Moving stirs up dust and lost treasures. In August 2014, when we moved for the eighth, and perhaps, final time since we’ve been married, my husband, Matt, and I vowed that we would unpack every box that we owned. We no longer would wonder “what is in that box?”. For years we carted around boxes labeled “MISCELLANEOUS” and shoved them unopened into the farthest nooks of each of our homes; like the top shelf of our garage in Sackets Harbor or the attic eaves we could only reach by a pull-down latter in Baltimore. No more! No box left behind — or unopened as was our case.
One box that clearly hadn’t been opened in over twenty years — perhaps longer — nonsensically housed an eclectic cluster of things from my childhood: two journals (one from eighth grade and another from my post-college days when I lived on a boat in the West Indies); one of my brother’s yearbooks — we did not go to the same school nor was it from his graduating year; the same brother’s quarterly report card (he got a C in biology); some swim meet ribbons and horse show trophies from the early 1980’s; a jewelry box filled with gaudy garage-sale jewelry that at some point I must have worn and thought looked good on me; a short, tangled bleached blond wig; random photos of me at various ages; pictures of my mother and her parents and grandparents; about a dozen pens (dried ink) and pencils (broken tips) tied together in a blue and white polka dot grosgrain ribbon that perhaps I’d worn in my hair; an old passport; a pair of moth-chewed wool mittens and matching hat from The Gap; plus tidbits and scraps of my life that I honestly had forgotten.
However, there was also a red file folder filled with homemade Valentine’s, Christmas cards, and books from before I was ten-years-old. The books were created by varied — now faded — primary colored construction paper with two holes punched in the left side and strung together with yarn in a bow. In my primitive handwriting using a felt tip marker I’d authored about six books each with varying themes on my life in the 1970’s to include my intense love of horses, dogs, and cats. “Christmas” by Tori Dukehart was the title of one and had a fir tree with decorations and lights illustrated under the title. Another was “A Day at the Beach” by Tori Dukehart. Whales jumped over waves, a convex sun popped down from the top right corner, and my stick-figure family and I threw a red and white beach ball in the air over Crayola “yellow” sand. It occurred to me that even as a child, I’d created stories based on what was going on in my life. Opening the pages of my early opus transported me back to my six or seven-year-old self when I’d lie on the floor in my grandmother’s den with my colored paper, rainbow markers, scraps of yarn from my mother’s knitting, and my imagination authoring my own life. Each book had illustrations of my brothers and me, my parents, ponies I’d dream I’d own one day, our cats and dogs doing the mundane things of everyday life. But I’d chosen to chronicle them and forty years later, I’d been blessed with this time capsule. Here was my history staring back at me.
In my novel, The Immortals, there are several letters exchanged between the characters. Here is an excerpt from a letter that Haines Wendover, the protagonist’s father, writes to his daughter, Calli Coleman:
“…Sometimes it is difficult for us to place ourselves within the vastness of history and figure out exactly where we fit in. Somehow we do, and your journaling and your letters to Luke are the best way to collect the present for the benefit of those to come. Oftentimes the most cherished items of our time here will be the memories and thoughts put down on paper. Nothing else can approximate the feelings conveyed.”
For too many months in 2005 and 2006, I allowed myself to suffer through emotional pain while Matt was deployed in Iraq. His possible death or possible disfigurement haunted me like a ghost. Because I lived a life where I let others interpret my life, I felt victimized by our government because my husband was away at war. I was a passive observer of my own experiences, my own loss. I was not giving my own world meaning because I allowed outside influences to direct attention to my pain. I woke up one morning and didn’t recognize me. Where had I gone? Who was this cynical, negative person staring back at me in the mirror? What happened to the little girl who wrote, illustrated, and made her own books? My need to find her was primal. I desired to be my own artist, to paint my life as I wanted it be. It was then that I committed to change. So I started writing: in my journal, email, and letters. Writing helped me gain meaning. Through journaling, I found independence. Gloomy ideas I’d clung to worked themselves out and fell away. New ideas I’d resisted didn’t seem as daunting. Writing saved me. It healed me. My novel was born during those writing escapades.
Now The Immortals is about to be published and I can’t imagine a life without writing. Characters and plot lines visit my imagination daily. I occasionally write letters to friends and try to remember to write handwritten thank you notes. There are index cards, pads, and scraps of paper all over our house in case an idea pops into my head and I want to write it down before I forget. I’m empowered by what’s going on around me and I only wish there were about 27-hours in a day so I could accomplish all that I want…Oftentimes the most cherished items of our time here will be the memories and thoughts put down on paper.
Tori Eversmann, wife of retired First Sergeant Matt Eversmann, the soldier who inspired the lead character in the book and movie, Black Hawk Down, has captivating stories of her time as an Army wife and its aftermath in the post 9/11 world. Amid adversity, Tori worked tirelessly as a single parent, a cheerleader for her husband’s wounded men at Walter Reed Army MedicalCenter, and as a conduit of information from the front lines during her husband’s 15 month deployment in the Iraq war, all to keep her and the other Army wives afloat.
Tori received her B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Skidmore College and currently lives in West Palm Beach with her husband, daughter, two dogs and two cats.