I casually opened a small carved trunk I keep in the living room and scrabbled about inside.
Cards, notes, notebooks, letters.
I’d forgotten that the trunk was filled with memorabilia of my husband’s late wife.
“Happy Anniversary Darling on our 40th,” “To My Husband on His 50th Birthday.” “I love your sense of humor.”
Her words and phrases filled the chest and jumped out at me.
When had I put all that stuff in there? Where had it come from?
I had helped my husband clean out his house before we moved in and I must have set that trunk aside to keep “special” things in. I must have done it myself and just didn’t remember doing it.
But then, maybe I didn’t want to remember.
When my granddaughter was six years old and her baby brother had just been born she crawled into my lap on the sofa.
“Why can’t the baby be like Moses, Nana?” she cried to me in her little voice.
“Why can’t someone just put him in a basket and send the basket down the river to someone else?”
At the time I tried to talk her out of her feelings of being displaced.
But I suddenly knew how she felt. That trunk in my living room was my Moses.
Upcoming is the four year anniversary of the day I met my husband; the day shortly after I’d answered his Craig’s list ad, the day that I saw him unfold himself from the sofa just inside the doors to the lobby of the Arizona Inn where he’d chosen for us to meet, and the day I felt my heart do something it hadn’t done since I was in high school.
Then, I ran across that old trunk filled with my husband’s late wife’s writings and—even though it was my trunk and I was the one who put those things in it—when I glanced through them, I realized just how much of an intrusion I had been.
“Happy 40th Darling. May we have 40 more together,” she had written.
I realized just how much that old trunk held. How much life and living and loving and yearning and appreciating had happened and been lived before me. And how much of what she said—in all those writings of all those 48 years—I myself have said in a mere four.
“I love it when you make me laugh.” “I hope we’re together forever.”
I cried out to a friend.
“There are some trunks filled with memorabilia that are best left unopened,” I told her, feeling suddenly shaken.
But no, my friend argued. That wasn’t necessarily true.
And in the way that people have who are on the outside looking in, she reminded me of four things:
>> Two people can love more intensely in one night, one week, a few years than people who have lived their whole lives compatibly together;
>> There is a range of intensity that can’t be measured in decades or even in commitment;
>> Love is as varied as people are and when two come together the result is just as individual; and most importantly
>> The love in his life before you doesn’t take away from what you are experiencing together.
I took her words to heart.
I went back into the living room and looked through the cards and notes once again. Yes. It was true. They did represent a lifetime of loving and living. But this time, when I looked at them, I realized also the truth of what my friend had said. Especially her last point.
“The love in his life before me didn’t take away from what he and I were experiencing together.”
In fact, I thought, it probably added to it.
I folded everything up, carefully putting it all back down inside the trunk. On my way out of the house later that day, I decided to buy some flowers, put them in a vase, and place them on the trunk lid.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
Note: The author wishes to thank Moira Stanton for her wisdom and permission to quote her on these pages.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Bruna Schenkel/Flickr