I have a confession to make. I am an office supply hoarder. Nothing makes me happier than a new notebook of paper, or a different color or texture of pen, or a box of lovely crisp stationary. It’s a problem as it is overflowing from my desk, work table, and cabinets. I also hate to give any of it up. I mourn when a pen that I’ve loved to write with because of the way it smoothly flows across the page while I write suddenly runs out of ink without a way to refill it.
I’ve recently thought about why I have this problem. It started before I worked in offices so it’s not a job-related hoarding issue. After looking through a box of some of my older writings and journals I realized how this deep-seated hoarding issue began. My obsession with keeping pen and paper at hand started with my writing. Not just because I was expressing my creativity but what happened when, as an impressionable child, I shared my writing with my mother.
My sisters will tell you that I have always had an active imagination. They are all much older than me and thus did not want to be made to play with a silly little kid. This may be what led me to make up stories for my dolls and toys to act out. As I got older these tales for the toys became more detailed and complicated. When I was eleven, the idea hit me to try to write one of these stories down. It was only one loose-leaf sheet of paper, basically hitting the high points of the story I was trying to convey. I was alive with the excitement of having created something when I looked down at the paper with all my scrawling awkward letters that bled into words and sentences. I made this. It came from me. This was mine. All mine. And I had made it.
In my deep excitement I ran into the kitchen of our early 20th century farm style house. My mother had worked all day in a hot factory making boots. After a 9 hour shift she came home and started making dinner for the family. There she was at the stove hovering over a black iron skillet cooking while something else bubbled in the pot on one of the other stove eyes. I pulled on her arm to get her attention and begged her to look at the paper in my other hand. She stopped momentarily and read it. If I’m being honest, she probably did it so that I’d leave her alone. But then when she was finished, she smiled at me and told me it was pretty good as she handed it back to me. What more could make a child’s soul sing with joy than the approval of a parent?
Unfortunately, it was about that time that my step-father walked in the door, dirty and sweaty from working all day in a hot foundry where metal was poured to create different parts. In my excitement I didn’t hear the heavy thunk of his steel-toed shoes coming across the threshold. Too late I heard the screen door slam and was left without time to scurry off. He had heard my mother telling me that what was on the paper was good. He looked mad. He had come in looking for trouble, looking for control of any little thing.
“Is that homework?” he asked loudly as he walked through the living room stopping only to take off his safety hat.
I cast my eyes down at my feet and quietly answered no.
He snatched the paper from my hands and glanced over it. I doubt that he really read any of it (after all he only had a 5th grade education at best and was never really a "reader"). He crumpled it up then held iit n his fist as he shook it in my face and screamed, “You better look at me!” I looked up while flinching back. He moved so that his face was inches from mine. “This paper is for your school work!” He continued, spit flying with his words, “I better not catch you wasting it on this play shit again! You hear me?” I was nodding and flinch and starting to cry. “I said, did you hear me?!” He screamed so loud so close to my ear.
“Yes, sir,” I managed to squeak out as he glared at me. Then I watch as he threw the balled up piece of paper into the woodstove that heated our small house. Tears flowed openly down my cheeks but I knew to keep quiet.
He shut the stove door and glared at me again. “What are you still stand there for?!” he barked. “Get your ass in there and finish your school work! And if you don’t have any I can find something for you to be doing!”
I took my chance and scurried from the room. I sat down on the bed and pulled out the book I had already finished the chapter assignment in. I cried quietly to myself over this little death. In the living room I heard him thump down on the couch after switching on the black and white tv to hear the news and begin unlacing his steel-toed shoes.
I don’t think I ever forgave him. Not for this soul crushing scene nor the many other crimes he wrought in my childhood. He grew up poor during the depression years. To him if something didn’t lead to providing food on the table or making money, then it wasn’t worth the time, effort, or expense. Even if that expense was a piece of paper and bit of ink.
I guess somewhere within me there is still a small child wanting to scribble down my stories, my poems, my musings and there is a deeply imbedded fear that there won’t be paper for that kind of frivolousness. An even deeper fear is that once scribbled, the words might be lost, forever destroyed, and never able to be repeated again.