You Can’t Escape Your Themes

How much have you changed? Or have you?

How much have you changed? Or have you?

Miles run today: 0

Cookies eaten today: 0 (big improvement)

Blog posts read over Christmas break: 0

My parents moved from my childhood home when I was in my 20s, so returning “home” for the holidays is to a different home: no ghosts of 10-year-old Annes greet me as I climb the stairs; no boy band posters cling to bedroom walls.

But many, many things from my childhood haunt the closets, the bedrooms, the bookcases… One night, cozy under my mom’s quilts, raindrops pattering on the windows,  I woke from a nightmare where someone was calling my old name, my maiden name. And when I made my way in that direction, no one was there.

Because my sister and I want my parents to move up to our area in the not-so-distant future, we cleansed some of the spaces of our junk over Christmas break.

My sister, Dancer Extraordinaire, went through boxes and boxes of old dance costumes: ruffly can-can skirts, sailor-girl get-ups, swirly ballet skirts and funky jazz shorts.

I finally packed up my middle and high school yearbooks and put them in the back of our minivan. I’m surprised that the covers closed: you would not believe the amount of Big Hair photos contained in those pages.

But as you can imagine, the things that stopped me cold were the written things… my tenth grade English journal, my AP English papers, the letters.

The letters, for someone sentimental like me, were heartbreaking.

People used to write letters! I can picture these younger versions of ourselves spending time sitting out on The Quad, balancing a notebook on their knees, writing four pages, back and front, about boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, school, work, the weather. And wow, did we write! How did we find the time?

Of course, I only had the letters from other people; I have no idea what I wrote that prompted the letters or what I wrote in response. In some cases, I prayed that I had responded: one acquaintance from high school wrote from her first semester at college saying that everyone else had opened their mailboxes to get letters or care packages from home. She got nothing. She begged me to write to her.

Did I? I don’t remember.

I was busy falling in love. I was juggling too many class hours and, unfortunately, Calculus (aka Bane of My Existence).

This past week, my family and I sat around my parents’ dining room table, and I read them snippets of their letters from when I was away at college: they often described the same mundane weekend events in very different ways.

My parents’ letters often opened with, “I’m worried about you. Are you feeling better?”

And my sister’s: “Mom and Dad are mad that you haven’t been to the doctor yet.”

I must have picked up every cold the freshman dorms offered that semester.

Most touching were the ways that we have not changed: my mom still searches for the perfect home phone, simple and indestructible. My dad still gets baffled by home improvement projects. My sister is still in pursuit of the perfect haircut.

But here is the letter from one of my best guy friends the summer after we graduated, the one that showed me exactly how little I have changed in 20 years:

Anne,

Ah yes, the glorious summer–that which we longingly wait for each spring. Too bad it kinda sucks, huh? You didn’t sound too excited in your letter. What’s wrong?

So you don’t have a job… big deal. Jobs are just time-consuming anyway, you know. I mean, I can see how you might get a little stressed not having one, what with jobs being the popular thing to be doing these days…

He went on to get a Ph.D. and is figuring out how to wipe cancer off the face of the world.

I waited tables for six months while I looked for a “real job.” And when I got one, I made less money than I had while I was waiting tables.

And here I am, 20 years later, looking for a “real job” after freelancing for years. And like before, wondering if it will ever happen.

Where are all of those pep talk letters and the young people who had so much time?

And why can’t we escape the themes that keep coming up in our lives, over and over, as evergreen as the three basic arguments we recycle with our spouses over a lifetime?

What are your personal themes? And do they show up in your writing?

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