I’ve lived here for the last 12 years
Since early 1995 all my shit has been in boxes
But if I had a little more time to kill
I’d settle every little stupid thing
Yeah you’d think that I would
-Even if It Kills Me, Motion City Sountrack
There’s a task I felt compelled to accomplish after pulling my dusty boxes out of storage. At first it was this glorified idea of becoming a minimalist. A cleansing, if you will. It’s the kind of thing I should have done before leaving to Japan. Or the kind of thing you do when floating in transition like me. A frenetic cleansing that leads to freedom from the prison of the past. The prison of the stuff that when released, opens to the gates to a great job, divested hang-ups, and a twenty-something’s white and pristine Bauhaus living room—all-90-degree angles, organic food, and Ikea furniture. It’s the triumph at the end of an episode of Hoarders. It’s the idyllic celebration at the end of Extreme Home Makeover. Everything in its place, everything necessary.
The perfect candidates for the attack: a pile of greeting cards I’d saved for 24 years. A stack about two feet high. It shouldn’t take long.
About 10 greeting cards in, I encountered a medallion with the Virgin Mary Guadalupe. And my late Baptist grandmother’s writing.
“This medal you can clip on that watch you clip on your jeans. Have Grandma Adame tell you it’s meaning—I don’t know about Catholic things. Love you and miss you all. Grandma B”
I broke down. The intellectual politics fell away. With only a grandfather alive, reading my grandmothers in dialogue tore at a little something deeper.
I touched every card in that stack. In a few hours, it was childhood remembered, each card reaching a little hand into the heart-well and sending memories rippling out, relived. All the love felt between addresses, despite the addresses (and I had a lot of them growing up), and despite some of the writers no longer being here in this world.
Cards from my grandmothers trace their decline in health, still-loving ink lines become unsteady. Birthday cards trace Dad’s transition from workaholic to expressive and involved father. My most treasured card is one that’s only from him, for my 11th birthday. In somewhat hurried fashion he failed to see the sparkly martini on the front when he bought it. I re-discovered this card 10 years later, on my 21st birthday and about a year after his passing.
The history of these greeting cards is largely a history of women writing to other women. Most of my cards are from Mom, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, my sisters, my best gal friend…Often my grandmother would write in my grandpa’s name, Mom would write in Dad, sis would write in little bro. Call it a capitalist triumph for the greeting card industry, but I’m more inclined to call it a coralling into creative expression. The men-family who wrote me cards usually learned it from the women. I’m not complaining (and I’m excluding romantic letters from significant others), just paying tribute to the women of my family supporting this loving custom. Messages like these are part of the heart’s archive. They transcend the barriers of Instagram’s 612×612 pixels and 140 characters of Twitter. And the most precious ones remain safe from my so-called minimalist purging.
I came across a bowl of dried roseblooms
Their fragrance faint, velvet color dulled
I plucked one from the bowl
hearing the dry crack of the petals—
out of caprice and nothing more—
I began to pull away the sheaths
One by one, the abundant layers
Until a sweet decay held inside for so long
The petals’ softness grew to feathers
My efforts yielded a heart
Beating as if still living
Death by any other name might sound sweeter
But a rose’s death
Comes slow and infinite, if at all
I thought of you,
And the one you held dear
One inside a still-velvet sheath
Beside it, a spirit
Two hearts of the selfsame vibrancy
A mystery to all.