I open my eyes to a blue light, the veil between waking and dream worlds, as thin as a spider web. I am so near the edge of sleep, it’s like waking up beside the deep pond of my self. The light of my mind touches on my mother, and some treasures in her secret drawer. I dip my hands into the water to bring them up.
Last weekend, I helped my father sort through my mother’s clothes—some to donate to Goodwill, others to the high school Theater department.
It was odd to imagine my mom’s old clothing, altered and embellished for young actresses, standing bravely on the stage. I think my mom would like that. She enjoyed the theater. The things she touched, that warmed her skin, that she carried—all props in the stories of her life.
When we finished with her clothes, I opened her drawer of keepsakes, full of notes and artwork from me and my siblings. It felt intimate, looking at what my mom had saved. Like maybe I shouldn’t be looking—except that they were things that I wrote or made for her. They are my past, too.
I found a long piece of Christmas paper, with each end rolled toward the center. Puzzled, I unrolled it to find a note I had written in pencil.
“A scroll for the family. I love you [lists their names] — Love, Julie Ann.”
I felt a prick to my heart, and then tears. A vague memory of making that scroll flickered in my mind, like a few frames from an old film. And with it, deep feeling—of loving my family so much, and wanting them to understand that.
I looked further, curious to know what else meant so much to my mother.
I found a cigar box covered with pink contact paper, with gold stars and a red wooden knob. I recognized the paper and the box. One of my brothers—now a gifted painter—made it at school. Inside, I found a pinecone that was spray-painted blue. A pair of little boy’s sunglasses, with sand still stuck to them. And a small, round tin box that I’d decorated with felt, ribbon, rhinestones, and costume jewelry. In the tin box was a tiny photo of me, a little toy chicken and duck, a Christmas tag, two beads, and a toy ring.
I found notes I’d written to my mother and father, drawings, a story I wrote, and a “newspaper” I made. One newsworthy article said, “Mrs. Baldwin had to wait for 2 hours for the TV repair man!” And in the sports section, “They [sports] are stupid like always!”
Between my tears, I was laughing. I found at least three notes with promises to “clean my room tomorrow.” In one of them, I warned my mom not to look, because it was so messy it might be “hazeras” to her health.
Going through my mother’s secret drawer, I rediscovered some elemental parts of myself, moments I’d forgotten—like bits of old leaves in the silt at the bottom of a pond—and it is from them that I create.
I crave—and yet avoid—that initial piercing of my heart. The flow of emotion, the darkness, the light, the loss, the gifts, the betrayals, the kindnesses…. But I open the secret drawers of my memory anyway.
I peek inside. I shine a light through the depths of my pond, touching remnants of what I no longer clearly remember. That is where meaning lives—waiting to be reborn in a story, a poem, or a painting. Those are the treasures that I bring up from the depths.