I am old school. Or at least old school in the sense that I keep an address book. An honest-to-God spiral-bound address book with little tabs for each letter except for U and V, which share a tab. Truth be told, I really only use it for Christmas cards; well, and baby announcements, but I’m way past that now.
I’ve had the same address book since the fall of 1995, when I married the girls’ dad. On the cover it says, “Heart of the Home Address Book,” and its pages are filled with sweet drawings of baskets of apples and red and white kitchens and English cottages. I bought the address book to keep track of my wedding thank you notes, and I have used it every year since, at least for Christmas cards but sometimes other momentous occasions that just require hand-written notes. But, after all these years, it’s getting a little ratty. It’s dog-eared and coffee-stained and full of cross-outs and new addresses and question marks. It’s just not the address book for my life anymore.
So, when last summer Violet came home with a brand-new Griffin and Sabine address book that she found in a free box on the corner, I gladly accepted. I probably would not have walked out of the stationary store toting a Griffin and Sabine theme, replete with pictures of monstrous crabs and at least one bare-breasted woman, but I was delighted that Violet thought of me and free is, well, free.
Over the past few weeks, I have been using my hour between 5 and 6 a.m. to work on Christmas cards, to write notes to those who I haven’t seen but sparsely over recent months and to dash off a quick “xo” to those who I saw yesterday or am confident I will see tomorrow. And, as I have written and addressed each card, I have moved the address into my new G&S book. At each name, I pause.
And, slowly, slowly over these weeks, it has broken my heart. There are names that are left behind because their owners have passed, and still I can’t believe it. My grandmother died in 2001, but I can hardly bear to own an address book that doesn’t have her name in it. There are friends who have moved and I have lost contact with, and there are friends who have just drifted away for reasons I can’t explain. The book is rife with evidence of my failed marriage, and those names whisper recrimination and self-doubt, even though the people themselves would never breathe those cruelties because they are good and kind and decent. My pink address book is a graveyard of loss and a monument to my failures and inattentions.
And yet, there are new names, too. Names of new friends who are as dear as siblings, names of babies born and adopted, names of new loves now attached forever to friends and relatives. Their loves are now my loves. And there are names of people I have not seen in years, decades sometimes, who graduated to the new book without a heart beat’s hesitation.
I’m now in the Ws–a big list in my family–and I am brought to my knees by my own failings, by the freshly opened scar of lives and relationships cut short, and more than that, by blinding gratitude for those who are still here, for those who still listen to our old stories and share wine on dark December afternoons, for those who watch after our children and struggle to make the world a little better.
I am grateful to all those in my life who write poems and essays and stories, who make art and music. For those who still have faith in our fragile democracy. And, on this wet winter day, I am grateful to all of you who come over here to read these half-baked musings and hey, just let me know if you want a place in the Griffin and Sabine address book.