The top of the chest.
How often I glance at the ornately carved cedar chest from china. The chest that sailed from Asia to American Northwest and sat in my father’s cabin in Oregon until traveling east to New York City when my mom and dad got married. My first memory of the chest was in the living room of our apartment on Staten Island. It was the magical piece of furniture in the room meant to be looked at and to store extraordinary things. From there, it moved with us to a house not more that a mile from the Verrazano Bridge facing the Narrows across from Brooklyn. There it occupied a position of honor underneath windows facing North and West.
The treasures it held traveled with us. A white, Angora sweater from Italy neated folded in tissue paper, a boomerang from Australia, a doll from Germany, all of which were treated like artifacts in a museum. Occasionally, they were taken out and put on view for all to admire. The story of how my father, an engineer with the Merchant Marines, acquired these treasures on his travels around the world was dutifully retold until I had it memorized. Eventually, the doll came to sit on my bed and the sweater was worm by my sister.
Now, the chest is mine and it sits in a prominent place in the living room of my home on Long Island. It hold different treasures. They, too, are removed occasionally and gazed at and one day they will belong to other family members.
The Cedar Chest
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I feel younger than I am. I haven’t been a girl for decades. But, girl was my first identity and it stubbornly refuses to fade into history. Girl defines me. Even before the “boys and girls” of elementary school, my father referred to me as “the girl”—a memory that has remained vivid in part because my mother would remind me of it whenever she spoke of my childhood. So, I am the girl.
For several years, I haven’t seen clearly. This is literally true. I first noticed it as I was driving from Long Island to Manhattan on a snowy December afternoon. The sun suddenly emerged from clouds and the glare blinded me. Good thing my car knows the way. Then, I had difficulty reading in soft light and needed a few overhead, high watt bulbs to read the newspaper. Soon, I realized I had a huge blur in my right eye and a smaller one in my left eye. I panicked. My eyes! What would I do without vision?
Now, these eyes are the eyes of a much younger person. They see clearly again and I am thrown back to a time when my vision was detailed, nuanced and the sun’s rays didn’t blind me. Last May, I shook off my fears and went to the eye doctor. After a cursory look with his instruments, the doctor said I needed cataract surgery in both eyes. Yes, I was on the young side for this surgery but, nevertheless, it had to be done.
My new vision is forcing me to reexamine reality. Along with the joyful anticipation of seeing what I have been unable to see for years, comes the anxiety of catching up, of plunging into unknown realms.