“What do I do with my latest mistake?” I sing to myself lyrics from an old song. I stand over pieces of an old cabinet I purchased from a friend. It broke apart in transit to my car; the glass door hutch fell off the base and it now lays in two pieces on my basement floor, the brightly orange painted insides looks like a gaping wound. A friend suggested I refinish it and I have scrapped many layers of paint off the drawer front and have found that it is not made of real wood. I have made a huge mistake. I try to think of the excuses I will tell my friends when they ask how the project is going. I think of facing my husband and how I wasted money on this when we have a long list of other projects. I decide to hide the pieces under an old sheet, push it into a corner and walk away. I am going to leave it there until I figure out what I am going to do with it.
I tackle the next item on my chore list; my office. I have accumulated piles over the previous year and they need to be dealt with. I start with my pile of journals. A box that holds all my journals, sits in the corner. I open the lid and the musty smell of old paper fills the air; reminding me how old I am. I have kept journals since the age of twelve, when my grandmother gave me a red diary with a gold lock. I dig to the bottom and find the relic, its lock broken long ago from snooping brothers. I open to the middle of the book and find unrecognizable scribbles. A forgotten code I wrote in to keep my secrets safe from prying eyes. I return the small diary back to the bottom of the box and upheave a black three-ring binder. It opens slightly revealing my neat penmanship. Curious, I open the book and find the year 1985, the year I turned eighteen.
On the pages, I find a depressed and lonely girl struggling with pains of growing up. The pages are filled with regret for the mistakes she has made and the uncertainty of the future. The negativity leaped off the page to the point of embarrassment and I skip ahead to the middle of the year. In this section, I was dating a man dubbed REE. He was ten years older, not particularly good looking but a smile that lit up his face. I saw him everyday at the place I worked, he worked downstairs in the plant and I worked upstairs in the office. My entries were filled with how much fun REE was and how he had a knack of making any situation hysterical. A huge contrast to the depressed girl I found earlier. It was a few months into the relationship when REE stood me up for the first time. He did not show up for our date, he did not call and I could not get a hold of him. The entry was filled with worry; it did not cross my mind that he had forgotten about me. This realization came later as I wrote about the deteriorating relationship. I skip to a part where the neat penmanship changes into big ugly scrawling words. Certain words were capitalized to emphasize my anger and hurt. I had found out REE’s landlord was a woman and was more than his landlord. She had found out about me and threatened to kick him out if he continued to see me. I believed him when he told me that he wanted to be with me but could not afford to move out. He begged me to wait for him and I did. The plant closed during the holidays and I did not hear from REE for three weeks. I waited and I waited. When we returned to work, he barely spoke to me. I was deeply hurt.
Ashamed, I return the journal back to the box and add last year’s notebooks to the top of the pile and put the lid back on the box. I push the box of mistakes back into its corner.
I try to motivate myself to move onto the next chore but I don’t get up. I am still sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. My family is out of the house and the quiet envelops me and I feel alone. This scares me a little and I have the urge to fill the quiet with the noise from busy work or turning on the TV. I want to drown out the buzz of questions, flying in the air like nasty mosquitoes. I want to swat them away and run for cover, but the heaviness of the quiet keeps me where I am. “Why did I have to go through that?” “Why did I give up my dignity for acceptance?” “Why do I make such stupid decisions?” “Why? Why? Why?” The questions bombard me, I have kept them bottled up too long and they are relentless.
Within the drone of whys I sense a different question emerging. The more I focus, the more clearer it becomes until it rises above the din and booms “Why not?” The question hangs there, dominating the others. At first I am confused, why not means to stop asking the questions and just do it, whatever “it” is. When REE asked me out, I answered “Why not”. And I asked “why not” when I wrote the check for cabinet hiding in the corner of my basement. It dawns on me; the question of why needs to be asked, either before or after the event. If I answer with a “why not” before than I better be ready to answer the “why” afterwards. A lesson cannot be learned unless the questions are asked.
I reopen the box and remove the books by the handfuls, including the black three-ring binder. I stack them in a semi-circle around me. Each book is different and each holding a piece of my history. The questions come from an unfinished story and my story resides within in these journals. To find the answers I am going to have to explore my story, not hide it away in a box.
A slamming of a car door announces the return of my family. I catch a glimpse of my boys through the doorway, chatting about their lesson and heading towards the fridge. The house fills with their commotion and it is a welcoming sound. My husband’s frame fills the doorway of my office, he asks “What’s with the piece of furniture under the sheet in the corner of the basement?”
“A mistake” I answer, looking up at him from my seat on the floor.
He nods as if agreeing with me and asks, “What are you going to do with it?”
I add the journals I am holding to a stack and push myself up. I step over my piles and join him at the doorway. “I am going to learn from it”.
“And those?” he asks, pointing to the journals. I glance back at the multi-colored books and answer, “I’m going to learn from those too”
I resist the urge to answer “Why not”. I let his question hang there unanswered and head towards the kitchen to feed the boys.