February was a weird month. It was the kind of month where I stood on the edge of the world and took stock of life as I know it.
Last year marked a pretty significant anniversary of a lot of things. Every time I turned around, there was some iconic symbol of my youth being trotted out from the darkness and celebrated with renewed spirit for it’s 20th or sometimes 25th anniversary. It was a whole year of, “Can you believe we’re this old?”
Reminder after reminder after reminder, happy anniversary to what was the best of my 90s youth.
I was prepared for more of the same this year, another pretty significant anniversary of a lot of things will happen. What I was not prepared for was to spend the better part of this month, in one way or another on the edge of 17.
My childhood home is being cleaned out as I type these words. I’m one of those odd ducks that grew up in the same house, spending all of my formative years in one place. While I moved out decades ago, and the room that was mine has been turned into the catch-all room, I can’t help but feel a little uprooted. Two weeks from now there will be a for sale sign on the lawn and my entire existence and every single important and monumental milestone in that house will be erased. Once it’s sold, I will have little to no reason to return to my hometown. I will have zero reason to drive down my street. I will not know if and when the new owners will make what I had their own, or if they might even tear it down completely and build new. There is a very high probability that the three bedroom, 1000 square foot rancher that was the setting of so much of my life won’t even exist in a month.
I don’t know how I feel about that. Part of me wants to drive by in the days and weeks to come and see what fate has in store. But the other part of me needs it to remain as it is, untouched in my head, my heart, and my memories.
In the process of taking the last of me from this place, a friend of mine mentioned they would like to pop by to say goodbye. At first, I thought this was such a sweet offer, and we would hold hands and close our eyes and take in the last moments of this place together. Cue the sappy music to the last episode of every show in the history of ever where the family ends the series with a moment of silence before they turn out the lights of an empty room.
But then I got a little sad. Do I want the last of us to be standing together in an empty room? Or do I want us both to keep what once was in our hearts? There are places I will never go because I do not want to see what I once had erased with time and change. Ultimately, I said goodbye to my home alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t want anyone with me, it was that I wanted what we shared to be the last thing they remember of this place.
At some point in my youth, I came to own a butterfly sticker. I don’t know why I bought it, or what about it was so special. I remember it being the first thing I didn’t ask permission to have. I just wanted it, bought it, and stuck it on the mirror on my closet door. I didn’t know it at the time, but this butterfly would be the transitional item. The very last thing I bought for my childhood room, and the very first thing I bought for myself without consultation with the powers that be. I kept passing by this sticker, still on the mirror more than two decades later, and thinking how this would be the one thing I would wonder about. The one thing that if I ever did find myself in my hometown, driving down my street and passing by, I would wonder if it was still there. I know it wouldn’t be, but in my heart, I would pretend it still was. Now I know why every kid in every movie took their doorknob when their parents decide to sell their childhood home. Stupid silly little things.
Just as I was turning out lights and double checking to make sure I got everything I might still want, I turned to the mirror. I picked at the corner edges of the sticker and very carefully pulled the butterfly from its home.
My butterfly, perfectly preserved, in my hands. Seems twenty years later, it will remain my transitional item. The very last of my old life, sitting silently smack dab in the middle of my brand new one. When I look at it now, I feel the girl I used to be. There is much still to be done before keys exchange hands, and my parents will go back I’m sure a dozen times more. But I won’t. My chapter there is over.
This whole huge thing in my world also coincided with the loss of two friends. Two people who traveled in two very different versions of my circle of friends died within days of each other. One person I knew for almost all of my life. Every memory of school from kindergarten to graduation had him involved in some way or another. While we lost touch in adulthood, we were never far. We talked a few times, sent notes over the years. We wholeheartedly wished each other well. Not that long ago we were in the same place at the same time, and we got together for lunch. I was so excited to see my old friend. But the man I had lunch with was not him. As it turned out, though I said my final goodbye to him just last week, I lost him a long time ago. In the years of absence, he had become an addict. Jaded with life in general and bitter with anyone who ever loved him, I knew my sweet friend must have gotten lost along the way. As I gathered with people I hadn’t seen in so long, they echoed my words. We lost him a long time ago. And while there were stories of the jaded bitterness of his life, we did talk about how ridiculously fun he was. How this quiet boy sometimes shocked the world with color and flair. How he adored his mother and did everything he could to take care of her. How we were all friends with each other because we were friends with him. He was friends with everybody.
We found the butterfly, the piece of him that we will carry with us.
The other friend I didn’t know for as long, or as well. He was part of the core group that defined high school for me. It was kind of funny, I knew him through other people. He was a friend of my boyfriend’s, a friend of my friend. He was such a great guy, everyone said so. And then one year, his focus found me. I’d be at his house, part of the crowd, but at some point I’d wander into his room and find him. We talked. I’m a good listener. I’m a fantastic secret keeper. I adore the fact that he found trust in me, and would tell me what was on his mind. And this became our friendship. I’d walk down the halls with him, or find a quiet corner, and he’d tell me things. We never hung out on our own or went anywhere together. But he’d find me in a crowd. He used to visit me at work because it was on his way to where ever it was he was going. He didn’t have to stop by and spend a casual half hour checking in with me, but he did. He always did, for years. I adored him more than he would ever know. Actually, I told him that once, that I adored him. He got all silly on me, it was very sweet.
When my son was born and we were thinking up names, this guy’s name came up in the list of likable names. My heart smiled on it because of this guy. Without hesitation, I said yes and we gave him the same name. It carries nothing but goodness in my mind.
It’s been forever, but when I learned he left us, I knew I had to go home. I had to go home to say goodbye to the boy I adored. He was exactly where I had left him last. Adored by everyone. Going out of his way to check in with people. It was a true celebration of life, and I think his family honored him so well by gathering everyone home. At one point, his brother who was sitting next to me looked around. He said he felt like he was 16 again and time had stopped. I felt the same way. There was a guy there I had not seen in forever, and I thought for sure he would not remember me. He scooped me up in a big hug, and it felt like home. He whispered in my ear, “I remember you.”
For a night, we were all 16 again. We found the pieces of ourselves that defined us at our core, we found the best of home.
I think this is what has been on my mind all month. Finding the things we can’t, or don’t want to let go of. The things that define us at our core. The things that make it easier to let go of what doesn’t matter because we hold onto what does. For every person, it may be different. For some, it’s old letters stashed away in a box that you know will follow you into all of your different tomorrows. For others, it might be as silly as a butterfly sticker on the bedroom mirror.
I remember the courageous spirit of one.
I carry with me the trust of the other.
I take the last piece of my childhood with me.
I choose not to see what time and change has in mind. I hold onto what matters and I move forward.