The Junk in My Trunk

When I was in graduate school I trained in the PTSD Clinic of a local VA Hospital.  All of my clients were Vietnam veterans.  I was a 26 year old woman.  What the hell did I know about Vietnam?  Not a whole lot, it turns out.  I spent the summer before I started educating myself by reading everything I could get my hands on about the war, the era, the soldiers, the Vietnamese.  It was an interesting summer.  Powerful and humbling.

Novels were the things that helped me the most.  A good novel reveals truth.  Tim O'Brien wrote a book (a hybrid of memoir, novel, and story collection) called The Things They Carried about a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam during the war.  The title refers to just as it says -- the things the soldiers chose to carry with them in their rucksack, the premise being that those things were in some way indicative of who carried them.  The things captured some essence of their carrier.

That idea, that we keep the things that matter to us close, has resonated with me ever since.  It hit me like a ton of bricks a few weeks ago when I opened the trunk to my car.  What I saw was a hodge podge collection of stuff, some of it junk, that so completely reflected my life and its particular chaos.  So here it is, an ode to Tim O'Brien, and a reflection on the junk in my trunk.

Junk in my Trunk

A log.  

This cut log is from the cemetery where my daughter rests.  She is buried in a "nature sanctuary," which means that she is surrounded by trees.  This is why we chose where we chose for her to rest, despite it being a 90 minute drive.  It is peaceful and lovely.  The sun plays through the trees and dapples Donna's gravestone.  Nothing I plant grows there -- I can't for the life of me keep the deer away.  And that's okay.  They keep Donna company.  Right now, like so much of the rest of America, they are trying to do more with less.  Seems like the sleepy nature sanctuary we chose in 2009 is all the rage now.  Green burials, they call it.  They are cutting down a lot of trees to make room for more graves.  More nature with less trees.  Yeah, it doesn't make sense to me either.  I took this log in July, wanting a piece of what was close to Donna to be with us now.

St. Baldrick's Banner.

Last March, Donna's Good Things held it's first annual St. Baldrick's shaving event.  We raised $77K for pediatric cancer research through the kind help of a lot of friends and strangers.  Extraordinary.  We're doing it again next March 30.  Do you have a head?  Do you want to shave it for kids with cancer?  You can.  I'll be there and so will this banner.  Somehow it never made its way inside.  I can't quite wrap my head around needing to find a place in my home for a St. Baldrick's banner.  It's safer in the car.  I can ignore it more easily there and then take it out when I need it again.

Mary Tyler Son's Artwork.

What do you do with all this artwork?  Where is it supposed to go?  I haven't quite gotten around to sorting it out.  Pinterest tells me I should photograph and scan it.  Ugh.  That requires a level of organization and forethought that escapes me.  Some of my friends frame it and proudly display it in their home.  I wish I were that Mom.  I'm not.  That, too, requires effort that I can't quite seem to find.

Blue Blanket.

This is my husband's blanket.  It is old and ratty.  An adult version of Linus' blanket, if you ask me.  He won't allow us to get rid of it.  We keep it in the car because it's just sensible to have a blanket in the car, but damn if I want that thing around me in an emergency.  Ick.  They say there are no athiests in a fox hole and there's probably no germophobes in a freezing car either.  At least that's what I tell myself.

Office Stuff.

I quit my job last month.  Yep.  Closed up my cube and now its contents sit in this box in my trunk.  There are two other boxes from the last office I closed in our storage room.  Mary Tyler Dad complains about them all the time.  I can't quite bear to add one more to that pile, so here the box sits.  In the trunk.  Sigh.


This twig is in the shape of Mary Tyler Son's first initial.  He found it on a trip to the beach a few weeks ago.  I picked him up from school and it was unseasonably warm.  I made a left instead of our usual straight, just on a whim, and we headed for the Lake.  I am so grateful for spontaneity in my life.  There are so many possibilities in it.  Like unexpected "nature dances" on a warm fall day that entail nothing more than spinning ourselves around in a circle until we fall in a heap on the sand, laughing, hugging, and kissing.  This twig will find its way inside, to be hung on the boy's wall, so we can both remember a warm afternoon in the sun, spinning in the sand, hugging and kissing and loving.


Lots and lots and lots of glitter.  Mary Tyler Son goes to the school where Donna went.  We see her teachers frequently.  That brings us a lot of joy.  Back in 2009, though only knowing her for a few weeks, they came to visit during her vigil.  They got to say goodbye and give us some much appreciated love and hugs.  The day after their visit, Donna died.  As a memorial, they had the children in Donna's class decorate a pumpkin.  A big, bedazzled, feathered, painted, glittered pumpkin that only pre-schoolers are capable of making.  For young kids, more is always more.  The pumpkin has become an annual tradition in our home.  We look forward to it and it brings us joy.  This year, because we are at the school, we got to carry the pumpkin home ourselves.  That glitter is gonna stick around for a while.  And that's okay.  We all could use a little more sparkle in our lives, right?

Separately, these things are just a collection of a lot of nothing.  Together, they tell a story.  My story.  The story of my life today and how I'm a little overwhelmed by it all.  Lord, what a mess it is.  But it's my mess.  And I cherish it.  And I carry it all close.  Perhaps too close, but since I took this photo, I moved the log to my coffee table, so that's progress.

What junk is in your trunk and what does it say about your story?

