Lately, my fifth graders are working on monochromatic collages. Armed with sharp, seven-inch Fiskars and gajillions of food and interior design magazines, they've been ravenously hunting down certain shades of their chosen colors from tall, unwieldy piles of glossy pages in the center of their tables. They've been yelling across the classroom like auctioneers, "Who's doing yellow? I got yer yellow here, I got yellow gingham! Heeeeey purple, I found a purple flower...going once! Oh silver! Look at this car!!" It's been incredibly fun and interactive, and they're going to be awesome.
So yesterday, as I was helping a girl named Miller cut out quite an intricate, bright red Mobil horse with my nose mere inches from the scissor tips, I was rushed back to my freshman year of college. The setting: Auburn University. The year: 1995. Oh, if you'd known me then...wow. A different sort of Evie dwelt in this body -- a young, shy, homesick, introverted one. An Evie (quite more 'rounded' and 'soft' if you catch my drift) who would rather do almost anything than be in a sorority or spend her nights drinking PGA punch and having meaningless Zaps taken with people she will have forgotten the following year. I digress.
I remember sitting at my desk by the window on weekends, praying my potluck roommate from New Orleans (whose étoufée leftovers would often smell up the tiny room something fierce) would stay gone just a little bit longer. On the desk's scratched veneer surface sat a delicate china cup of Earl Grey and cream and a stack of Oreos on a pretty saucer, my Little Women soundtrack CD played softly from my gigantic ghetto blaster, a stack of Victoria magazines sat nearby, I wielded my favorite left-handed scissors and X-Acto knife and clip-clip-clipped. I copied lovely quotes into my dear diary, copied the dreamy images in watercolor, and cut pretty things out of those magazines for endless hours. Wild roses, clusters of pansies, snoozing cats, soft skies and bright cherries. Yes. I was that girl. And that girl was really talented with a tiny blade.
I was going through some old letters awhile back and found a little envelope I made that year. It was fashioned from grey construction paper, plastered carefully with pictures of blossoms and ribbons, and then woven through with a fine, thin white satin ribbon to hold it closed. I opened it and noticed the paper had faded, bleached almost entirely white, and the intricate lace pattern I had cut along the flap's edge left a pretty mark. Age accomplishes strange and wondrous things. Boy, does it.
When I opened the envelope and shuffled through its contents, I found myself heavy-hearted for that girl. She was closed up and a little scared. She was appalled that her watercolor professor wanted her to just paint skeleton bones for nine weeks. Her "friends" liked Phish and she really, really didn't. She also didn't like her body very much, nor did she try to do anything to change it. She dearly missed her mom and her dad, her cat and her pretty bedroom. She busied herself with remembering the warm, happy past instead of throwing herself into the uncertain future which unnerved her quite a lot. She did try to focus on the positive, on the adventures that were there for the having, and occasionally found joy in wacky escapades and midnight trips to Wal-Mart (where she once stole a flat of pansies and a lawn chair...I am not proud but I do laugh). Though she knew very well that there was becoming to begin, a world to discover, all she could do most times was sink into the comfort of that university-issue, orange plastic chair (which she had covered with a lovely cotton throw), drown out the sounds of dorm life with her Dvořák CD, and get out those scissors.
Please don't take from what I've said here, though, that I don't have all kinds of crazy, protective love for that girl. She was me. I am her. As Anne Lamott puts it, so excellently and with such well-rooted understanding, "I'm all the ages I've ever been." I'm grateful for those years. They played a part in who I've become and how I'll help and understand others. I remember mom telling me just that during one of my tearful calls home on one of those long, lonely nights. I'm exceedingly more grateful, however, that those years have passed quietly into oblivion, and that I can close the envelope with new knowing.