Previously published on Medium, December 16, 2017
To be a keeper of things, small, unwanted, largely insignificant, and sometimes broken, is to have reverence for the nostalgia of childish delights. A tiny blue ladder, a doll the size of a thumbnail with a missing leg, an impossibly small pink toothbrush, a weensy pig, all treasures I have meticulously procured, among others. I didn’t begin collecting them with a purpose, I only knew that when I saw them they somehow belonged to me, like pieces to a puzzle that I wasn’t even aware I was trying to put together.
I lost my father on this day in 1968. I had just turned two. I am grateful to have a few poignant memories of our time together. They are soft and pastel, like an illustration out of a Dick and Jane early reader. That time was so very brief, and yet the warm glow from those fragments of images in my heart can still be felt today, 49 years later. There are small bits of that blissful innocence before it was stolen from me, in the delicate sweetness of a dollhouse sized baby rattle that is in my collection.
An adult body will grow to replace the child’s, and school will sharpen the mind’s ability to reason and mature, but the toddler who went looking for her Daddy that one fateful day, only to find him face down on the bathroom floor, who was then sacrificed to the man who came to replace him, never got to develop the skills to make any sense of it all. That sadness and confusion stayed locked in a special compartment. This is the playground of my mind where I try to communicate with that lost, scared, and broken child. She tries to tell me stories with these little collected curiosities. I have yet to decipher them, but there are times when a random piece will fit perfectly into the puzzle, and enlighten me.
Today I went searching for a box of journals. Instead, I was distracted by a bag of stuff that piqued my curiosity. In it I found another bag filled with my little treasures. I carefully inspected each item before placing them, artfully, on a wheel shaped piece of cardboard I had saved. The one I was most captivated by was a tiny little deer. I just couldn’t get over the size of it. I held it, marvelling at where it may have come from, and how it made its way here. It was so tiny, it couldn’t even stand. Such a sweet and delicate little deer, I thought, needs to be kept in a safe place. Next thing you know, I sneeze or blink, and it disappears! I look everywhere for it. Gone.
It was just a stupid, tiny, plastic deer. A totally insignificant thing of no worth. But the fact that it was a treasure to me gave it value, and I was sad to have not been more mindful of its safe-keeping.
Suddenly I imagine a tiny, delicate, little girl, crying. And I know she is wondering the very same thing about herself. Was she treasured? Did her existence have a meaning, and if so, why had no one protected her? Ahh, I see.
Grown-up Me is trying to answer the child, but I am not yet able to because I am still trying to figure out how. Then it dawned on me that I am the puzzle I am seeking to solve.