Friday evening, after closing the book, I went to my familiar place at the vanity and sat. My tattered journal was now full, so I reached for the paper bag that held a new one. On the way home from work, I’d taken a detour to a historical part of one of the western suburbs and gone into a stationery shop. The cute little boutique boasted handmade cards by local artists, prints from area photographers, and a few journals with various artwork on them. I’d left with a journal whose front looked like one of my great-grandma’s paintings. It seemed fitting.
Now, as I withdrew the journal from the bag, I held it in my hands like it was a precious treasure. I opened the journal and brought it to my face, sniffing the unused pages. How I loved the smell of new books! It was like opportunity and dreams having a scent. I set the journal down on the vanity and wrote a poem:
Pictures merely tell the rumor of a half-remembered story,
A book with pages tattered and worn, yellowed with age,
The ink faded and dull, dying to eternity.
Memories fall away like rain dropping down glass,
Fogging the view, warping the truth, and sliding to death.
All is fleeting and passing like a silent train in the night,
But there are no stops but one;
Only the moment of now is the single real thing.
All else is dusty vanity drowning in yesterday’s ashes.
A poem… I titled it “Yesterday’s Ashes” after a moment and reread it several times. Beyond the window, rain tapped at the glass. I redirected my focus to the journal. I hadn’t been thinking as I’d composed the poem, but the tears stinging my eyes spoke of a deep, aching emptiness inside. That was the past…unreachable, slowly forgotten, and unchangeable. Time didn’t stop for anyone. Allow enough time to unravel, and the generations that come lose the connection to their ancestors.
I closed the journal and moved my hand over the smooth cover. Then I set it aside and picked up my great-grandfather’s book. I stood and went into the darkened living room. Nana had gone to bed hours ago. Only the ticking of the clock on the mantel greeted me. Standing in front of the couch, I stared at my great-grandma’s painting. The book rested over my chest, and my heartbeat was steady up against it…so alive. These objects were left behind, like impressions in the sand after someone has passed through, but the waves were relentless and soon enough washed away any trace of that passerby.
The longer I stood there, the more my eyes adjusted to the little amount of light in the room. Details of Great-Grandma’s painting popped out, like the black blob of paint near the bottom right. Her fury could have been contained in that single splotch, but here it was, seventy-some years after she’d painted it, nothing more than a lingering relic of a woman who had known loss and pain.
And yet…yet I was connected to her. Connected to my great-grandpa, too, as his words from long ago spoke to me from pages that had been closed for decades. My tears were steadily flowing down my cheeks now, but I didn’t try to stop them. Despite their heartache, they had found each other and had created something beautiful.
What was I doing with my life, really? Was this job, these new relationships, this new haircut, all of it — was it just a mask to cover what was at the root of my problems? Because I knew, at the core of my put-on smiles and defensive walls, that eight-year-old girl lived. She was as dirty and used as she felt from the moment those boys changed her life.