I’ve been struggling with sleep lately. My mind races constantly about the empty checkboxes on my to-do lists, plans for the future of Gui Ren, and the friends who haven’t heard from me in a while and probably think I’m dead. Perhaps it’s time to re-read my last post about self-care… My creativity thrives late at night, and there seems to be no solution for it consuming my thoughts as I lie awake at 3 o’clock in the morning. No matter how much I accomplish during the day, or how many items I check off my lists, the ideas just keep coming.
The other night, I finally slept. Hard. And as I did, I had the most vivid dream I’ve had in months…
There was a knock at our apartment door. I stood up lazily from the couch and meandered over where I peered through the peephole to discover a member of our leasing staff standing outside. She was holding a piece of paper. “Good afternoon, Erin, I’m here to inform you that because your apartment is not at maximum capacity, we are requiring you to host several travelers who are currently without housing.” I looked back into my apartment; it was clean, tidy, and quiet. Our extra bedroom sat unused, so I decided I had no problem offering my home to those in need. By the time I looked back towards the door, the staff member had disappeared, and in her place stood 7 travelers. They each carried a hefty hiking pack, stuffed to the brim. Our eyes met, and my stomach flipped. Something wasn’t right.
I showed them to their room but did not enter with them. Instead, I went back to my bedroom where I navigated around one of many tall dressers and opened one of several expansive closets along the wall. On the upper racks, there were fabric bins full of my belongings: personal journals from my high school days, photos from even younger years, nostalgic items from childhood, and clothes I hadn’t worn in years. They were things I held onto because they defined my past, reminded me of my adventures, and reassured me of the individual that I have since become. I ran my hand along the collection of hangers.
I got dressed for work and left.
While scrolling through social media that night I saw pictures and videos of two of my visiting travelers as they partied with other locals and drank away their afternoons. I felt a deep anxiety within my bones and developed a distrust of their intentions. Their behaviors bothered me, and their unfriendly attitudes made me uneasy. It felt as though I was being forced to house the popular girls in an apartment I knew they deemed “unworthy” of their upbringing. But I kept the concerns to myself and went to bed feeling unbalanced.
The next morning, despite existing within a dream state in which I could have done literally anything else but, I got up for work. I padded over to the closet where I pulled open the white wooden doors to reveal a vacant space. Everything was gone. I panicked, searching through the remaining closets and dressers in my room. Everything I found – every article of clothing or notebook – was unfamiliar. I stared at the empty closet, feeling the void of where my childhood had once been. I tried to mentally list the items in my missing collection, but it was as though I was trying to recall everything I ate within the last month; some memories were vivid while others were just barely out of reach. My mind was in a frenzy trying to remember what it had lost.
I entered our spare bedroom to ask the travelers where my stuff had gone. I hoped deep down it was a harmless prank and that I would soon find my belongings in a pile on the bed. There were only five travelers left, neither of whom were the girls who had left me feeling uneasy. The others gathered around a computer and we tried to track down the girls on social media, but the images and videos they had posted were gone, too. There was no trace of them. They had left just as quickly as they had arrived, and they took my history with them. I was angry and overcome with vengeful thoughts.
I cried to my boyfriend; my treasured items were gone forever. I sat there defeated as I thought about the journal entries I’d never read again, the photos I’d no longer have to help piece together my past, and the nostalgia I lost along with the certificates of participation and craft projects from early childhood. I felt the memories of my past start to slip away.
Suddenly my anger gave way to a peculiar thought, “They took my things, but they can never take me!” I paused. Facing my empty closet I realized that despite my personal belongings being gone, I was still there. I was physically still in existence. I was something they couldn’t just gather up and throw in a garbage bin. They could take my journals and clothing, but they could never possibly take who I am. Though I faced the looming absence of my childhood memories, and as I considered that I may not remember the outfit I wore to a certain event or the precise thoughts I documented from middle school, I realized the experiences were still very much a part of the person I had become.
They took my things, but not my spirit.
I woke up to the light peeking out from behind a crease in our room darkening curtains. As I slowly opened my eyes and began to process the lingering thought from my sub-conscience, I came to the conclusion that it was time to clean house. I realized that all the items I hang on to for a rainy day throwback, all the clothes I’m convinced I might someday wear again, all those memories I grasped on to were just that: memories. But the person I am is indestructible, and that is the only thing worth protecting.
The things we cling to, and the nostalgia we’re fearful of losing, prevents us from seeing ourselves as we are. While the memories are wonderful to look back on, you’ve already become the person you are today. Being able to reflect on those small moments can’t change that. As we travel through life we are morphed, inspired, and recreated. The meaning is not in the experience itself, but in the lessons and skills of which we take away.
Your participation trophy from softball won’t secure the lessons you learned in team building and sportsmanship. Your favorite stuffed doll won’t reassure your ability to be nurturing towards others. Your scholarship letters from college won’t solidify your intellect. And the remnants of your mother’s nightgown, and your father’s favorite pajama pants, surely won’t recreate the unconditional love you’ve grown to practice.
Material possessions cannot define, nor do they decide, what kind of person you are.
I feel as though I’ve spent so much time reliving the “good old days,” that I forget just how much I’ve grown because of them. Now, Mom, before you go thinking I’m going to light all my participation trophies on fire, I’m not saying I plan to rid my life entirely of memories. There are items that inspire and encourage me every time I hold them. There are photos of loved ones I couldn’t bear to lose. But perhaps the stack of bins could be reduced to a shoebox. Maybe the piles of clothing can be sorted and pitched. Perhaps those art projects don’t evoke the same amounts of joy as they used to. Maybe the journals can be read through one last time and minimized to three at most.
Perhaps I should allow myself the space to just be grateful for the person I am now, instead of for the experiences I’ve had in the past.