Satisfied and tickled, too

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 16, 2016 (last essay for this paper!)


The only fan letter I ever wrote was to the novelist, Tom Robbins. No eye rolling, please. It’s important to note that I happened to be working for his publisher in New York City at the time (1982), and I happened to be selling cover art rights to his many foreign publishers. In essence, I was really working for him. So. It was a fan letter to my awesome boss.

The job itself is not at all glamorous; in fact, when I leave the position, my day-to-day boss, a tough woman VP for whom I type letters, asks me if I want to know why I will never amount to anything in the business. It does not help that the friend I make in that department becomes such a close friend (and is, still) that our desks have to be moved apart. Meanwhile, I gobble up the Tom Robbins novels, and on several occasions see him in the elevator looking adventuresome, approachable, and out of place; combined, these are enough to loosen New York City’s monopoly on my spirit.

I have blocked out whatever I might have tried to pull off in that fan letter. It had some history, probably. Having grown up in Seattle, I had already dragged the parents on a “tulip viewing” pilgrimage to the little town of La Conner, Washington, where the legendary creator of Sissy Hankshaw is known to live (and still lives, at 84).

I do know this: at the time of typing the letter on my old Royal, in the fabulous walk-up railroad flat I rent for more than two-thirds of my take home pay, I am thinking if I land a comment in this author’s ear, at least I will have done something in life. I probably gush out of every pore, because I am still in recovery from Catholic girls’ high school PTSD, for which gushing is not just the antidote but also the cure.

I drop it in the mailbox, thinking “There. Done. Did it. Now, move on.”

A few weeks later, despite the miniscule odds, I receive a letter postmarked La Conner. On the back of the envelope is an image of a duck and man with their heads down and submerged in water, along with the caption, “Does a duck have a Buddha nature, master?” Inside, is a photocopied anatomical diagram of head and alimentary canal with word bubbles coming out of various mouths. “Dear Michelle,” it says, “I would be satisfied (and tickled, too) if yours was the only fan letter I ever received. Bless your heart for that. Love & Luck. Tom Robbins.”

Sometimes, we do smile big, gaping smiles with our hearts. That I have fired off a letter to a winsome, frolicking, woman-loving, psychedelic-seeing, longhand-writing genius and gotten it answered is almost more than I can bear. It makes me float for a while and then it makes me wonder, Well, what keeps us afloat, though? Does a duck have a Buddha nature, master?

When I finally do drop out in search of something else, something imaginative and at the end of the road, there is no shortage of Robbins bubbling in my brain and fueling my fire. I take my father’s bequeathed computer and start tapping away, for hundreds and hundreds of hours at my first attempt at novel writing, which is — of course — about a roadside attraction. My prose is a far cry from Tom Robbins,’ but I like to think my characters might feel right at home reading his novels.

Fast forward 30 years.

A friend is over and is reading the famed, framed letter, as others have done, with a little smile. A diehard blues lover, he tells me he most appreciates the “satisfied and tickled, too” reference to the Mississippi John Hurt song. I have no idea what he’s talking about. I have never been aware of any allusion at all, which somehow utterly charms him because of this new layer, a layer that brings him right into the story.

Some time later but not so long ago, this same friend and his wife tell me they have a surprise for me, which is a present, a book. They’ve just been to Tom Robbins’ reading and book signing in NYC — of the memoir he said he would never write. And though they’ve all been told by the author, whose handwriting and eyesight are bad, that he cannot write personal notes, Barry and Christina, committed, stand in a long line in order to squeeze out my story in 12 seconds flat — the story of the only fan letter a girl has ever written, and the response she unexpectedly gets.

Below the shaky inscription to me and above his signature, he finds it in his heart to add: “Satisfied and tickled, too.” Which is a nice enough mantra in life, when you actually think about it.



Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 2, 2016


Years and years ago, within the secret-gardened privilege of a liberal arts education — back when, at this particular college, there are no requirements for any sort of mathematics but four years of requirements for cultural history from Greece and Rome to the modern day — I have a professor, one of many big-time characters who help liberate me from my parochial thinking while at the same time opening the door to a lifetime of head scratching. Thank you, all you professors, so much.


This particular man, like many of his fellow academics with bigger and more beautiful than average minds, wears the same outfit day after day and walks the same way to get to the same office to hold the same office hours to help students asking the same questions arrive at the same answers – always making sure, of course, that they are doing it themselves, or at least helping them think that they are.


