Every military spouse I know has one. It’s some sort of marked box or storage bin; usually shoved in the back corner of a closet. Sometimes the lid closes nicely. Sometimes it’s crammed so full that we have to stack other boxes on top to keep it closed.
This box is filled with curtains. And it is more than just something that takes up storage space. Inside, each panel is folded neatly. And each panel tells a little piece of our story.
When our lives are broken into 3-5 year segments (sometimes more, sometimes less), the curtains remind us of the zip codes where those segments took place. They don’t look like mere material to us. We look at them and see floor plans and accent walls. They remind us of the dining room where our second-born learned to smear broccoli into his eyebrows and the first girl-nursery we repainted twice because we couldn’t get the color quite right. Sometimes, if we dig to the bottom of the box, we find ones we forgot were there. Occasionally, we get lucky and find a window in the new house that fits the curtains that hung in the living room two addresses ago. Other times, we stuff the old curtains back into the bin and shop for the new ones because they don’t fit quite right and we just need something a little different. When we find the perfect pair, we display them proudly on the rods. And there they’ll hang like soft, blank notebook pages inviting us to begin scribbling the next chapter of our story.
Each panel hides the secrets of lives lived within the walls of many different houses–big houses, little houses, new houses, and badly-in-need-of-repair government houses. They witnessed the delirium of promotion days and the utter chaos of packing days. They’ve been with us through the long, lonely “settling in” days when anxiety is high and friends are something we haven’t quite gotten around to making just yet. Our curtains have watched us learn, grow, meet new people, and stretch our comfort zones to the absolute max. These silent observers hang around as we embrace new normals, acclimate to new environments, and slowly, painfully begin to detach ourselves from the places we’ve called home and people we dared to consider family.
Woven into their fabric is nothing less than a lifetime of our memories. Each panel brings back memories of belly laughs and first steps, birthday parties, epic tantrums, screaming matches, and tender making-up moments. Sometimes we open the box and stare at the panels as a way to just remember. Other times we open the box because we have new, neatly folded memories to add. But–hardest of all–are the times we open the box to purge. Every good military spouse knows that making room for the new memories means you have to first do the very hard work of letting go of the old ones. Even though most of us are very good at keeping only the essentials, sometimes we struggle with the “letting go” of those panels of fabric because we are afraid that, without them, we may just forget a chapter of our story.
But, the truth is that we unintentionally saved a backup file of the story on our hearts. The images may not be as crystal clear as the day we made the memories. But, like our box of curtains, we carry the memories around–from address to address, house to house, zip code to zip code–and our lives are so much richer because of them. Even if we were oblivious to it at the time, these houses and these people that have been part of our journey have written the chapters of our story with us and for us on our very hearts. The houses where the curtains hung made us feel at home even when the person we love the most was missing at the Christmas dinner table. The friends we met along the way invited us into their lives and hearts and we celebrated, loved, and took care of each other and all our crazy children as though we had similar strands of DNA. The homes, the friends, and the memories are what have made this journey worthwhile and we never, ever have to purge them from our storage closets. It turns out the curtains we collected along the way were just a bonus.