If you had asked me a year ago who I was compared to the me of my childhood and early adulthood, I would tell you I had completely changed. I would tell you my change was the reason my first husband and I couldn't possibly have stayed together forever - I changed radically and he, even now, a full nine years after our divorce, now forty-five years old, is the very same twenty-four year old I married when I was only twenty-one.
Something happened over the past year that makes me feel I haven't changed that much at all. I cleaned out my desk drawer and read through old papers I didn't know were there. I found abandoned applications to graduate school, several children's stories I had forgotten I wrote when I was in my early twenties, and the saved rejection letters that stopped me from writing more. While on the same cleaning spree, I found old boxes of paper in the basement. I told my husband to shred them or put them in a fire. Instead he looked to see what was inside and found all of my college essays and notes along with a huge file of poetry and fiction that I didn't know I had saved.
One absolutely surprising thing that has changed forever my perception of myself when looking through the little time capsule was the fastidiousness of it all. The yellow plastic box of my college writings was meticulously organized. My notes and papers for each class were separated into manila folders and labeled with the class name and number. Each file contained class notes, the then carbon-copied syllabus, and all my graded work including typed essays and blue-book exams.
Before I found this hidden treasure, I thought I had become profoundly more tightly wound and organized as an adult, but it turns out I was the same when I was younger. I have learned some lessons as an adult that have changed my approach to life. I learned when I got divorced that I have immeasurable inner strength that shows itself when my back is against the wall. I have learned to love myself if only as an example to my kids. When I had my first child, I learned to stand up for her and also to stand up for myself in ways I never could before. But behind all this new found strength and courage is anxiety, the same anxiety I had as a child and a young adult.
Last night as I got ready for writing class, I looked in the mirror with complete surprise that seemingly overnight I have developed creases in my neck, waves upon waves of wrinkles if I lower my chin just a little, the same wrinkles that my mother and my grandma's sister have. I was overwhelmed by the realization I am getting old and contemplated laser removal of the wrinkles on my neck as I drove quietly to class. I felt old until I got to class and read out loud a poem I wrote when I was nineteen, one of the poems I found in that yellow box. I have modified the poem slightly to make it better, more fluent, more readable, but basically it's the same poem.
As I read the poem out loud, I slipped back into the teenaged me that created a poem that is still uniquely me after all these years. I got very anxious and upset as I read, and a tear welled up in my right eye before I had read eight lines. I was genuinely surprised at my emotion to read a poem separated from me by 23 years. Every part of me felt uncomfortable revealing to a room of women-writers the very soft person I am inside the much harder, protective shell I have worked so hard to grow over twenty years since I first wrote those vulnerable words.