Some of these ivory tower types wear tweeds and bow ties, some wear elbow-patched sweaters. Professor H, call him, is in the habit of wearing very loose fitting khakis, a nondescript short-sleeved shirt, and Birkenstocks.  The way he walks is hard to forget: a deliberate and primordial stepping down – as if permanently imprinting in mud the ground of our tiny spinning planet, which hangs here delicately in a balance of not only deep space but snips, snails, puppy dogs tails, floating Greek characters, and enough ancient philosophy to bend light. Birkenstocks seem like the perfect shoe for this man.


At any rate, the professor is a man with a mission, a mission centered on the entrainment of undergraduate minds to better know Greek philosophers — and, more specifically, one particular concept. If you get it, and your work reflects that you get it, you score well, and get A minuses. (A’s are not given, on principal, in his classes.) The concept is straightforward, and the only thing keeping us all from simply getting it and ticking it off and writing the papers parroting back our comprehension of what he is getting at… is rebellion. You will see why in a moment.


His idée fixe, (which, like everything else under the Sun, is not new) is that freedom is not necessarily contained in the notion of choices. That, on the contrary, choice can limit us, paralyze us, even. That the happy life, a life determined by measured goodness and good-thinking and proper and natural adherence to rules, can create a life far more “free” than a life rife with too much choice or rebellion. Of course, at nineteen, we find it impossible not to rebel against this. Most adults today cannot conceive of it, given our modern world, which is populated by skillions of choices, that get chopped up into skillions more.


Today, I am thinking of this man – whom I have thought of many times before  — as I tackle a mundane task: replacing a washing machine, a brand new one with far more choices on its dashboard than I want or need, one which is so efficient in the water department that it hardly uses any water at all, so little, in fact, that it barely gets the clothes wet, let alone clean. There are too many other washers to choose from out there and too many choices within each of them. I feel paralysis set in. My free will – the freedom to choose wisely – is corrupted, even at the inch-worm level of the washing machine!


In addition to this burden of choosing, we are then asked to process these choices quickly and all at once. Look at this screen and figure out where you are. Pick a game and play it instantly. Look at this coffee maker and program it. Look at this phone, and figure out this week’s operating system. Pick two things to do at once, now, or seven or however many you want, there are so many! Do it until you’re giddy and fried and there is only one thing left: the bathtub. The idea of fewer choices and greater freedom? It is revolutionary. Subversive. Possibly even brilliant.


Recently, I hear of the early passing of an acquaintance, a novelist and screenwriter, whose habit with any kind of writing, which he does longhand, is never – not ever –to begin with a blank page. He writes between the lines of other people’s work, on the backs and fronts of bills and envelopes, on whatever comes in the mail. What I love about this is that the freehand scrawls flows more easily this way. Standing out between the rows of printed text, it quietly, and seamlessly illustrates how limitation, constraint, and fewer choices can be the beginnings of something very fine indeed.

RDHTMOM meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Recent sighting: a little red Chevy with the license plate RDHTMOM. Behind the wheel is a 40-something brunette with a medium bob and bangs.

Take a deep breath as you grip the steering wheel, and squeeze hard, hard as you can. Harder. Harder still. Aaaaand release. Feel the blood flow into your fingers, and then send your fingertips up, glancing at the color of your nails. Revlon, Wintermint — an icy shade of blue-green that smells delicious. Scented nails, and not a chip or flaw to be seen! Breathe in Wintermint. Relax.

Drop your shoulders and glance in the rearview mirror. Is someone driving too close behind you again? Gently signal and glide peacefully into the next lane, breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. From the lower belly, to the ribcage, then to the upper chest and throat. Just like they taught you in that yoga class.

Now, turn the AC off and open up your front windows four inches. With another deep breath, enjoy the feel of the warm wind messing up your hair. Yes, both a red hot mom and a regular mom might do this. Relax your whole regular-mom face. Take off your sunglasses. Shake your head. Remember yourself at around 8 years of age when the world was your oyster. Pretend you see your best friend coming toward you on her blue bike and smile that winning smile, ear to ear.

