But I didn't lose myself in that Grimms' fairy-tale beginning. My over forty years of marriage made me a survivor of unpredictability. I've crawled through the shadow of death delivering my babies— reluctantly inside the frightful walls of a hospital no less—and became a woman amending her own childhood through motherhood. But this envelope brings me a certain dread that I cannot explain. The contours of the contents. The address in the corner. I don't want to open it, even though my entire life has been in anticipation of this.
I consider pushing the package into my apron pocket along with my garden shears and the one cigarette that's waiting to be smoked on my front porch—a habit I started in 1941 and stopped trying to quit in the 1950s. It is only one a day, you see.
But I'm seduced. I turn over the envelope. The name in the corner isn't familiar, but the town on the return address boasts that my nightmares are not dreams but memories after all. The handwriting appears businesslike and feminine.
My gaze travels to the center. It's addressed to someone I shed long ago—so long ago it's almost like that girl never existed. My mother, who'd been a lost soul, gave me the name—sort of. A question mark is scribbled next to the name—the post office doesn't know if it really belongs here. But it is me. This much I know, and I wish it weren't so. After a few deep breaths I pull out my garden shears and slip them through the small opening in the corner with shaking hands. How I do it without cutting myself, I'm not sure.
My suspicions were correct. When I tip the envelope over, a 35mm film cartridge falls into my hands. It's old, almost fifty years old, in fact, and it's warm in my palm. That eighteen-year-old girl named on the envelope cries a little, but she's so far under my concrete skin it doesn't even dampen my insides. I long ago wished I could forget it all, but the voices from my past are stronger than my present. What am I supposed to do now?
The resurgence of guilt, shame, and pain—the bards of my heart—croon at me. I toss the film roll and it lands on the edge of my gravel path between blades of grass.
Who sent it?
Where did it come from?
I look into the envelope and see it's not empty. Before I can bat away my impulses, I pull out the small folded piece of paper. The even and balanced script handwriting reads:
I have the rest of them if you're interested.
Kelly Keene. I don't know her. Why does she have the film from my dark years? I look back at the ground, and the cartridge stares at me as it lies prostrate there on the gravel and grass. The exhumed voices from within it speak in my ears. They've never been far away. They're always in the shadow or around a corner. A reflection in a darkened window. Their voices bend over my shoulder, their ghostly faces look into my arms full of children and grandchildren, and the memory of their smiles reminds me how far I've come and the strength it took to always take the next step forward.
And yet the whisper of voices also calls to mind a promise I've left unfulfilled. The burden of this guilt nestles next to my soul. Though shrouded in grace, it knows the entwining paths of peace and despair.
For decades I've kept these voices to myself. But this film begins the sacred resurrection of these forgotten souls and with them comes the unearthing of my past.