Boxes that were not mine: My second year of graduate school, I lived with a woman up in the hills of Sierra Madre, CA. Her name was Toby. She was a social worker and therapist, and a reluctant smoker. By which I mean, she really wanted to quit but had tried so many times that, well into her 50’s, she had given up. She had the vertical lines around her mouth common to longtime smokers, born of their lips crowding around a cigarette countless times. She did not dye her hair. She owned a Volvo, and the most affectionate golden retriever I have ever met. His name was Shamus, and to this day I do not ask when he died because I prefer to think he has not. She was very kind, and quite busy, and my favorite memory of her is when we sat together one night watching Jane Campion’s Angel at My Table and her loving it and saying for weeks afterwards, “Only a woman could have made that movie.”
When I returned to Oregon, Toby was convinced I’d left several boxes behind in her basement. It was possible. I had been a bit hell-bent getting out of there, sick of LA and eager to get a job in Portland with my freshly minted MSW (acquired 20 years ago this month, by the way). Years passed, and Toby asked me to please do something about the boxes. Luckily, a toddler I’d known when I lived in the area was now a teenager and, for money, she agreed to ship the boxes to me. They arrived: six boxes with a few words scrawled on each one the way you do when you put things in storage to remind you what’s in there. It was not my handwriting.
How I would like to tell you that when I opened the boxes, I discovered interesting and unusual artifacts from someone else’s life – or even from my own life that I’d forgotten about. Instead, I had numerous back issues of Car and Driver magazine. Thank goodness for the Free Bench.