Turn off the radio — since you never know which station to play, anyway. There’s too much pop in country, and not nearly enough country in pop.  You have no clue what red hot music would be — and maybe never did. If your phone is on the dash, which it probably is, pick it up and toss it onto the back seat; because even if your phone does contain your life, do you need every square inch of it at your fingertips every second of every day? For that matter, wouldn’t it feel good not to have so many contacts? Or so many apps that your 10-year-old has to show you how to use? You hate Candy Crush. Your favorite app is Goldfish Pond because it sits there and shimmers, and when you touch it, it ripples. The fish glide. You can change the Japanese background pattern but that’s about all. Genius.

If you were going to design an app that was meant to make people happy, what would it be? Something like Pond. A blue sky with a random crow flying by?

Whichever way you were going to turn next, get ready to turn the other direction. Yes, you are going to go the other way. Not to the bank. Not to Safeway. Not to the school to pick up the kids. Instead, you are going to make that wrong — but very right — turn. Sink deeply into your bucket seat and adjust it back a click, letting your head tilt back with it. Say the words, “Oh yeahhhh,” just like in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” your favorite movie of all time.

Look around, noting beautiful things in this unfamiliar neighborhood. A budding rose bush. A dog sitting on a porch, wagging its tail. There is goodness here. Breathe in and out, and undo that top button of your jeans. He’d love you even it they weren’t so tight.

Of course, he thought you’d love the license plate. And the car. Because when a woman turns 40, and her two kids are already looking at her, like, “she’s old, she’s my mom,” she needs a pick-me-up. He was trying to make you feel good, tell you no need to worry. So you put on a show and acted pleased, despite the fact that you adored that 2001 white Suburban because it was smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone.

Now, your license plate makes every single person behind you speed up to check you out. And that forces you to look straight ahead, sunglasses on, as if you’re too cool for school, but really what you are is mortified. Belly breaths all the way around the block — a complete circumnavigation until you are calm.

There. Now, pull your shoulders up to your ears and let them drop. Then, do it again, only this time shrug lightly, holding the shoulders up in a lilting way, and smile that winning smile. That’s your move, Redhotmom. Shrug-and-smile.

Because then, when someone is giving you that sideways glance from the next lane, instead of being an imposter with a vanity plate that screams, “Look at me,” you’re the bright- eyed woman with the windy hair who shrugs and smiles every time, as if to say, “He thinks I’m red hot, and I just don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.”

Path of The Country Bunny

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 12, 2015

Dear Santa,

Here’s my Christmas list.

Actually, in preamble, I have to admit that I have been thinking about the Easter Bunny lately — more specifically, the one portrayed in my favorite book of all time, “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.” Do you remember it? It’s 1939. DuBose Heyward and Marjorie Flack, truly inspired, write and illustrate this gem. It’s a classic. Timeless. Indelibly sweet and true.

In the story, a country bumpkin female bunny — a single parent, actually, with 21 babies to whom she has ingeniously delegated all the work of keeping house — decides to vie for a recently vacated Easter Bunny position, a post notoriously dominated by males, a post almost too ridiculous for her even to consider. Nevertheless, courageously, she shows up, 21 Sunday-best bunnies in tow.

The old and wise grandfather and head Easter Bunny in charge of the competition — noting the shiny-clean order of the country bunny’s life and witnessing proof positive of all her other attributes — sees fit to elect her, in the end, to be one of his own. And because of her brilliant examples of cleverness, kindness, wisdom and speed, she is given the greatest honor of all: donning the little gold shoes to fly an Easter basket to an ailing boy on the top of a steep mountain.

Fantastic story! Beyond the giant pyramids of colored eggs in the Easter Palace and the competition on the lawn with all the naysayer jackrabbits showing off (until the country bunny speaks up and proves her mettle), this is also an early feminist tale, a tale driven by merit and virtue, the reward of which is, simply and unequivocally, the gift of service.

Now, we know very well that in the Santa Claus merit system, a good little girl or boy gets the gifts, sometimes even the impossible ones — the puppy, the visit from a long lost relative (or famous athlete), the miracle cure, the trip to Disneyland. But what if all Santa offered and all we got was…  giving? What if the greatest gift to get was the gift of being capable to give to others? To me, this feels like radically elevated thought — which may be one reason “The Country Bunny” story continues to influence me to this day.

This year — a beautiful, rich, challenging, profound year for me, in so many ways — I’d like to begin needing not so many material things (which I am an expert at doing, just like most of us are), but needing things that are both harder and easier to grasp, the idea being to shake it up, grab a person by the collar, bring her or him back to the things that matter the most. In short, to get on the path of the Country Bunny.

