Inside your closet

Over the years, The Incredibles has become one of my favorite Pixar movies. I love the way the family relates to one another and the ways that their super-powers speak to the people they are in their regular life.

But there is one scene early in the movie that is just completely unbelievable to me. Helen is on the phone with her husband Jack and she declares that they are officially moved in because she has unpacked the last box.

Maybe I just have altogether too much junk, but I don’t know if I’ve ever unpacked every box in a house, ever. There’s always some box of memorabilia that sits in a closet or in the basement that I swear I’ll get on a shelf at some point, but that never quite happens. No one really wants to see my seventh grade scrapbook or programs from my college recitals, so they stay packed away. Things I can’t quite stand to throw out, but that I don’t necessarily want on display.

Even with regular unpacking, it can still take a long time. We’ve been in our new place nearly a month and there are still boxes that need to be looked over and their contents put into their correct spots.

Sometimes the boxes stay packed because what’s in them is painful to look at. I have a box of maternity clothes that I need to sort through so I can put them up on freecycle while it’s still summer, but going through them is a struggle. There’s a small box that contains some towels and blankets that a friend made for Elliott when I was just starting to tell people about the pregnancy and while I don’t need them, I can’t bear to give them away. There is a box of old makeup that was my mom’s – items I’ll almost certainly never use, but that help me when it’s harder to remember her before the illness.

With all of the stress of last month, Rich and I have found that we have brought some other difficult things with us to our new house. We find ourselves sometimes reacting not to one another, but to the memories that we have brought with us of past hurts. We know that our marriage is not exactly the same as our previous marriages, but sometimes when there are similarities (and it’s a marriage, so of course there are similarities), it can be easy to fall back on old responses. The painful emotions that we thought we had neatly packed away become harder to contain and they crowd out productive, healthy responses to grief and stress.

Unlike the items in our closet, we can’t simply let this baggage sit. We have both been through the part of our lives where we ignore our negative feelings and pretend that they don’t exist or at least aren’t as bad as they are, and we don’t want to see that eat away at this marriage.

This is a job we have to do together. Certainly we both have our own issues that we need to deal with, but we need to talk about them as a couple. My tendency is to want to unpack things myself. I know a good bit about Rich’s past and it can be easy to look at things that are wrong and assume that I already know what is bothering him and how to fix it. And while I may know general details about those things, by myself, I am seldom going to get everything right, and I end up worrying about things that aren’t a problem and missing things that are.

So we sit together on the porch swing and talk. We hold one another’s hands, we lean on each other, we cry on each other. It hurts more than it’s supposed to, but then again, maybe not. Maybe when people grow together there is a pain that is missing when they grow apart. 

We are complex people and I doubt we will ever unpack everything from our former lives, or even from the life that we have made together so far. When we do unpack, sometimes it will bring tears. But as we do, we are bound closer together, and the joy found in that is worth all of the pain.


Photo by Matthew Ragan

3 thoughts on “Unpacking

  1. I still have my mother’s makeup, and makeup bag…She’s been gone since Dec. 1990. She didn’t wear it often, but the smell of the powder makes her real again.

    1. It’s interesting to me how that works. I just like looking at her lipsticks. We never wore the same shade, but seeing the ones that she wore just helps. She didn’t wear much makeup in her final year, so it helps me remember her when she was healthy.

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