Heavy With Nostalgia

I just got back to Birmingham after a few days spent at home. While my only plans were to read, watch trash TV, and sleep on the pier, but my dad had other ideas. “There’s a lot you can do around here,” he said. The next morning, upon going to the kitchen to make my coffee, there was a list. A very long, extensive list. I was thankful for the clouds in the sky so, at the least, I wouldn’t miss out on solid beach time.

My dad’s list basically consisted of me cleaning out old stuff. What my dad calls the computer room, a room I haven’t moved passed calling the playroom, has held the same books, toys, and who-knows-what-else since the 90’s. There was some shuffling of contents in the divorce, and dad has added to the clutter with design books and product samples, but most of the things in there haven’t touched in decades. You can imagine my horror at the task.

Nonetheless, I buckled down and got to work. With an audiobook playing and my dog chewing a bone in the corner, I opened drawers and got trash bags for the trash, donate, keep piles, and I began. The whole day was steeped in intense nostalgia. That house has been my home for all of my 24.5 years on this earth. It’s where I have experienced some of my deepest hurts and greatest joys. It holds my story, and as I made my way thru the playroom and the rest of the tasks on my dad’s list, that truth became evident. Rather than going thru everything, every picture and elementary school art project and book, I want to talk about the highlights, the real nostalgic treasures.

My high school laptop.
For Christmas in 2009, my brother and I got to go to Best Buy and pick out what kind of laptop we wanted. Our school work was starting to require we use a computer more, he 11th grade and me in 9th, and sharing our family desktop was no longer cutting it. (Especially considering the fact that our family was neck deep in divorce and separation drama. But that’s a story for another time. Maybe.) I used this black, HP laptop for all of high school. It was too slow to stream Netflix but functioned enough for me to starting my writing career. When I found it in the top drawer of what used to be (15 years ago) mine and my brother’s desks, I immediately prayed that it would turn on despite its 6+ years of inactivity. When it did, and the desktop wallpaper showed a picture of me at eighteen with friends from camp, I couldn’t help but smile.

My immediate reaction was to see what horrifying pictures I had of me and my friends, and the results of that search were plentiful. Beyond that, though, I found a file called “Random Writings by Ashton” that was filled with every story, note, and thought I seemed to have had between 2009-2013. I wrote down everything: the ideas that kept me awake at night, love stories featuring my best friends as the lead, and letters to boys that hurt me (there were a lot of those, and the letters were very, very angry). These writings were the foundation for who I am now, the degree I got and the future I’m pursuing. The girl that wrote them believed in herself and her talent more than I do now and it was refreshing and humbling to read what she had to say, typos and all.

I Spy books
“I read most of those to you,” my dad said when he saw me begin to pull books off the shelves. “I know,” I responded. My dad is an avid reader himself, a lover of mystery novels and collector of John Grisham first editions, and he read to my brother and me almost every night when we were kids. While I don’t remember every book he read to us, I’ll never forget his holding a big I Spy book above us, my brother and I nestled on each side of him, racing to see who could find whatever item was on the list. My dad has always worked long days, gone before I was awake and back just in time for dinner, making our nighttime ritual sacred, making the few I Spy books, and every other book I touched feel sacred.

Big Read Apple
I was the first student in my kindergarten class to learn how to read, a fact that likely surprises no one. There were dozens of books in the playroom that I remember reading, loving, and reading again, but none are as special as Big Read Apple, because none of the others are the first book I ever read on my own. I remember trying so hard to learn to read, picking up book after book and sounding out the words with my parents. I’ve always been competitive (an attribute I’ve learned to shut off now that I’m older and have relationships to protect), but at five years old, all I wanted was to win the reading race in my class.
Now, I know that I likely memorized the few dozen words in Big Read Apple, but back then, that didn’t matter. I remember finishing it for the first time, to myself, stowed away in my bedroom before running to my mom to show her, and doing the same to my teacher the next morning. I received a big star next to my name on the class reading chart, beating the kids that would later become our class’s valedictorian or go off to an Ivy League school. But more than that, now I had the power to read books on my own, which changed my world forever.

Disney pictures
Here’s the thing: I’ve been to Disney World seven times. All of which took place before my thirteenth birthday. I know. It’s nuts. What were my parents thinking? Who knows. I feel like most of my childhood was spent running around Magic Kingdom and throwing tantrums while we waited for the fireworks show. So, it isn’t surprising that in rummaging through the playroom, I found dozens of Disney pictures that had been taken somewhere between 1997 and 2005. My brother and I were the most awkward looking kids I’ve ever seen, and that’s all I have to say about that.

France (2009)
In the year after my parents split up, I lived with my dad in a condo for a while. At some point, for some class (history, maybe?), I had to do a project on France. This was in early 2010 and while I’d just gotten my fancy new laptop, my dad and I weren’t yet proficient in internet research. When I told him about the project, he took me to the bookstore and helped me pick out one of Rick Steves’s travel books. I probably only read five pages of it, and I couldn’t tell you a thing about France that I learned during that project, but we still have that book. The book, really, isn’t sentimental or important because it’s about France, but because it represents my dad and I learning a new rhythm of life. We eventually moved back into the house and he raised me on his own until I went to college, always meeting my needs and taking care of me like he did when he took me to get that book on France. It’s ten years old now, sure, but I doubt I’ll ever throw it away.

I left home heavy with nostalgia and, naturally, the need to write about it. While I’m not in a place where I necessarily want to write about my present, I don’t mind writing about my past. While I was home, amidst going through the bookshelf and dusting nearly every inch of the playroom, I canceled our home phone number and cleaned other parts of the house and did whatever my dad asked of me. I didn’t get the rest I wanted, but my dad thanked me about a million times, and that’s worth sacrificing all the sleep in the world.

Ashton Ray