Here’s the beginning of my new and improved list, which I’m writing as much to myself as to you. You don’t need the buzzwords, but I do, as they sort of tack notions to the bulletin board of time.

Smiley face: The ability to get up every day and put a smile on, even in the dark, even in the cold, even after one has temporarily given up coffee, which is pretty much one’s only vice. A deep feeling for the net worth of a smile.

Deer in headlights: The ability to be stopped in my tracks by the beauty of nature. Three of four times a day would be a good start, more on particularly sparkly days.

Queen of hearts: To be a better sport at word and card games. I have no idea why my buttons get pushed here, but I am currently on hiatus for bad behavior. This is a red flag item.

Inner child: better behavior from the unruly inner-tantrum-throwing 3-year old, the one who slams inner emotional doors and marches off in an inner micro-huff. Yellow flag item.

Peace sign: more peace in my daily life. File under: acceptance and enjoyment of people as they are, deep satisfaction in the small things and gratitude for bounty, privilege and the gift of life.

Cash register: clean, clear ideas of service to others with no tit-for-tat or sense of owing or balancing accounts. Just being nice.

Windex: clearer eyes with which to see the world. A Mr. Potato Head sort of feeling that the eyes we see with can be the angry eyes, but they can also be clear and peaceful eyes. Relaxing the eyeballs.

Wax: Of course, I love candles and would take any and all candles offered me at Christmas or any other day of the year. The beauty of a candle is that it reminds us that life is a vigil, that we are here to stay awake and give watchful attention to the progress of our lives. Right?

These things may help get me moving in the right direction. Thanks in advance for any help from the office of the red and white suit.

Yours sincerely, MCW.

Princess-of-the-world cat meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sit upright on one of those squares you like. The vintage Navajo rug, or the laptop case, or one of the placemats they hate you sitting on, smack in the middle of the dining room table.

There is no one at home now, no one to try to make you do anything you do not want to do. (Not that they ever can. You on the other hand can make them do many things against their weak human will.) Are you on the placemat? Feeling the sweet containment of the square? Feeling the peace and smugness of being in a place you should not be? You are the princess of the world. Breathe in and out through that little pink nose, moving not a single one of your strawberry blonde hairs.

Now pick a point in the distance and stare at it. The birdhouse? That is fine as long as there is no bird activity, because in a moment, as part of this meditation, you will be asked to curb your tail’s twitching. So why set yourself up for failure? Breathe in order and control. Breathe it in for all 500 million domestic felines on this cat-heavy planet. Now breathe out the sound of the hand-held vacuum your humans use to try to get you out from under the beds. Of course you hate that thing. Release the Dustbuster from your consciousness. Release all loud noises for yourself and for all the scaredy-cats of the world.

Yes, splendid cat princess, breathe in power and out subjugation. Take a moment to squint your eyes in pleasure. Remember how pretty your eyes are, the pale olive green flecked with peridot fire? I’ve seen you admire yourself in the mirror as you drink from the faucet they’ve turned on for you. Let your mind’s eye become your actual eyes. Then use these eyes as gemstone crystals, pulling all negative energy and irritation right out through your eye sockets.

Why let go of irritation, you might ask, when it plays such a central part in your life? Why fix it if it ain’t broke? For a moment, precious tabby, consider this: you may not know how much better a cat’s life could be. Cats, too, cling to their pain and codependency. The irritation cycle can be broken. Say it: the irritation cycle can be broken. Say it again once more, not just for the purpose of this meditation, but being truly open to evolution, for yourself and for your species.

Now you are ready, ready to practice pleasure by squinting your eyes. Using a soft and silent meow, feel the breath at the back of your fish-flavored throat.  Squint and breathe: life is good. Right? Deep meow, life is goooooood. Are you letting go now? Who exactly is letting go? You? You are the squinter. Are you also the spirit observing the squint? Yes, my liege. Release all remaining traces of the hand-held vacuum.

Now close your eyes fully in deep and accepting peace. No one is home. There are no birds at the feeder. There are no family members not doing what you would have them do and doing what you would have them not do. There is just you and an empty house and all those deliciously varied napping places that reflect the diurnal movement of the sunny-sun-sun.

