fingerprints and dust.

It’s quiet in the house except for the sounds of the cars passing on the nearby highway.  It seems too quiet, but no one is home except for me, so I don’t know why it would be any louder.  The attic is dusty and hot, but it doesn’t bother me too much.  I sit in front of a mound of old boxes and a few bags tucked away in a dimly lit corner.  It’s surprisingly dark up here for late afternoon.

These boxes have been sitting in my attic for over a year now, completely untouched and mostly forgotten since I put them there.  It’s an eclectic group of packing materials; I can tell how little forethought went into packing this stuff up just by looking at it: a couple of orange crates and a used FedEx box, several plastic Target bags and paper Starbucks handle bags, and a large Bath & Body Works bag.

I pull the first box toward me and peer inside.  My heart flutters and sinks down into my stomach, like that feeling you get when you know you’re about to get bad news.  The box is mostly empty, which seems slightly odd.  There’s a picture of my best friend from a dance recital, a handful of plastic glow-in-the-dark stars, a magnet that reads “Hurrah! At last I’m 50!,” a bendy Bullwinkle figure and a small blue Christmas tree.  Under that are a few pictures of me from when I was little in Virginia Beach, a lock of hair from my first haircut tucked into a church offering envelope that reads “Apr 1990,” a koosh ball, and bits of paper with my handwriting circa 10-12 years old.

In the bottom of the box is one of my professional acting headshots, in a cheap pressed wood frame.  I’m twenty and smiling brightly, gleaming braces reflecting the sunlight.  The glass in the frame is shattered, which has scratched the picture in places.  The bottom of the box is full of glass pieces.  As I try to delicately pick up the frame, shards of glass attack my fingers and make them bleed in a few places.  Thankfully, there’s nothing underneath.

A car alarm goes off outside; presumably across the street.  It quiets down after a few minutes.

Memorable trash, that’s what most of this is.

I set that stuff aside and after running downstairs to attend to my bleeding fingers I look into a few of the bags.  They mostly contain my collection of National Geographic magazines that span probably ten years total.  One of the bags holds twenty or so CD cases, many of which don’t actually have any CDs inside.  Upon further inspection, I find that only three of them are mine.  In the very bottom of that bag are a couple of Happy Meal toys from the early 90s, loose photo negatives, and an empty envelope with my name on it.

Still another bag holds a collection of coloring book pages colored and ripped out along with a few used gift bags and crumpled poster of a play I produced a couple of years ago.  There’s also a paper turkey made out of a tracing of my hand that says “Mary Christa – age 4” on the backside, as well as some Valentine’s Day window clings.

I stop and sit back for a moment, taking it all in.  I’m not quite sure what to think about all this.  I take a quick survey of the attic.  Surrounded by Christmas decorations, old computer parts, and unused luggage, lay every tangible memory of my childhood.  Every colored picture, toy, and Sunday school craft project.  Everything about me from the last 25 years and accidentally left at my mother’s house is in these boxes.

My mother gave me all this stuff January before last.  I guess I shouldn’t say she gave them to me; rather, she dumped them in my always unlocked Jeep Wrangler while I was at work one evening.  It had been almost a year since our already fragile relationship had completely fallen apart and I had moved out.  This wasn’t the first time she had done this (it was actually more like the sixth or seventh, I think), but it turned out to be the last.  Each time before it had been lesser items, like junk mail or an old computer monitor that I had given her – mostly impersonal stuff.  It hurt, but not like this.  At Christmas she left a framed poster that she had bought before everything happened.  On the wrapping paper she had written MERRY CHRISTMAS in the harshest block lettering she could muster.  I could feel her anger through the Sharpie marks.  These items had been accompanied by an extra special note left on my seat that simply read: I figured you’d want these since you aren’t my daughter anymore.

I plop my head back on a Rubbermaid container sitting behind me and take a deep breath.  Dude, the basset hound next door, belts out a howl.

I can do this; I just have to keep going.  Next box.

I crawl around one side of the pile to look into the largest box and put my face into a large spider web.  I’ve got to get better lighting up here.  I snort and sputter while grabbing wildly at my face and hair for a moment before determining that there isn’t a spider crawling on me after all.  I chuckle a little at myself from that display of arachnophobia, which lightens my mood.  Maybe I can enjoy this.  After all, this is kind of like an extreme display of vanity, everything here is mine, about me, or I gave it as a gift to my mom at some point.

I turn the box over and start from the bottom.  Several school text books and work books from my homeschooling days (I was homeschooled all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation), end up on top of everything.  Beneath those are some of my favorite childhood books, which include several Dr. Seuss books.  Fox in Socks was the first book I ever learned to “read” at around age three (and by “read” I really mean memorized from the amount of times I made my parents read it to me).  This is where things begin to get really strange, even for my mother.  Under the books are an old pencil box, a package of seed beads, a partial sheet of Kiss Me, I Don’t Smoke stickers, an undeveloped roll of film, an old church bulletin from Kempsville Presbyterian, a broken pair of sunglasses, and several sheets of unused mailing labels.


