Posted by on Jan 05, 2013
My house is full of boxes. It’s the way my brain works--- everything must be able to be neatly labeled and put in a box somewhere, if need be. Boxes marked “miscellaneous” are the bane of my existence. I don’t believe in them. There has to be SOMEWHERE that the contents belong. I like boxes because, to me, they symbolize order and logic in a chaotic and illogical world. As a result of my love of boxes to put things, both our attic and basement have stacks of plastic bins labeled with such exciting titles as, “Hallowe’en Costumer 2T-4T”, “Hugo Wardrobe Summer 2013”, and “Christmas- Singing Toys”.
When I was a baby, my mother bought my sister and I each a massive steamer trunk. She dubbed these our “Memory Trunks”, and with each passing year of our lives she would select a few things that represented that year and carefully place them in there. When we moved out of our childhood home as adults, we had a personal time capsule full of favourite outfits (I can’t believe the size of the shoulder pads kids wore in 1987!), school projects (do you know I once wrote an entire essay dedicated to the lost art of the Accordion?), memorabilia from important moments (i.e. dried flowers from my stint as Flower girl in 1984), etc. These Memory Trunks are precious to my sister Heather and I. They are a glimpse of us as little girls, a reminder of awkward teenage years, first dates, hobbies, friends and memories of a time long gone. We always get a kick out of revisiting our past when we paw through the trunks once every few years and often spoke about how funny our children would think it was to go through these trunks with us when they were older.
When Stella was born, I wanted to continue this tradition of a Memory Trunk, so from the time she was born, I carefully put away favourite outfits of hers and labeled them with little notes and memories. On a tiny white gown I wrote, “This is the hospital gown they put you in just after you were born at St. Michael’s Hospital on April 18th, 2009”. On her first bathing suit I wrote, “This bathing suit was bought for you by DeeDee when you were 3 months old and you wore it all summer to the cottage in Coboconk, Thunder Beach and at your very first swimming lessons with your friend Arin”. I put in the little wooden box she made for us at Daycare with the neatly typed poem on top stating, “This box is full of love inside”. I put in her first doll, “Sassy”. There are piles of neatly folded clothing washed and ready for Stella to pull out someday and laugh with me about. Her birth announcement. Cards from her first birthday party. I put it all away with love and ignorance; picturing the day her own children might wear some of the outfits and giggle at the stilly styles of the decade. Someday. Someday.
As you know, that “someday” day never came. As Aimee and I packed away the Christmas Ornaments in their designated boxes and hauled them up to the attic yesterday, I caught a glimpse of Stella’s Memory Trunk. Up in a corner of the attic, it sits next to a stack of neatly piled bins. Two of them say “Stella’s Room” and one of them, the biggest one with the blue lid, says “Stella’s Funeral”. Inside “Stella’s Room” are items that once adorned the shelves in her room that her brother Sam now stays in. Things like her “Stella” alien doll given to her by Flora’s family her first Christmas. A finger-painting that Gracie made Stella for her second birthday. A “My First Years” scrapbook partially filled out. The Winnie-The-Pooh mobile Uncle Tristan picked out that lulled her to sleep the first 8 months of her life. A photo of me pregnant with Stella, holding my stomach and smiling widely at the camera, my face full of excitement and anticipation. Inside the “Stella’s Funeral” box is the leftover programs from her Celebration of Life, a huge stack of sympathy cards, the fabric “hugs” friends and family made to cover her in as she lay dying, and that later decorated the room in the funeral parlors where her service took place. There are all the contractual forms we signed, indicating that we agree to have her cremated, that we want the ashes placed in a certain box, the bill for her place in the Scattering Garden at Necropolis Cemetery, and the bill for her funeral with all the itemized parts of it (you know, like cremation cost, administration, floral arrangements, etc.). It looked so messed up to me to see all those boxes lined up in the attic:
Stella’s Memory Trunk.
I found myself wondering how the Hell all this had happened and how my life had become so out of control that all the boxes in the world can’t make me understand or contain the emotions inside. I know if I crack open any of those boxes feelings and memories will come spewing out of the lid like poisonous snakes. Tears, anger, horror, regret and profound, deep, sadness.
When you box something you put it away, you don’t see it. You know it’s in there, but it’s hidden from view. I have no idea why I can’t throw out the funeral stuff. It’s not like I ever see myself pulling things out and reminiscing happily about that day. I have no Memory Trunk for Hugo or Sam. I always meant to make them each one, but I began to wonder what I’m supposed to do with all the bins and boxes I already have. All of a sudden they make no sense.
The trouble with all these boxes filled with objects, is that I still want to see Stella and feel her. I want to run my hands over the paintings where her fingers once happily spread rainbows of colour. I want to smell her bathing suit and imagine that she’s once again running across Great Wolf Lodge in her little brown crocs with Gracie. I want to remember the pure joy and excitement I felt when she was living inside my stomach. But how can I? How can I when I’m afraid to open those boxes and feel all the other emotions that come with remembering. The hard and heart-breaking ones.
Stella’s stuff is still all over the house. Her toys fill the toybox, her photos cover the walls, her clothing remains in her drawers and is actively worn by Gracie on the weekends. I know in time we will slowly start to replace a few of these things with new toys, new photos of our lives, new clothing to fill the drawers. I know the newspaper articles about Stella will someday start to fade and crack. I know the paper she drew on will become brittle and yellow. I know her toys will get broken and thrown out. The objects I have of hers at the end are not the things that will sustain me or fill my heart, only the memories in my heart and head can serve that purpose.
Stella never fit into a box before, and she sure as Hell isn’t fitting into one now either. I hope someday all those bins in the attic with Stella’s name on them will be like little boxes of magic that, in some small ways, bring a bit of Stella back to life for me. For now, they are just organized chaos, a reflection of how I’m surviving these days by forcing myself to box and compartmentalize all the things that, right now, are too hard to look at.
The irony of boxes is that they are, utimately ambiguous. They represent both freedom and confinement. Which, strangely enough, is exactly what Stella's life was like at the end. Her body confined her, but her spirit ran free and wild right to the very end.
Perhaps one day I will see the boxes for what they are---discovery and consciousness. For now, they are just a place to put all the crap that threatens to clog the future.
Uncle Tristan, DeeDee and Hugo in New York:
Gracie and Sam on the slide:
Hugo with our friend Omo (Arin's Mama):
Hugo and Sam playing early in the morning:
Stella last year...'cause Aimee said we should always remember her smile!