Okay, now: from this moment of acceptance and deep relaxation, twitch your tail one last time. Then simply will…it…to…stop…. Remember your own superpower: the unbelievable and unaccountable mind-melding will of a cat. Use it, on yourself this time, to keep the tail still 100 percent. Yes, it’s tricky. Because pretty much everything has the capacity to irritate you.

But as irritation builds, work with the coiled energy at the tip of the tail. This is your Catalini, not that you need understand the Yoga Upanishads to complete this meditation. Breathe in peace up the tail and into the spine and then breathe out irritation. Repeat. Take a moment to be fully present in the Now. Otherwise known as the Meow. Were you successful? You may have just created your first new neural catway.

Maybe you were unable to refrain from twitching? It’s okay. You are a cat, with thousands and thousands of years of neural programming to overcome. Breathe in and rotate an ear. Breathe out. Slowly, quietly, and without judgment stand up and arch your back in a modified Cat-cow, then return to sitting, to a neutral position.

The sun has likely made its way across the table. Feel the sun on your whiskers, then feel it move across the white blaze on your chest. Let your mind melt into the golden light of the sun as you close your eyes again, breath even, tail still. Beautifully done, princess. Now reward yourself with a nice long nap: isn’t that pile of clean laundry just what the doctor ordered?

Fly by

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 6, 2014

The 4th of July Thunderbirds usually get me thinking – as I get all choked up — about graduation from college, and about the sheer, welling gratitude in my heart that my father did not make me apply to the Air Force Academy the first year women were to be admitted, 1976, which was the year I graduated from high school. They’d come recruiting, with their training film and their starched and buzz-cut student representative standing in the front of the group, spit-shined shoes locked together and hands at his side. “He may have butterflies,” the accompanying officer assured us, “but you can bet they’re all in formation.”


Later, at dinner, dad pitched it hard. All I could think of was: wrong for me. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Butterflies in formation? What kind of sick, dark, inhospitable world would that represent?


Miraculously, I graduated college on the emerald lawn of an absurdly beautiful arbor of a tiny liberal arts college in southern California on a hot May day wearing long green wool robes, alongside about 115 other women. I remember it like I remember all the other convocations: the Latin song (Gaudeamus Igitur), the professors in their black robes and colored sashes, the bucolic, old-world, Spanish-tiled charm of the campus, and my joy of being there, in what appeared to be nothing short of a fantasy.


Certainly, the whole thing was dreamlike for me: that I applied on a whim and got a full ride. That I boarded a plane alone, left Seattle, dad’s kingdom, and landed half a mile from orange and lemon groves and fifty miles from the looking glass kingdom of Los Angeles. That I never had to take math, never had a roommate, and got to reinvent myself — to the degree that one ever can. That I had art and history requirements and took fencing with a former Hungarian gold medalist. That within the college was a small walled garden where one could read the assigned novels and study the assigned Latin. That I had good friends, and boyfriends. And that, most amazing of all, two professors mentored me — and absolutely, positively changed my life.


This is what I am thinking about as Celine, my own daughter, prepares to loose herself from the safety and beauty of her own liberal arts college and to engage in the gears of the world at large. She has not yet had a game-changing mentor, someone who has heard and studied her, made her feel the uniqueness of her mind and character, and helped her underscore the importance of tending to both. In her small school, she has not had that one experience every liberal arts grad needs: the buzzing, booming fly-by of a person whose care for her intelligence and fiber are as real as the real world beyond.


Because, however much ideas, books, and events may change our lives, people do, in fact, change them most profoundly. Even though I’ve often claimed airily (like any good story lover) that some of the most influential people in my life were fictional characters, I’ve lied!


It was my two college mentors who shaped the young-adult version of myself the most. One – for whom I worked as a research assistant — taught Victorian literature. Suave and slightly rakish, he could read five languages and made material new no matter how many times he’d already taught it. The other, a professor of American intellectual history and my undergrad thesis advisor, was known for standing on tables to teach, for haranguing students with his semi-Socratic methods. He would bear down hard on every notion, proposition, and comment as if all our lives depended on all our answers. Intellectual laziness, seen by these two as a sort of modern plague, was being ticketed.


For the final exam in his infamous 18th Century American Intellectual History class, the table-stander said this: “Just tell me what you learned. And, people? It better be good.” I remember sitting down that night with my black and white composition notebook in my dorm room, trying to figure out how to discern what I had learned and digested, let alone express it well and with freshness.


