Our Souvenirs

Comments 12
(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)
(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.

I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.

There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.

That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.

She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.

I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.

In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.

That nothing lasts forever.

I live in the only house our little family owned.

After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.

“I want to keep our house, daddy.”

Okay, son. Okay.

My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.

I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.

I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.

I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.

Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.

Our triggers aren’t always predictable.

That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.

We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.

Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.

Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.

Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.

School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!

Our hometowns are prisons.

Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!

Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.

When people die.

Nothing lasts forever.

When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.

It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.

Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.

Then it was gone.

I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”

Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.

We were so young.

Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.

We had no idea that life was just happening.

What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.

It’s powerful.

It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.

It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.

It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.

It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.

It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.

I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.

She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.

There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.

I pulled out old toys. I remember these.

Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.

In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.

Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.

I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.

You don’t miss the things, really.

You don’t even long for the past.

But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.

All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.

This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.

So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.

12 thoughts on “Our Souvenirs”

  1. Sometimes you collect stuff along the way – it’s diffiuclt to decide what to keep what to toss and often its mixed up, what you should toss, you keep and vice versa. I have some emotional attachments to absolutely worthless stuff. I know what you mean.

    1. Sometimes, but not always, the emotional attachments ARE the worthless stuff.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting, sir.

  2. Wow….no doubt about it. You have a gift. Those things we ALL collect…it’s the memories attached and attached to those memories is the laughter, the tears, the fear and the excitement we are experiencing at the time that seem to remain. I think those emotional attachments are what make us human and perhaps, when we are ready to let go, we realize those same things we mean just as much to the next owner. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful story.

    1. I always notice when my body is doing something I didn’t expect it to. Over the past two years of writing here, those unexpected feelings have been a good sign that I should write about whatever caused it.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. (And your very-kind compliments.)

  3. Really nicely written! I could totally feel the sentiment in your words and was very moved. Thanks for the read. I really enjoyed it.

  4. Thank you for the very kind words. I’m grateful you took the time to check it out. Hope you’re having a beautiful day, miss.

  5. I’m emotional. And this post triggered tears. Matt you’re amazing. Continue to share your writing. Be well.

    1. I think it’s healthy to feel things. I’m so glad you do.

      Thank you for reading and your always-super-kind words. I can’t possibly thank you enough for always being so nice.

      I hope you’re having a good day!

  6. Well said! That was really powerful and heart breaking, too. The impermanence of life always reminds me of how “this to shall pass.” Those a great words of comfort in hard times, but not so comfortable when things are going well. When I was younger I took a lot for granted because we tend to have this sense of entitlement when we are young, as if these things we expect are just givens and will always be there for us. When you grow up you start to realize how fragile things really are.

    1. Such a great life observation. We can’t wait for it to speed up when it hurts. We’re dying for it to slow down when it’s great. We’re always just a little off balance, wanting or needing something.

      This post is special to me, just because. Thank you for reading it.

  7. I seem to have been thinking about the very same things you have explained so beautifully lately. When I’m hugging my girls or listening to their baby belly laughs I dig my fence into their little chests and think to myself it’s never enough. I mean seriously I could do the very same thing everyday for the rest of my life and literally it’s never enough. Alas time marches on and we get what we get.

  8. Jesus Matt!…. if I cry anymore I’m going to become dehydrated!… you sir are a deep thinker and a deep feeler…the vivid truths about this particular piece is so earth shatteringly relevant in my personal life. I am of the firm belief that we are fed untruths about what really matters in life. Work ,money,social acceptance, selfish indulgences mean absolute shit in the true big picture. Anne has said to me on numerous occasions, usually when I was trying to advance my position to better our family, that she would live in a cardboard box under a bridge rather than have all the niceties if it meant we would be together. She being a child of divorce new the importance of walking hand in hand towards a future together rather than a chase. I read so much that hits home. You are a great young man ….you don’t want anymore shit shows for anyone least of all the kids… bless you Matt

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.