I fear snakes and sharks. You know this, we've talked about it. But I also fear an embarrassing posthumous discovery.
You heard me correctly.
I've thought about this more than once. More than I care to admit. But the other day, when I went scrambling around my house trying to find an old college transcript, that idea of an embarrassing posthumous discovery by family (or friends) was top of mind.
While death is bad enough, the idea of people finding things of mine after I've left this place is unsettling.
Why? I'm dead. Why does it matter?
As I went about scrambling to find that transcript, I realized that it was probably unusual (in comparison to most people) to even be holding onto a college transcript. What significance did it have any longer? Quickly I lost sight of the fact I was looking for the transcript and realized all of the places where I was looking for it. This is what gave me grave concern.
I first looked in a file organizer that held folders and manila envelopes that had the names of old boyfriends or a specific event (Australia, rape, roommate death). There were old letters and notes, pictures, emails, drawings, and in one instance, a deflated and folded balloon I had received on some occasion.
Flying through this bin on the hunt for the transcript, memories flashed by. I went quickly hoping there wouldn't be enough time for any ghosts to slip out and join me beneath the covers that night as I slumbered.
Then I looked in an old suitcase I claimed after my grandfather passed. This was an actual posthumous discovery along with several other really cool vintage items. For the longest time, it remained empty. Until I needed a place to store all of my old journals and they nicely fit. The suitcase easily slid beneath the desk without revealing what was inside. Journals dating back to 1990 - when I was five and barely able to spell let alone write full sentences.
The weight of that suitcase was dramatic.
Finally, I looked in an organizational bin containing more folders and then two three-inch three-ring binders holding together tightly versions of my master's thesis. This bin, too, held demons.
I couldn't find the transcript anywhere and ultimately it wasn't necessary beyond wanting to fill in a gap of memory as I was relaying some past story about my semester abroad. But as I scurried about tossing open lids and suitcases and manically flipping through files, it occurred to me:
If I die right now, the posthumous discovery of all of this collateral would be devastating. Damaging.
While I'll be dead at that point several others won't be. My son for instance. My parents. Siblings. Grandmother. Friends - past and present. I mean, a lot of people. A lot of people who have known me throughout my life. A lot of people who can be found inside that file holder, that suitcase, that bin. By way of picture, perhaps. Or email. Or letter. Either something they wrote and sent or something I did.
There are drafts of essays and of memoirs that are not ready for public consumption or even private consumption outside of my self. And there are pages and pages and pages of deeply personal and private accounts of my life, feelings, and thoughts over the years (since 1990 remember) that probably shines a negative light on them some of the time and likely casts a dark shadow over myself during my most troubling times.
If they were to digest any of these items in this posthumous discovery, what would they think of me? Themselves? Or the relationship we shared - for however long or at whatever point.
None of these things in their current form are true accounts of anything. They are one-dimensional. They capture a particular time. Or a certain thought and feeling. They are purgings in some instances. Rants in others. Works in progress. And they come from whoever I was at the time I wrote them, not from the me who could look back on the moment now with more clarity and wisdom. Should anyone read these things without my commentary or explanation, they undoubtedly would think two things:
I don't think I fucking knew her at all.
She's creepy as hell for keeping all this shit.
Because quite frankly, I've gotten pretty weird looks when I've shared with people that I've kept all of these personal artifacts for research. Either they think I'm batty for keeping it at all because why would anyone want to keep reminders of ex-boyfriends turned stalkers, or dead roommates or sexual assaults? Or they think I'm batty because they don't understand how personal mementos can be considered research.
I've always assumed that these people have looked at me strangely because they aren't writers.
For me, to capture myself as a character on the page of a memoir spanning years, I need to remember who I was at various points along the way. Memory is fallible, but my journals or emails are not. They capture how I was really feeling at a time. They are little time traveling mechanisms to help me authenticate my own life story as the writer trying to tell it. The kept love notes and emails, the old pictures, these, too, are alleyways (delightful pun totally accidental but brilliant) to yesterday, maps that validate the places I went once and who with.
"But how did you know when you were ten or fifteen that you should be keeping all of this stuff?" a lot of people have asked in one way or another. I always knew I would write about my life. I didn't know how or about what exactly, but I knew.
And so I never let anything go if it seemed relevant or critical to the inevitable life story I was to tell.
The thing is, if I die right now, not everyone is going to know I'm a writer. If I am found by a stranger and they get curious about the boxes and bins here and there and snoop around, they aren't going to automatically be like, "Well, she's obviously a writer, keeping all of these things to write a great memoir one day." Nope. They're going to first be all like, "Finders keepers..." and try to find some kind of hidden treasure and when they realize that what they're really looking at is some dead woman's pandora boxes they'll be all judgy, "She's a creeper."
I'm not Dickinson or Bronte or Woolf. I'm not going to be Elizabeth Gilbert or Jenny Lawson or Jeanette Walls. I would love to be recognizable and notable and well-read (as in a lot of people read me, not that I read a lot) and I hope to live long enough and work hard enough to be. But if I die right now the posthumous discovery is not going to be one of a sacred literary masterpiece that makes my career after death.
It's going to be a damaging and embarrassing uncovering of a quirky, aspiring writer with a slightly checkered past and too many ex-boyfriends.
The goal then: write this book once and for all and then burn the shit out of all of the incriminating evidence that makes me out to be really fucking creepy.