But it doesn’t stop there.  There are countless other items that I have no idea why they are included with this stuff.  The plastic pop beads I understand.  The flower-shaped candle from the bathroom that I didn’t even particularly like or the unused post-it notes, not so much.  And there’s so much more.  So much that I cannot even begin to catalogue it all.  The trash in the other boxes now seems intentional – but why?

My roommate’s words from when I first came into repossession of all this stuff last year comes back to me: it’s like you’re being erased.

I only half believed her then.  Now that I’m looking at everything I’ve ever so much as touched, I get it.  I’m still in disbelief, but I get it.

This realization hits me like a panic attack.  Oh, god.  I am being erased.  I begin to frantically rip through the remaining stuff scattered in front of me and yet another bag just beyond it.  I find medical records, financial aid notices, and even some college letters.  I look at each one and hastily toss it aside to look at whatever I get my hands on next.  My heart is racing and I can barely catch my breath.  I’m too panicked to give over and start crying just yet.

There’s one big document missing – my birth certificate.  There’s a reason for that.  The day I moved out of my mom’s house, a few days after she originally disowned me for getting engaged and having the audacity to try and tell her, I found my birth certificate ripped to shreds and thrown on the floor.  Alongside this I also found all the pictures of me that had hung about the house until now in an upside down stack in the middle of the floor, some of frames now broken.  Not long after that, my grandmother told my cousin that she only had nine grandchildren now.  I had broken one of the Ten Commandments and she could no longer claim me.

I still don’t quite understand that one.

I continue to ransack what’s left of the heap, crawling around on my hands and knees.  I’m covered in dust and other attic debris and sneezing nearly uncontrollably.  I can’t say whether my bleary eyes are caused by my allergies or tears; probably both.  After a few minutes of this frenzy, I reach the final box that had been hidden by the massive stack of National Geographic magazines tossed in front of it. It’s shallow and heavy, and taped tightly shut.  I begin to peel the tape off and it shifts and clunks like china.

As night falls the road sounds subside and succumb to the growing chirps of crickets and bull frogs.  I sit back on my heels as it dawns on me what’s inside.

A box of two dozen or so thrift store coffee mugs is generally considered tacky back-up drink ware (at best) to the average twenty-something (really anybody, if I’m honest with myself).  For as long as I can remember, I have always loved coffee mugs.  This love led to a love for coffee itself, and pretty much anything one can drink out of a mug.  We were poor when I was little, so most of our shopping was done at thrift stores.  On almost every trip to the Purple Heart Thrift Store, I would scurry off to the kitchen section in search for treasures.  I gave most of these precious coffee mugs as gifts to either my mom or dad, even though they were always purchased with their money.  As I grew older, the coffee mugs got nicer, often purchased from Starbucks or Pier One, but it was always coffee mugs.

And here they sit in a box in front of me.  All those coffee mugs that I gave to my mother.

There are two layers of coffee mugs inside.  I begin pulling them out of the box and placing them on the floor beside me one by one.  A few are chipped cracked, some of which can be attributed to age and wear, some of which I’m sure is because of the way they have been transported in this box, without padding of any sort.  Two of my favorites are the Chocloasaurus and the Shopasaurus mugs, based off an 80s comic strip about dinosaurs with personality stereotypes.  I found the pair when out shopping for my mom’s birthday with my grandmother probably about 15 years ago and instantly fell in love.  I kept the Chocloasaurus mug for myself and eagerly presented the other to my mother a few days later on her birthday.  I had always wanted a mug with my name printed on it, and this was the next best thing.  We drank out of these mugs together on every special occasion until a few years ago. Also in the box is the full collection of Garfield glass mugs that Burger King sold in the early 90s, many of which still have the black crayon price markings on the bottom from the thrift store.

The second layer has several World’s Greatest Mom and I Love You This Much… mugs in it.  It also has a few mugs that I’m pretty sure she got from office or church Christmas parties, definitely not from me.  Only a few of the mugs in this box actually belong to me, but at this point I’ve stopped trying to think through all this logically.

This is what makes up my life, I guess.  A bunch of stuff eventually stowed away in attics and closets that nobody needs, but can’t seem to get rid of because of the memories they evoke.  Maybe everybody’s lives are like that.  Newspaper clippings, old costume jewelry, and well-loved toys with no material worth become priceless artifacts of someone we cherish.

I feel like I should cry, but I just can’t seem to.  It’s a different kind of hurt; a dull ache that flares up in quiet moments and lurks in the back of my mind on birthdays.  An incredulous pain.

It’s surreal to think that I’ve been erased to nothing more than fingerprints and dust in my own mother’s house.


~ by Mary Christa on April 13, 2011.

One Response to “fingerprints and dust.”

  1. MC, I do hope you know that you are loved. You may have been erased from one part of your former family, you have definitly been written in “ink” in another. We love you! Your new Mom!

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