Cleaning the Closet of my Heart
Pearlene Parker, a character in my work in progress, was 800 words into telling me a story about her childhood when I succumbed to guilt. Reluctantly turning away from my manuscript, I joined my beloved who had begun 2013 with an office cleaning frenzy that bordered on rabidity. Accumulated in boxes behind me were electronics, cables, video games, computer discs and heaven knows what else stated for Goodwill. The beloved wanted to begin 2013 with a clean office.
For the record, most of my work is written first in longhand. Imagine a workspace filled with stacks, piles, random sheets of paper, multicolored sticky notes, and books…lots of books, in my corner of our shared office. (Imagine it because I will not post a picture). This is how God made me. Longhand works best because I can tuck a notebook into my pocket and head outside where true inspiration is found. Also, in my defense, my space is particularly cluttered because I don’t have a “desk” per say, but a table, sans drawers. I love the table because I am short and it is a perfect fit for my short body. Drawers would, at least, provide an area by which I could shovel everything into. While I must have clutter, the beloved would strongly prefer, pretty please, a clean workspace. I’ve been told that my table is brown, but I digress…
On the first day of 2013, I didn’t clean my workspace, but kindly asked Pearlene to finish her story at a later date, preferably today as the longer she remains silent the more agonizing the process of writing. Pearlene took the first day of the year off while I cleaned out the foyer closet.
Yes, I realize this is the tiniest room in the house, but bear with me.
Like most closets, the space is a dumping ground of seldom-used items. The shredder is there, boxes of newspapers for recycling, coats that I’m going to “one day” find a loving home. There are also filled storage boxes which I site as undeniable proof that I can, in fact, organize items.
I have a particular method when organizing; remove everything, sort, return. I assemble each item in stacks classified as: save, donate, trash. During the first few minutes I was a New-Year organizing machine making short work of a closet so filled one could barely close the door. Then I discovered several items that stopped everything.
The glove was once pure white, but as with most children white stays clean for about two seconds. My son wore this glove, years before I joined the family and had the opportunity to watch him play. His leather baseball glove rested in the corner of the closet beside two collapsed basketballs. Flecks of field had separate from cleats and wedged in the cracks of the wood floor. Pressing the gloves to my heart I began to cry. I mourned my son’s absence, the wasted time that evaporated at a rapid click, the times I failed him as a parent, knowing not how to connect to a young man whom I didn’t not birth. Hope-filled pangs pressed against my breast as I recalled the times I saw potential in him when he could not, the short conversations of encouragement when I pushed him to be better than even he thought he could be. The times I encouraged him to be what he wanted to be, not what his parents wanted. Were those brief moments of offered encouragement enough? I wept also because I am proud. Proud that he is on the winning side of his challenges, even though it means he lives far away in another state, even though it means his father and I rarely see him.
Then I found his kindergarten t-shirt. I shall never know why it was in the foyer closet. Carrying it into the office, I wordlessly displayed the stained garment to his father. Fighting a quivering chin, “I just can’t take this,” was all I managed to say before rushing to the bathroom to blow my nose.
Oh, my heart.
After talking myself through that brief emotional breakdown I continued with the project.
Another glove, this time my daughter’s. Each fingertip was stained, the pink threads faded to an unappealing drab shade. Touching these gloves, the ones that had formed snowballs and barely kept the frostbite away, pierced my already delicate heart. I replayed images of tiny balls of snow, sticking to the threads; the feeling of snow stinging the back of my neck as she struck her target. Quickly, I cast aside the box. No more. I could not take another memory of my children’s tiny hands that have grown too fast.
Grabbing a bucket, I scrubbed the floor, removed the remnants of dust and dirt that had accumulated from roller blades, cleats, snow boots. Sorting the items in an orderly fashion, I returned the coats when I knocked over a small cardboard box hidden just inside the closet door. Inside was a Cheer Bear umbrella (the one with a rainbow on her tummy) and the storage container for the Ladybug Tent.
As my Aunt Della would say, “Help my time.”
Cheer Bear (whom my daughter called Rainbow Bear) is responsible for keeping everyone happy with her optimistic views. At that moment I needed a little bit of cheer. The ladybug tent was a shrine, plain and simple. Erected in the living room, the front porch, the yard and even on “real” adventures such as camping with friends, the ladybug tent was a haven for my daughter. A place where she and her friends could giggle and dream zipped up tight and hidden away from their parents. This discovery was more than my already fragile heart could bear. What I really wanted was to find a new ladybug tent and assemble it in the living room like we had so many years ago. Or close the door and sit inside the closet beneath the coats. I know my beloved just shook his head at me who couldn’t even clean out ONE closet without falling into a weepy pile of memories. But I needed to cry, for what I really don’t know, other than the passing of time and the reality that my baby will soon be sixteen.
Six-teen. How is that possible?
I wonder, did my parents feel this loss, this overwhelming concern that I feel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my children to live with us forever, but I do want them to have a good life…better than mine and I worry about their future. I wonder, have I done everything I possibly could for my children? I believe that I have, but it is the uncertainty of their future that causes great angst. The tiny hands that once filled the gloves are stepping into a world of uncertainty, one people won’t love them like their momma and daddy.
More than ever before, I pray. Each night I pray for both of my children. I pray they will make wise choices, that God will protect them in this world. I pray He will place people in their lives who will be a good influence and that they will take His hand and lean on Him for guidance. What more can I do?
I didn’t throw away the gloves, the umbrella, and certainly not the bag which once held the ladybug tent. I couldn’t. I guess longing for the past-joys of dusty cleats and afternoons in the ladybug tent comes with being a parent.
Parents, please share your stories. What do you miss most? What items do you refuse to throw out?
Renea Winchester is an award-winning author. Her latest book, In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches will be released in 2013. She is currently working on her first novel, Outbound Train. She welcomes subscribers to her blog and new Facebook Friends.
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