Looking back in order to look forward

I would like to take credit for just doing it just because, but I really can’t. At eight months pregnant, not only am I boasting a larger tummy these days, but I also have an impressive spreadsheet of running house projects and things that must be done pre-baby. Nesting, anyone?

So, thanks in part to the little human inside of me and in part because we really should be doing it annually regardless, Husband and I found ourselves on New Year’s Day going through a major paper purge and office re-organization. We traded our original plan of hiking (“Let’s kick off the year doing something healthy!”)  for digging through file boxes and giant plastic tubs, these things stuffed with paper trails of our past. We cleared out our respective office corners to combine our two rooms into one, to make room for Baby. We filled up trash bag after trash bag of junk, old toys, forgotten memorabilia. Things collected over the course of many years that—until just a few days ago—we couldn’t part with.

Naively, I had thought going through my file boxes would take a mere few hours. But I found myself on the wood floor in my office, sitting Indian style throughout the afternoon, one hand stuffing things down the buzzing shredder and the other pouring through my paper memories. I found my original offer letter for my job right out of college, the job I never bothered to negotiate—I just took it because I was too happy to just have something to take. I found paystubs nearly 10 years old; several keys leading to who-knows-where, photocopies of pictures of my grandparents in their garden in Omaha; Australian coins from our honeymoon and the paperwork from when I first purchased my car. I found reference letters from early-on mentors that gave me pause and pride; a stack of outdated resumes; magazines bearing writing clips; notecards headlining my maiden name.

Husband, too, took his time. He uncovered letters his mom wrote him when he first went away to college—postcards from abroad and small handwritten notes slathered in beautiful cursive. Elementary school memory books; his own musings from second or third grade where he is fascinated, even then, with technology, aviation and science. He discovered a dusty VCR of the wedding video from his first marriage; a letter his Dad wrote his school; his baby immunization record, yellowed and dry.

And how could we not stop along the way and share our findings with each other? We crawled back and forth to one another’s stock piles of what to keep and what to toss, like two hungry scavengers. When it hit late afternoon I poured him a glass of red and we kept on. And later that evening, when we found a CD from one of his Dad’s old work presentations, we held our breath as he popped the disc in his computer to see if it still held. And when his Dad’s voice gave way to the quiet veil that hung over the room, we listened solemnly as he spoke about HR business solutions. We listened like that’s what we were listening for. “That’s my Dad,” Husband said. “But I can tell, it’s his sick voice. But that’s my Dad.”

And then we hugged for a long time after that—in the room that would soon become our daughter’s first bedroom—ever—not quite knowing what to say. And then we both cried—he because his Dad is gone and me because I never got the chance to meet him.

“We’ve spent all day doing things to get ready and look forward,” he said. “But we’ve spent so much time looking back.”