I found something amazing today. I was rummaging through my closet in search of a photo I thought I could use in a future post. I had gone through every last box of pictures and was about to give up when it occurred to me that the photo might be in a box of keepsakes I hadn’t opened in years. I was pretty sure it was mostly crammed full of graduation cards and old pay stubs I hadn’t bothered to dispose of. I questioned if it would even be worth my time to go through the hassle of getting it down, which would require a chair, a box on top of the chair, and me standing on top of the box, on the tips of my toes.
I talked myself into it.
I was partly correct in my assumptions, it did contain a ton of graduation cards and old pay stubs. But it also turned out to be housing just about every letter I’d received between the ages of twelve and twenty-two(ish), along with some other random stuff (like a wooden cowboy boot Christmas ornament??) and the photo I was looking for.
So I sat on the floor and worked my way through the box in hopes of coming across something else I might be interested in writing about. I found enough material to write a thousand articles. And a few pieces that almost literally took my breath away. I may or may not share them.
The items contained in the box go back as far as my earliest days. You’ll be happy to know that I received my DTP and Polio vaccinations in 1979 (in case you were holding your breath). I found record of a tetanus shot too, from 1997. I remember that one vividly because it involved me shoving a butter knife so far down in between my pinkie and ring finger it warranted an ER visit.
If you’ve read any of my last few posts, you’re probably noticing a trend. I’ve spent a lot of time in emergency rooms. I’m told my initial visits involved me swallowing an entire box of candlewicks and getting my foot wedged in a 1970’s era Little People house.
I don’t remember the incident, but I definitely remember playing with it. The lever to the left of the door rings a bell.
I can also recall a food-poisoning trip and one involving some other sort of killer flu/virus. I believe my dad may have been included in the killer flu/virus situation. And I’m pretty sure it was Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Although I’m sure someone will tell me I’m wrong. He broke his leg too. And crushed his fingers with something incredibly heavy, in my mind it’s an anvil, but that’s probably incorrect as well.
The poor man was even once run over by a semi truck (before I was born). My mom has a picture of him in the hospital, hooked up to a dozen wires and I.V.s (is that how I’m supposed to be abbreviating it? I tried lower case, but it just looked like ivs and that seemed wrong) with two cartons of Kools stacked next to him on the bedside table. I’ll try to get my hands on it. It’s worth viewing.
Luck must be hereditary.
Beyond some school pictures and artwork, there wasn’t anything that really stood out about my first few years. But then I uncovered this gem.
Wait? Me? Rushing through something? That’s preposterous.
This thing has A-M-Y stamped all over it in ginormous block letters. It says: The girl’s a good reader, but she’s not really interested in achieving anything. She’s sloppy as hell and doesn’t seem to care much about time tests and deadlines. She’s shamefully uncoordinated and unskilled at sports. We’ll give her a C, because hey, she showed up.
I remember that grade. It was boring. I can recall sneaking glances at a copy of “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” under my desk during a timed multiplication test. I never did finish that one; it was also super boring. One of my kids recently checked it out at the library. My opinion stands.
I cannot begin to tell you the number of elementary school hours I spent feeling like I was going to physically die if they didn’t move on to something else. Once, in a kindergarten reading circle I was sitting across from a girl who was struggling with the word “Said.” I remember thinking, “It says said. Said. Said. Said. Said. Said. Come on… Pleeeeease just let me do it.” The feeling was similar to what I feel now in the checkout line at Target.
I do think it’s pretty amusing that I ended up having decent grammar and a poor attitude. And you’re damn right I brighten up the room. I’m doing it right now. You just can’t see me.
That was the last elementary-aged memento I found. All I really remember after that was the huge X-Wing fighter mural on the wall between the boys and girls bathrooms. And the morning announcements. I was asked to read them several times a week. It was my special talent. I’m very loud.
I could easily write ten articles about my middle school era findings. But I imagine that might get boring so I’ll just share this snippet with you.
When I was about twelve, I began to prefer the company of my middle sister over my peers. I was socially awkward and had trouble figuring out how to fit in. She was trapped in the past-high-school-but-not-quite-an-adult phase.
I’ll give you some more background info. In my youth we traveled quite a bit. To Idaho. Spring vacation? Idaho. Summer vacation? Idaho. Four-day weekend? Idaho. For no reason at all? Idaho. I could drive from Portland, Oregon to my dad’s childhood home blindfolded, backwards, upside down, in earplugs, while being repeatedly hit in the face with a stick. We made that eight- hour (each way) trek a lot.
Instead of marveling at the amazing backdrop of five story gorge walls and mountain passes, we invented all kinds of bizarre time-passing activities. One of them was giving each other ten random words that the other had to incorporate into a short story. I’m telling you all of this because I came across our two most notorious stories. The first is titled “The Brother of Elvis,” the other remains untitled. It was about a few encounters of a woman named Claudia.
