Even though Spring is long gone, I’m still surrounded by old boxes. They’re hanging out in all corners of my place, begging for my organizational attention.
Some are filled with books I need to place on shelves I need to buy. Other boxes hold CDs, DVDs, hand-written letters, and various office space collectibles, like the mystery cords tangled up with one another I can’t bring myself to toss.
It’s been a few years since moving back on my own, away from Kevin and the perfectly safe life we shared. Kevin is an amazing guy and he treated me like a queen, so what the hell was I thinking, breaking it off with him? The answer is simple – as much as I love him and hard as I tried – I just wasn’t in love. And as scary as it was to leave him, it was even more so, living a life with someone I knew wasn’t meant for me.
Kevin and I are great friends, and I’m so grateful for our time together.
I’ve never been good at taking compliments. Part of me believes them, while mostly, I’m just confused. I linger in-between their words of praise, searching for elements of fiction, while secretly wanting to believe in myself long enough to realize what their saying might possibly be true.
When it comes to knowing ourselves, why can’t some of us see what others do? Why do we fall back on the fear of believing in what others know to be true?
If not filled with books, letters or office junk, the rest of my boxes are filled with photos. Hundreds, if not thousands of misty water-colored memories piled to the gills, in no chronological order. They are the Kodachrome medley of my life’s experiences. Every time I sit to organize them, I end up lost in a maze of snapshots listening to Billy Joel, frozen in time.
Some of my most cherished moments have been in solitude – free falling in memories.
Memories wrapped in surprises are especially fun. In the midst of one of my intimate archaeological photo dives recently, I came across something extraordinary. It was mixed in with my photos just waiting to be read; a tattered cocktail napkin from Dan, a waiter from my stripping days.
Dan was older than me and one of the sweetest dudes I knew – which is saying a lot, because my take on men wasn’t great. Strippers are typically surrounded by the one of the big three: Mr. Married who wants to sleep with you, Starving Student who tries to see you naked for free, or Mr. Scumbag, who’s dating your stripper-friend, but tries to get in your g-string every chance he gets.
Dan wasn’t any of those. He moved to Hawaii from Minneapolis earning his law degree by day, serving cocktails each night at the club. Whenever I was on stage Dan took a break from walking the floor and found a booth in the back to watch me. But he did more than just watch me dance. He truly enjoyed my performances, appreciating my Bob Fosse obsession and Ann Reinking channeling. He saw my childhood Broadway dream within the space of each sway of my hip, point of my toe and nude pirouettes.
After every one of my solo performance-four-song-sets on the main stage, Dan would spring to his feet applauding and whistling through his fingers, getting the crowd pumped. I knew he liked me, but it wasn’t until finding this napkin, that I realized how much:
I see the smile, its half way there
I wonder if
It really care
So many faces
So many times
I guess the smile
Comes from the rhyme
…it’s still an ass kicking smile
I remember the night Dan wrote this as he watched me on stage. After emerging from the dressing room, I saw him standing by the bar, nervous and kind. I read it out loud in front of him and was instantly embarrassed. What did he see? I thought. Another compliment I struggled to believe.
But even then, in the thick of self-doubt and insecurity, there was something inside me that knew; something that made me hold on to this piece of paper for over 20 years. It’s the same thing that helped me break away from Kevin, knowing I wasn’t living in my truth. The same force that keeps me believing I am worth more than my the sum of my fears.
We all have pieces of personal history that remind us how far we’ve come. And sometimes, they echo what we knew all along, but were hidden behind our youth. If I knew Dan’s last name, I’d look him up to thank him for being such an integral part of mine.
Here’s the part where you tell me: what keepsake do you have that reminds you how far you’ve come?