Filed under: Parenting, Pediatric Cancer


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  • I thought your title referred to the Republican mascot.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Always honored when you stop by, Aquinas!

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    The honor is mine.

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    At this very moment, my trunk is mostly clean because I've only had this car 12 days. However, already in residence is a metal bar about 24 inches long and 3 inches across that a friend gave to my ex husband as wedding gift to keep me in line. It has been moved from trunk to trunk of all my vehicles since 1991. Hey, I may need it one day. From the old SUV, some of the more memorable things removed from cargo hold (i.e. everything but the front seat) were a hand truck, 5 beers, 6 Bibles, a box of romance novels and a bag of Yankee Candle votives I bought from my nephew when he was in middle school. I'm guessing that last item is why my truck always smelled like Christmas. I also have a twig from the tulip tree on my mother's grave. Even though I'm Southern Baptist to the core, I worry it like a rosary when I'm stressed or upset.

  • In reply to Bethany Mellon:

    See? The junk in your trunk tells a story, too. Beautiful, Bethany. Thanks for sharing.

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    Beautifully written, as always. I still haven't gone through the totes from my office~ 8.5 years of "stuff".....but I have moved them from the car to the basement~ progress right?
    This reminds me of when my DH puts on a suit (he doesn't wear suits to work). It's always interesting to see what is in the pocket from the last wearing. Sometimes it's a funeral card, sometimes a wedding program or bubbles we brought to give to the children~ always it reminds us of what we have to be grateful for.

  • K, I don't want to talk about my junk right now. Hope that's ok. First...your story is poignant...just so full of meaning, so insightful, beautiful.
    How much irony is there that you would work with PTSD at the most hopeful time in your life, only to be PTSD PERSONIFIED as a grown up?
    Now, as far as the artwork goes...put it all in a vintage suitcase or in your child's favorite backpack and keep/collect whatever you see fit, and then one day when he ventures out on his own, and has found the love of his life, hit her with it hard..."oh, I thought you would just treasure MTS's childhood as much as I have so I saved these for the girl he would marry"...How can she refuse, how could she ever discard them? But they are outta your hair!
    Love your log and twig. To find such meaning in nature is a gift.
    Finally, you mentioned Pinterest. My fave quote on there is the one that says "my favorite color is glitter".
    Love, Manya:)

  • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! But then again, I don't know why I bother repeating myself, albeit in so many different ways, when it comes to you.

    Your trunk and mine share surprisingly similar content - ratty blanket, banner (Happy Birthday!) and all, EXCEPT for the log. So glad you have that, yet so sad that more trees are being cut - ugh.

    My trunk does however experience a special monthly fate that your appears to escape: My husband empties it, heaps the goods in an ugly pile by my computer, hides the car keys until I have put the pile away (not back in the trunk, as I used to do). Then it becomes time to rebuild my life again.

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    Hi Sheila, I think you'll remember me... I'm Heidi's sister out in California. I've told you about my little boy, Zane, who was born with apert syndrome. I know you know a lot of people, but I just wanted to tell you that Zane passed away this past Saturday (a week ago tomorrow). I'm sitting here numb, we just finished viewing his body today. It was sudden and shocking and completely devastating... I think I've spelled your name incorrectly, and it doesn't connect to your blog today at all, but I knew that you'd know... what I'm going through... Just wanted the connection with you. Freya

  • In reply to Freya Remmer:

    Oh, Freya. I am heartbroken. And I am right here. Please contact me anytime at I have no real words of wisdom, as nothing can diminish your pain of losing Zane. I am, though, choosing hope for you. I hope that you find the strength you need to say goodbye to your boy. I hope that you receive signs of his presence still with you. I hope that you are comforted by love and support. I hope that by knowing others who have walked your path, you trust that you will find your way in the grief.

    Do not hesitate to ever reach out. All my love. I am so very deeply sorry for your Zane's passing. Sheila.

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    My trunk is empty (although it's the UK, so we'd call it the boot :-) ) - in fact, it's nonexistent. When I met my fiancé four years ago he was in a good job, and his mental illness was just a distant memory.

    Now it's back and has introduced a lot of wreckage into our lives, allowing a tenant in his rental house to steal thousands of pounds from us and causing him to lose a job, then only be able to work part time in a job several levels lower than he's qualified for - and he can't do that very well. Now my poor boy, despite having several levels of education more than me and 13 extra years, makes almost half as much as I do.

    His car and his beloved motorbike had to be sold a couple of years ago so that we could buy food. So, in a way, even the absence of the trunk tells a story.

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    The things in my trunk are a reminder of the past year, and how hard it has been. In January, my grandmother, who raised me, passed away suddenly. For a long time, I had a bag of her medications in the trunk, not quite knowing what to do with them. Eventually, I found a place that would accept and dispose of the medication. But for 9 months, I drove around with it in the trunk
    .A bulletin board, which I covered in pictures for the memorial service. A service which I threw together in just under 3 days. It was a lovely gathering, with lots of friends who came and told stories, said their peace, and remembered her life.
    A wooden box containing her silver-plated utensil service, which her mother bought with the green stamps she earned. It is something else I am not sure what to do with.

  • I loved this. So amazing. All I have in the back of my car (besides trash and Cheerios) is a pair of sneakers. I'm so pessimistic, I always worry that if there's some sort of evacuation and we have to go quickly I'll probably be wearing unsensible shoes.

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