Back in the days when grocery stores closed at night and only convenience stores stayed open twenty-four hours, we frequented the corner 7-11. Claudia was the p.m. cashier. If you needed a gallon of milk at midnight, you had to deal with her. She was the most un-smiling, grouchy, unpleasant person I’d ever come across. And the unwitting subject of most of our inside jokes. The story opened with “My name is Claudia. I carry a Big Gulp.” (Thank my sister for this one)
I’m not going to share them; they’re somewhat illegible and very, very embarrassing. But they did occupy countless hours on the long, long trip.
If you were lucky enough to spend your Fourth of July in the eight hundred resident destination, you were treated to pancake feeds and porcupine races.
I will, however, share with you a few other items:
Now that I think about it, I may have received the valentine in high school. I only found three things from that time period. I was apparently too busy being selfish and obnoxious, as most teenagers are.
The first was a note from a friend, inquiring as to the whereabouts of Walkman I’d borrowed, with a (ridiculously funny) sketch on the back. Unfortunately, I’m not going to share it with you. It will offend someone and I’m not in the mood for hate mail.
The second was this:
This is the name card you put in your graduation announcements. Mine arrived with a gorgeous, but superfluous L right in between my first and middle names. There is no L in my name. I received mail addressed this way for years thereafter. My friends are hilarious.
Speaking of misprints and nicknames, I have a few more.
“Napkins” – One day at lunch, a friend asked me to grab her some napkins. Only while asking, she stumbled and took an unnecessary pause. It came out “grab me some, Napkins.” As if that was my name and I was requesting that she grope me. I’m still hearing this from time to time.
“Amy Mane” – Not only was there a misprint in my name cards, there was one in the program at my graduation ceremony. Someone decided I needed to be renamed Amy Mane versus Amy Marie. It stuck. My oldest sister still uses this one often.
The last item was an envelope full of ticket stubs. Most from high school, but a few are from my first or second year in college. Don’t worry; we’re going there next.
I. Am. Awesome.
So, so awesome.
While examining the box contents I had set aside all of the letters from my first few college years. I figured I could read them in sequence and have a few laughs. I did. Rehashing old inside jokes is more than entertaining. I guess you had to be there.
I held off on reading them because I knew that one of them made mention of drinking and I was curious to find it. It was one of the few I remember receiving. To the best of my recollection, I had read it, shrugged my shoulders and tossed it aside with the rest of them. I was looking for what I thought was few sentences in the midst of a long letter, maybe about designated drivers or not going off with strange guys or something like that.
There were dozens of letters. I half read, half scanned every last one of them. The illusive “warning about alcohol” paragraph was nowhere to be found. I figured I’d thrown it away. No big deal.
I don’t know why, but just as I was packing everything up, I had the urge to go through the box one last time. And sure enough, I found one last smaller, invitation-sized enveloped shoved to the very bottom, sandwiched in the middle of two oversized greeting cards. Isn’t it convenient that the events actually played out like that? Like a movie script. The kind where the wife thinks the husband is cheating and goes through all of his things, not finding proof. Then at the last second, something catches her eye…
You know how I said I found something that took my breath away? This was it. Really. It was hard to breathe.
Mon Aug 25 1997
My Amy! I just got your letter and I was so happy. May I say that I love your stationery? It’s very nice. Why do you say it’s funny that I’ve liked you through all your phases? How could I possibly not like you? And anyway, I’ve had my phases too- Just not as noticeably. You are however, a large concern. Poor … and I worry about you. I don’t want this to sound like a confrontational letter as opposed to a friendly hello letter but if I may go off on a tangent: I’ve noticed that you have a very addictive personality and I want you to be careful… Alcohol… is bad when taken in excess, so I want you to moderate yourself because I love you and don’t want you to get hurt. And if you think you have a problem or just want to see if you might (I’m not saying you do) there is much help available. And me! I’m always here. Besides the aforementioned alcohol I am here for any troubles you may have, small as they may be – It bothers me more not to hear about troubles so please share w/ me…
It goes on from there to discuss the time one of our teacher’s fly was open and her choking at a restaurant and me not helping because I thought she was kidding. And how she received a letter containing only a milk ad with Hanson on it that read, “What do we drink when we write our songs? Mmmilk.”
Monday, August 25th, 1997.
I sat on the floor, reading it over and over and over.
It’s made its way into my purse. I find myself pulling it out in places like waiting rooms and grocery store parking lots. I’m sure I’ve read it a hundred times. There’s a little part of me that’s still insisting I could control it if I really wanted to. That I just had a rough couple of years. It was a fluke. It’s over. I’m fine. Resume normal life.
The letter makes believing that a whole lot more difficult. I can’t explain what I’m going through at the moment. Who knew a letter like this would be so hard on me? It makes everything very real and I’m not sure I like that. But I’m still glad I found it.
I’m glad I found all of it.
To the author and co-conspirator (aka …): Writing this letter was an incredibly courageous act. That you wrote it at age eighteen is absolutely amazing. I am so very, very thankful for two decades of friendship. It took a little longer than expected, but your letter made a difference in my life.
Even though you don’t remember writing it.