Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carrying Around the Past

When I descend the stairs to the basement, my heart sinks. A sea of boxes clutters the unfinished footprint of our house. Many of my childhood possessions, including all my dolls, grow dusty and old. Up until now, I haven’t been able to part with them. Will I ever be rid of them?

For a long time I felt isolated from my past. My childhood and college years didn’t seem real. The whirlwind of kid and volunteer activities enveloped me and nothing existed before my present life as a mom in the suburbs. When I tried to describe the sensation to my husband, he didn’t understand my desire to embrace those distant, and often unhappy, days.

Last year, I peeked inside the basement boxes and remembered playing with the dolls and cleaning my room. The physical presence of the items reminded me of my parents’ divorce and my desire to leave that place. Then after many years without contact, I spent a couple of weekends with a good friend from college. Having someone else remember all the same exploits reaffirmed my memories, but also forced me to acknowledge the waywardness of my behavior. These connections to my past made me feel whole, but also brought pain.

The more I accept my past and talk about it, the more I’m convinced I can actually get rid of the boxes.

Perhaps we reach a point in our lives when it’s time for a spring cleaning. A good toss of all the shortcomings we’ve been carrying around since our childhood. In order to free ourselves, we need to confront our memories. By letting go, we can be the person we want to be.

Unencumbered by our mistakes and the missteps of others, we can make sure we are headed in the right direction to accomplish what we want with the rest of our lives. Although we may think we are on the right path, if we chose it many years ago, it may not lead to the life we want.

The old possessions can be donated or brought to the dump. I’m ready to trust that my past will always be with me without these material objects. Up until now I thought discarding these things would be a betrayal, as if I was turning my back on my family and our history. By accepting the good and the bad, the betrayal disappears.

Lately, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the person I want to be. Hopefully with a lighter load, moving on will be easier.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Motorcycle Moments

“Don’t you think that’s dangerous?” my friend asked with a slight frown. Last week I excitedly signed up to take the Basic Riders Course required for a motorcycle license. Friends’ comments vary from cool to crazy, but this decision has been years in the making and it’s mine.

Since my dad always looked out for his little girl, he adamantly forbade me to get on the back of a bike. He had good reason to discourage motorcycles when the drivers were young and irresponsible. One afternoon when I was standing in my uncle’s barnyard in Upstate New York, one of the guys took the turn onto the bridge too fast. The motorcycle made it, but he didn’t. As I watched, his right leg was broken back in an unnatural position. The ambulance took forever while he screamed in pain then grew silent. We thought we were losing him until they started to cut off his jeans. He yelled, “I don’t have on any underwear!” His worry over this detail assured us that he was going to be fine. Dad’s warnings were justified.

Years later as an adult, my dad’s rule was very much on my mind when my husband asked me to ride. We were only dating back then, but I trusted him and jumped on the back of a bike. He would take me out over the mountains in rural Pennsylvania. Soaring over the hills with my arms around him was the most exhilarating feeling. I never wanted to let go.

After we had our first child, my husband took possession of one of his family’s bikes. With an authoritative attitude, I deemed the Washington, DC area too dangerous. As parents, it would be irresponsible for the both of us to get on a motorcycle. No need for my father’s warnings, my own apprehensions were taking precedent. My husband suggested I get a license. He rightly surmised that if I was on my own bike, I would agree to ride. Although an enticing idea, I was soon pregnant with our second son and it didn’t happen.

Last year I signed up for the motorcycle course but had to cancel because my husband took a different year-long work detail and we had to go away that week. Fighting a strong feeling that this was the end of it, I promised myself that in a year I would take the course. Now I’m signed up four months in advance, waiting for my reward.

The little voice in my head is very much warning me to be careful. Even so, there’s no doubt that my time to hit the road on two wheels is finally arriving, my very own motorcycle moment.