When presented with uncertainties in life I tend to look for smaller gaps I can fix. One such avenue was the state of my bedroom, so in an effort to develop some much-needed life skills I'd taken to watching Marie Kondo. Cliché I know, but she really did inspire me to chip away at the untouched parts of my room to prune some metaphorical hedges. My wardrobe was easy enough, seeing as I knew a lot of my old clothes would be going to charity and I really couldn't find much personal use for a Bratz singlet many sizes too small. And so, after about a week my wardrobe became something I could safely say I had control over. Similarly, my bookshelf, which once housed several high school textbooks and science magazines circa early 2000s, was now far more up to date and accessible. I was highly satisfied and told myself it could never be said that I lacked drive. The certificates I'd stuck on my door only helped to reinforce that reminder. Next on the agenda was working through the mess that had accumulated under my desk, starting with the blue box.
It'd been placed there years ago and remained untouched for a little too long. So much so that I wasn't sure what to expect outside of a vague reflection of my younger years. It was accented with a thick line of dust that settled around my room once I'd pulled it out. I hadn't anticipated being reminded of my childhood asthma but after waving away the dust I focused back on the task at hand: throwing out anything I didn't need and keeping the important stuff. There were school photos, letters; some I remembered and some I didn't.
There was a t-shirt signed by all the girls from a camp I hated, I laughed remembering I'd only kept it because on the far-right corner the girl I was crushing on had written a message and signed off with 'love Jenna'. Even my younger self knew it was a little pathetic to linger on such an inconsequential hint of deeper affections but when you're a lonely teenager you take what you can get. I grinned at the art projects I'd kept, having taken great pride in work that still held up quite well. A few of them really were rather terrible though – a stand out contender being the ceramic Pikachu that I had tried and failed to smooth out before baking in the kiln. It's lumpy lopsided ears were almost as endearing as it's half smile. I remembered how proud I'd felt after making it.
I wasn't expecting to be hit so hard about the bag tucked away at the back of the blue box.
It was filled to the brim and heavier than anything else I'd had to handle that day. I forced open the rusted zip and out spilled a decade's worth of academic records. Tension I hadn't felt in so long crept up on me and I wanted nothing more than to put everything back where it was. So, this was my roadblock? I pushed through in hopes of achieving my greater goal but flicking through countless scholarship test books and assessment competition test papers only made my shoulders heavier and memories flood.
Hours and hours each week spent trying to force me into a model student, exercise books filled to the brim with literacy and numeracy questions, letter after letter telling me I hadn't been given a scholarship, participation awards instead of distinctions. School days spent jealous of the kids who succeeded, dinners spent listening to my parents compare me to my high-achieving friends.
I felt betrayed more than anything, having thought this was a wound I'd patched up long ago. Yet amongst the scatterings of my childhood ephemera I was once again a nine-year-old with the ever-present burden of never being good enough. I wanted to throw it all away, but there was a voice not my own telling me to leave it there. I needed to be reminded of my past failures and not keeping them would be dishonest. What good are memories if they're false after all? I wasn't good enough, that was the reality.
I wasn't good enough to warrant all the opportunities given to me. I wasn't good enough to consistently stand up proudly with the girls in smart uniforms at awards ceremonies and the few times I did were merely a window into who I was supposed to be. I wasn't good enough to keep my parents happy. I wasn't good enough for Jenna to love me back. All I had was a constant need to prove myself to other people. I'd hidden a box of pain away in my room and now I was faced with the consequences of holding on to it for so long.
But I guess that's the beautiful thing about embracing rather than avoiding pain, it paves the way for clarity. I then knew just how goddamn useless it was to keep a box of trauma for the sake of preserving memories. It wasn't fair to myself to keep anchoring my soul down with things that didn't matter anymore. Marie's idea of only keeping things that sparked joy has become a meme, but there is an appreciation to be had for applying it to painful reminders. Maybe it was time to start clearing through those letters of rejection instead of holding on to them. So, bit by bit I did just that, I kept the achievements I was proud of and threw away anything that hurt me. In tandem I started taking down the certificates from my door until it was barren – barren isn't really the right word, clear – because in the place of paper-thin awards stood something altogether older and sturdier. Finally, I opted to place the ceramic Pikachu on my desk where it stood lumpy, imperfect and loved.
Now I could tuck the blue box away with the knowledge that if I ever revisited it, it would be a welcomed guest.