When I was small, I collected things I found: shiny objects, buttons, leaves, and feathers, especially feathers. I often dreamt I could fly and feathers seemed like a promise of that dream. Finding something of beauty felt like an accomplishment. My reward for paying attention. Somewhere on the road to adolescence, I lost every one of those treasures.
In my teens, I kept a drawer filled with notes, jewelry, stray buttons, foreign coins passed on from relatives, ticket stubs, a lock with a forgotten combination, and pictures of my friends and the boy I loved my freshman and sophomore year. One scrap of paper I saved until I was in my mid-twenties. The library in my high school sent out notes to students who had delinquent books. The notes were short and to the point; they had the student’s name on one line and the name of the book on another line, nothing else. I don’t remember if I was assigned to read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or if I chose it on my own, but I loved it and wanted to read more of his work. I kept that second book too long because one day in class the teacher handed me a note from the library. All that was written on it was my name and below that, The Idiot. I kept the note for years, my private joke with the universe.
I think objects might want to be found. Maybe a button works for months to untie the strings that bind it to a shirt, and when it leaps out into the unknown, it is looking for adventure. I want to see more of the world, it says; I’ve been manhandled enough, put in my place for too long. Imagine the pleasure it feels when a child or an adult picks it up, admires it, and carries it home as a treasure. At least, that’s how I would feel if I were a button.
I still have a box of small findings and remembrances, including a gold crown that was fitted for one of my molars but never put on. I could tell a great story about that, but unfortunately, I don’t remember much about it. My mother wore it on her charm bracelet for years and it has come back to me. Last summer I bought a wooden art box for my grandchild and filled it with some of the things I cannot throw away.
Over the years I have tried collecting things of value, but I can’t sustain my interest. In Japan, I started a collection of the holders used to rest chopsticks on, called “hashioki,” but I grew tired trying to find a place to display them and gave most of them away. I use two of them for brush rests when I do Japanese calligraphy.
For a long time, I collected dreams, and for safekeeping, I put them in my heart. When I was alone, I would take them out, whisper promises I thought I could keep, believing that some day every one of them would grow wings and fly. I never thought I could lose them, but I did. And now I know why: my heart is a pocket full of holes.
Memories are the only thing I am interested in collecting now. These stories, like the flightless feathers I loved as child, or like the fallen petals that when crushed still give off the faint aroma of the rose, or like the empty shell left by a cicada who grew away from her old self but left a part behind for me to hold and remember, these stories are the only treasures I have.