The Wooden Suitcase

by Gurpreet Sihat

Beneath my bed is a suitcase. Handmade. Wooden. Older than my mum. Likely older than my dad. It belonged to my grandfather. A place to lock away all his important paperwork. 

I’ve never met my grandfather. He died long before I was born. Before my parents even met. But I’ve always felt a strange affinity towards him. A connection. Perhaps it’s because I never met him that I feel it. He’s part of every tapestry of stories and memories my mum’s weaved for me over the years and has been there in my darkest times when my single living grandparent wasn’t. And that suitcase beneath my bed reminds me of all the ways in which he’s part of my life despite not actually physically being here. 

Inside, the suitcase is overflowing. Letters from my sister, married and gone by the time I was four years old. A pressed boutineer from my cousin’s wedding. Notes passed between friends when we were in high school. A broken windshield from a toy car my eldest nephew had loved more than anything. The smiling moon from a candleholder long since broken. Photographs. Drawings. Ticket stubs. Autographs. 

As I walked down memory lane with a friend last week, dominoes began toppling over and I ended up thinking about these things. I thought about how I’ve kept an orange paper flower, gifted to me by a stranger after I donated to a children’s charity. I remembered how much I hated the wooden camel gifted to me by my aunt until she had died and I realised that it was the last thing she would ever bring home for me. I laughed at how, aged four, I returned the money my brother-in-law tried to give me and ordered him to buy me something instead. A doll named Sally. One I still own.

I wondered if this made me materialistic. 

I argued with the invisible opposition that sat before me and came to the conclusion that the answer is ‘no’. 

I talk a lot about mental illness here. I glance over dark places and hint at suicidal thoughts. I don’t hide how difficult it is for me to remember that I am loved and wanted. That I’m worthy and enough. 

These physical things – a message in a book, the key to a journal I lost when I was twelve, a shell from my first ever beach trip – aren’t about money and materialism. They’re about the memories that go with them.

I have no shortage of dark moments where I want the ground to swallow me whole, where I struggle to get out of bed because, really, what’s the bloody point? But it’s in those moments that these things take hold of me and remind me that there is a light on the other side of the tunnel. They remind me of the good memories that otherwise seem to slip from my head. They take me back to a better place. One that isn’t tainted by the events that came before or after. These physical things – be they big or small, cheap or expensive, handwritten or typed – all are conduits of something light. Something better.

They remind me that I am loved. That I am wanted. That I am not the burden I assume myself to be. Even in those moments where the darkness is so close to taking over. It’s much easier to remember there are reasons to stay alive when I’m surrounded by physical things that I can’t ignore.

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