Friday, February 25, 2005


The Burden of Proof

I have kept a few things for a long while because they have both sentimental and use value, and also because they are "proof" of what I've gone through.

I don't have a lot of things from my childhood; just a teddy bear, my backgammon set, and my dictionary.

Well, both the backgammon set (a gift from my favorite relative, my aunt) and the dictionary (the thing I most wanted for the holidays when I was 9 years old, and which my parents gave me) have been damaged by my dad.

He swept the backgammon set off the kitchen table when I was in jr high or high school, breaking some of the pieces, which my mom and I later glued back together. The set has some good memories, and was a gift from my aunt, as well as being functional, so I'm not quite ready to let it go. Perhaps soon, though. I don't know.

The dictionary, that item I couldn't wait to have and which saw me from elementary school through my PhD, is also damaged. My dad threw it at me when I was in elementary school. I was sitting against the wall, and I must have been doing something wrong (probably being difficult or crying). He tossed it, I ducked--I am excellent at avoiding hurled objects--and it hit the wall, breaking the spine some and ripping the cloth cover. I was devastated that my beloved dictionary was hurt. My mom glued it back together for me, and it sits here (tattered and a bit ripped on the cover but still surprisingly intact) by my desk.

I'm an adult now.

I have my own business(es).

I write. Words are one of my main media. I use that dictionary regularly. And when I pick it up, I remember my mom helping me look up words. I remember poring over its pages, knowing that it held profound secrets, that if I could understand and learn the words, I could describe how I was feeling, understand what I was seeing, and in a small way, make sense of the world around me. But when I pick it up now, I also see it coming towards me through the air, hitting the wall, and falling to the floor in a crumple of pages.

I have kept the dictionary around because it was a sentimental and useful object, but also because it's "proof" of what I went through. "See that broken dictionary? It was thrown at me when I was a child." I think I needed this tangible proof, because my family certainly didn't remember or want to remember these incidents, and my experience of them was often devalued or refuted. I felt I needed to keep the proof, for myself, so I knew I wasn't crazy, wasn't exaggerating, or didn't have a faulty memory.

I actually have a very good relationship with my dad nowadays.

Do I need the dictionary to remind me of the past? What does it mean to let these things go, to toss out something that has been with me for 27 years, which holds both the good and the bad? Do I let it go because of the bad connotations? Or keep it because of the good?

I already know the answer to this. I asked my partner to take me shopping for a new dictionary this weekend. We are going to replace it with a brand new one. In some ways, the "experience" of the dictionary will always be with me, but I won't have the tangible reminder. I am not sure how I feel about that. It was a loving gift to a bright, wordy child, and it's one of my few childhood possessions. Part of me doesn't understand why I should get rid of it, part of me knows that I need to clear things out and live in the now, to enjoy the good relationship I have with my family, to let the past be the past rather than bringing into the present (and future) with me.

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