Contrary to my parents’ wishes, I have always enjoyed thriving in a cluttered environment. My desks simply felt better when they were scattered with arrays of leadless mechanical pencils, sticky notes I had forgotten to remember, random textbooks, and a multitude of discarded school papers. The floor to my bedroom was just not complete without the swamp of both unworn and unwashed clothing. When scolding me about my messy room, my mother always claimed it looked as if “a tornado went through it.” Quite literally, my bedroom consumed anything it came across. Dresser drawers were filled with unfolded articles of clothing intermixed with chapsticks, pennies, hair elastics, and perfumes I never even opened. Empty wrappers could be found almost anywhere but the wastebasket. In my mind, I knew where everything was, and there was therefore no reason to clean. As much as I loved being messy, frequently moving living spaces unfortunately prevented me from remaining in my disheveled comfort zone.
The move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania was personally the most difficult. There was one moving-preparation weekend in particular that felt more uneventful than the rest. Aside from the usual lack of desire to do anything productive, I felt an uneasy feeling running through my veins. Trying to resolve the sentiment, I showered for longer than usual; standing under the warm stream of water even after I had long finished washing my hair and body. Once I got upstairs, everything was in its usual place. My four sisters were on the couch disputing what show they should watch, my mom in the office scouring the internet for coupons, and my dad pouring a bowl of cereal. Hoping to resolve the uneasy feeling, I prepared myself a bowl of lucky charms and slumped into the couch.
Walking into the living room, my mom pleaded that I do something productive with my weekend, perhaps clean my room for once. After a commanding look from my dad (followed by an exaggerated eyeroll from me), I headed to my room to sulk and eat my cereal. Opening the door with a groan, I was welcomed by the comforting disorder of my bedroom. My bedsheets still laid crumpled across the bed; deformed by the tosses and turns of the previous night’s sleep. Suddenly, like a smack in the face, the stench hit me. I hadn’t noticed it before now, the moldy foul odor that lurked in the cluttered atmosphere of my bedroom. Had I really slept in that?! Shivering in disgust, I began to notice the intricate cobwebs decorating my lamp shades and mirrors. Pathetic waves of sympathy began crashing over me. Items I had buried in the clutter slowly came back to my attention, making me wish I had never covered them in the first place. I began remembering objects I had long blocked from my consciousness; my best sketches, the collection of journals I kept but never wrote in, my favorite mint sweater, and the purple pen that I loved writing with. How could I let my room get like this?
Wondering what else was hidden under my now heaping piles of clutter, I felt a strong urge to rescue my belongings from the looming mountains. Peering under my mattress, I remembered why I never played hide-and-seek in my room. All sorts of plastic tupperware boxes mingled with cobwebs and dust in the tight space. These boxes were accompanied by crumpled paper and bright-colored socks I wasn’t even aware I owned. I hauled the first box out and cracked open its lid; gently brushing off the dust particles.
The first thing I pulled from the box was a black notebook. The journal looked packed, as if I had taken the time to carefully stuff items inside. Opening its cover, I realized it was a scrapbook I had made as a gift for my now ex-boyfriend to celebrate what would have been our two-year anniversary. I remembered how hard I had worked on it, taking care to write down every detail of our love story through words, pictures, objects, quotes, and song lyrics. I began nostalgically thumbing through the pages, soaking in the memories. The beginning of the journal had pictures of our first formal dance together, complete with the earrings I wore super-glued to the paper. I smiled at the pictures, admiring the innocence and simplicity of our middle school years. Thumbing through the pages, I found the notes we had passed in the dreaded personal finance room- our first high school class together. I remembered our first kiss, and how my nerves had caused my heart to beat faster than I thought possible. Gently rubbing my thumb against the blue and gold thread of the matching heart bracelet I had made for him, I began to recall the difficulty in our relationship. He had always claimed to be busy with karate and football. I remembered how we nearly never saw each other because of his “business”, especially when our relationship became long-distance after I moved, and how not seeing each other was hard on both of us. Letters of encouragement I had written for him began slipping out from the journal, the scent of my sharpie handwriting still attached to the paper. We had fought frequently, but had always seemed to mend the tears in our relationship. I remembered how it was no surprise to me how he found a girl far prettier than I was no more than a week after we had separated. Like a stab to the chest, I remembered how much it had hurt. How I had spent months wondering what I had done wrong, and why I wasn’t sufficient enough for him. I remembered the doubts that I had felt because of this insecurity; whether he had ever cheated on me with her (or with other girls), or if he ever loved me at all. I sat silently on my bedroom floor as the tears rolled down my cheeks, still clutching the journal in my arms, remembering the pain I had tried so hard to forget.
