ME: That box looks like it started decomposing ten years ago. That can't be a good sign!
HUSBAND: You're gonna want to take a look inside.
ME: You were supposed to trash my stuff! I can't deal with unpacking another box right now. If I see one more packing peanut, I will stab my eye out with a fork!
MY SON (in the background): COOL!
HUSBAND: You're impossible.
ME: Okay, okay! Just don't make me touch the box. (There was a spider nest adhered to the outside.)
I opened the box. Inside, I found bow ties from two of my prom dates - 1995 and 1996! I found high-school graduation announcements, old and intimate and hilarious letters from friends, cross-country medals, all of my A.P English essays, a short story I wrote inspired by Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS, awful, awful poetry, yearbooks, the strand of fake pearls my grandmother insisted I wear to graduation that I secretly plotted to light on fire, my SONY Walkman, and lots and lots of photographs of long-lost souls who shaped my teen years in important, meaningful ways.
Had my husband thrown out the box, I might never have noticed it had gone missing. Nothing in that box is vital to me on a day-to-day basis. And yet, the memories that each of those objects inside sparked are priceless. Little pieces of me that seem like a lifetime away, floating unnoticed for so long in my mind and now helping me remember what it feels like to be a teen. What it feels like to fall in love for the first time. What it feels like to stand up for one friend and betray another--and to feel deep regret in some tender place in my heart over it. Most days, that's what being an author means: feeling. And trying to figure out how to put emotion properly into a story so the reader feels it too.
It's often said that the story chooses the writer, and I believe that. But I also believe the opposite. The writer chooses the story in every step and misstep she takes a long the way, every choice and consequence leaving an impression hidden away to be surreptitiously found and used at some future point.