a lung, refusing to see a doctor because I had no money.
I don’t exactly recall when she gave me the tissues. Was it when the news of Princess Diana’s death sunk in? Was it during the hateful cold I couldn’t shake? I don’t recall. I do recall I only used two of the tissues out of the mini pack.
My English-speaking angel’s mother suffered from pancreatic cancer the entire time I resided with them. She’d already suffered through a double mastectomy, I believe. Chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, and I only knew her bald. She wrapped her beautiful head in fashionable, delicate scarves. One evening while visiting her in the hospital, a blood vessel burst between her eyes, leaving her with an elegant, exotic, red dot like the women wear in India.
Young, and stupid, I didn’t know what to say, but I wanted to make her feel better. I gushed, “Oh, how lovely and exotic you look with your red dot.” She began to cry, reached over and hugged me.
These are the memories that flood back when I pull the packet of tissues from a special box I keep along with her picture in a golden frame and the touching eulogy from her funeral.
Mostly, I remember sitting on the couch and telling her that maybe I should go home. What was I doing in Brazil? I had no job. No plan. To which she replied, “What you are doing is very important, Jennifer. You are learning and growing and expanding your mind. You are branching out and experiencing things you may never have the chance to see and do again. I traveled the world with my sister when I was your age. It is something I would never trade and never regret. You will stay right here, in my house, as long as you like.”
How can so many memories be attached to one little packet of tissues? How difficult it is to let go of things that have such grand meaning. I simply cannot do it. When I hear my husband’s words of “My grandmother gave that to me,” and I hear myself respond, “Honey, it’s an atlas. She gave it to you in 1994. The roads aren’t even the same anymore. I’m sure she just gave it to you because she was finished with it, not because she meant for you to keep it forever,” I have to consider how easy it is for me to rationalize because I have no memories attached to that particular atlas. And I remember the Brazilian angels who rescued me and the tissue packet.
He could say the very same thing to me. “For God’s sake, Jennifer. It’s a packet of tissues. She gave it to you for you to use. Blow your nose and get rid of them.” I wonder about the memories my husband has attached to that atlas of his grandmother’s. A special hug. The smell of baked cookies. The memory of her grey hair pinned up just so. The way she laughed when she entered the front door on a visit, bending down to welcome two running boys into her arms.
Even without the object, the memories remain, but there is something about picking it up in your hand and holding it, isn’t there?
Are you able to let go of things easily or do you struggle, afraid to let go of the object for fear of losing the memories?