Wiping the tears, I directed my attention to my bedside drawer in an attempt to distract myself. I filtered through a multitude of items: a spanish-to-english dictionary, paperclips, random blank notecards and other oddities. Among the clutter was a stack of old photographs and a small heart pink padlock. Immediately I remembered where the lock was from. Right before I left Florida to move to North Carolina, my childhood best friend Bekah gave me the lock to her secret diary. She held the key to my heart, to remind us that without one, the other was not complete. Sifting through the stack of photographs, I found pictures of her and I on the swings. We used to pretend we were wild birds soaring through the sky, trying to touch the park treetops with our untied shoes. I remembered our McDonald's play-dates and how much fun we had together. Our young imaginations would run wild as we impersonated various animals and characters while playing together. At the time, Bekah was particularly fond of horses. Whenever I went to her house we would always play with her figurines and talk about boys. I remember how much we looked up to each other. My favorite color was always what hers was, and she made sure I never forgot that I was her best friend and that we would forever be best friends. I remembered how upset she was when I told her I was moving, and how we lost touch. Flipping through more pictures, I found a more recent photo of us. I recalled the time last summer when I revisited her and Florida. I remembered visiting my old house, and how small it was compared to the one in North Carolina.
Reconnecting with Bekah reminded me of the thrilling adventures I had with my family; bike rides to the seven-eleven and getting slushies, swimming in Blue Springs with the manatees and crocodiles, and of course the many Disney trips. I remembered the first time I jumped off the monkey bars at the neighborhood park, and how proud mom was of me. I had lost and forgotten so many precious memories from my childhood, I longed to salvage them instead of letting them slip through my fingers once more. A smile crept across my face as I re-lived the adventures of Florida, eager to uncover more memories. Setting aside the photographs, a shimmering object at the bottom of the drawer caught my eye.
Reaching into the drawer, I found a small plastic bracelet, still with the cardboard lyrics to “Holy Night” that corresponded to the matching beads. Almost instantly I remembered. This was a Christmas gift from Daniel, someone I had known from preschool. I remembered all of our preschool adventures, such as the time that the fireman visited the preschool and showed us around his awesome truck. Or the time that our teacher, Ms. Karen, painted our faces like clowns and gave us a snack of goldfish and grape kool-aid pouches, of which all of us needed assistance with straw insertion. I remembered the time we dressed up as angels with those itchy halo headbands and sang Christmas songs for a group of proud, camera-clicking parents. I remembered the day Daniel moved, and how we both committed to writing letters and emails back and forth every single day. Running my fingers along the plastic beads, I remembered that it had been years since we had spoken. I began to wonder how many other friends I had forgotten about. I began exploring further into the depths of my room.
As I began putting everything in its rightful place, I found an old picture of my dad and I. In the picture I was no more than two years old, complete with my bouncy curls, large round glasses, and heart-melting smile. Blocking everything else out, I stared longingly at the photo, barely able to recognize the ecstatic little girl that had drowned in the abyss of my room so many years before. I began to remember the fact that, good or bad, the experiences I had been through and the wonderful people I had met along the way made me who I am today. Putting away the items, I decided that the time to marinate longingly in memories had passed with the people who had made them. Although pictures and memories are a reminder of experiences, they cannot be accessed when cluttered with the business and mess of life. Smiling, I placed the photo right next to my bed to prevent ever forgetting that. I realized that, after all this time, it was just me I had been searching for.