So, thank you, fly-byers. You remind me to pay attention to all the important people in my life and to be grateful for them — and of all that I wish for, for my own sweet girl.



It’s moving me

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 25, 2014

My mother loved to tell people how good it felt to finally settle into our Seattle house after having moved 11 times in 17 years.

Not just because of the house, whose mahogany doors and brass fixtures I still dream about. But because, as the wife of an army officer who is away for the first dozen years of married life, she does much of the moving solo, which is hard to fathom, given her three small children in tow and the added hoop-jumping of being a woman and a foreigner. She inventories, boxes, organizes, cleans, even sells real estate, while, of course, never letting the Chief of Staff think anyone but he is anything but in charge. Brings to mind that quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything Astaire does in the movies but backwards and in high heels.

By the time I come along, we only have five moves left, but dad is around more, and he throws in his own extravagant touches. For the move back to Europe in 1962, we take along the Pepto-Bismol-colored Buick Riviera we call Betsy, a real head snapper in the land of Renaults and mopeds. And coming back in ‘65 to the big house, undaunted, he sends a container full of antiques over, things he has already penciled in on scale drawings of every room in the house. Every bureau, bed, sideboard, footstool, ironing board, lamp, old painting, and ancient clock is already in its place, destined to remain there for the next 30 years. Moving… has ended.

Maybe my mother’s I’m-so-done feelings about moving rub off on me. When I move away to college in the 70s, I exit with a suitcase in one hand and a rinky-tink stereo set with bookend speakers in the other. Possibly one of those Tensor lamps. Then, after college, heading east on the Canadian Pacific Railway from Seattle to New York (6 days of coach, and, wow, what an “adventure”), it is much the same: a suitcase in each white-knuckled fist as I step down onto the platform at Grand Central Station.

I arrive here in the ‘80s with precious little in the trunk of my ‘66 Cutlass Supreme. One suitcase of very nice business clothes destined to mildew within a few weeks. A typewriter, a Royal. Another duffle of clothes. No furniture, gear, books, or anything of sentimental value. Electronics? They barely exist.

Now, many years down the road and after 21 of them living in the same house, I’m moving. I organize and box and discard and sell my real estate. I pack up hundreds of books to give away, and clean the oven, and uncomfortably list personal effects online to parse out. And finally, at the very end of it all, I take a good look around at the empty rooms as the months and years slideshow before me. Already, the house has a different smell. Whatever my life has brought to it has drained out, something obvious even to the cat, who, against all odds, hardly resists being carted away to a new place and a new life.

Some guys I’ve hired to help with the super heavy things are kindly rearranging it all in the storage unit before shoving in the last pieces of furniture.

Suddenly, as I disassociate from it, staring at it with my arms crossed and that Who-am-I-really feeling I’ve pretty much felt my whole life, it all looks so unnecessary, this pile of stuff, stuffed away next to hundreds of other alpha-numeric stuff-pile compartments separated by thin metal walls.

For the first time, I have this thought: What if I just left it all here? The hard part was re-examining it, then wrapping it in paper, then boxing it, taping it and essentially parting with it. Facing this multitude of cardboards cubes in stacks I’m wondering if it’s like a story you can pare down to two paragraphs, then to three sentences, then to a word and then eventually let that word go. Is that what I’d do? No. That’s not it.

“Memories?” One of the guys is reading a box I’ve labeled as he slides it into a tighter, better spot.

“Yeah,” I tell him, coming back into my body. “I guess — I got lazy with the labels.”

He wants me to explain, but I can’t. It’s a box of hundreds of things, each one guaranteed to open a memory vault. Every box in the storage unit, for that matter, could have been labeled exactly the same way. That might have been a more accurate enumeration of the 2,000 cubic feet of contents. As opposed to “Kitchen Stuff,” which means absolutely zero to me, apart from “Is that the one with the rice cooker in it, or the Yorkshire pudding tin?”

Now, sipping my coffee somewhere else, my cat in the sun and my companion not far away — with a portion of my old stuff to comfort me and a new life to sustain me, I think of my boxes of memories sitting quietly in a certain numbered compartment of a certain storage facility, guarded by a single spider trap and a semi-beefy padlock.

My memories are safe. They are within reach. And that’s all I really need to know for now.