Jan Irene Miller
and Cheryl Somers Aubin

Jan Irene Miller
Acrylic on paper, 23 x 30 inches

Memories–By the Number
Cheryl Aubin
Inspiration piece

Right up there with life’s major stresses, like getting married, moving, or looking for a job (all of which I’ve done in the last year), I’d put changing address books.

An address book is not just a book that holds addresses and phone numbers — it holds memories.  On the pages are numbers and names of once-hoped for loves, cherished friends, old loves, lost friends, and family.  This tattered book is my life history and my life in the making.  I have made new friends, strengthened my ties with old friends, and, sadly, ended some relationships, too.  I am connected to them and to my world through this book.

I have carried my address book around in my pocketbook for about five years – and it certainly is the worse for the wear.  The gold embossed telephone has worn off, and the grey cloth cover hangs loose on the spine.  I take it out and look at it.  I hold it in my hand, and sometimes that is all I need to comfort me.  I keep a yellow post-it note of things to do on the front of it.  I also keep pictures of my mom and me, my dad and me, and my husband and me tucked in the back.  In the front are various scraps of paper and cards, including one from my new hairdresser, my new friend, Teri, and my old business card.  There is also a pink message slip with Jimmy’s address on it — Jimmy, who I worked with for just a few months, who made me laugh, and who challenged me creatively…Jimmy, my friend who is sick, and for whom I cannot find the right words to tell him I am thinking of him and that I miss him.

Changing address books is like cleaning out your closet, but much more like cleaning out your life.  The change of addresses and changes of names chronicle the people who matter in life.  My brother Matt bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay, and he is especially proud of his new address (he even sent me two engraved change of address cards, one of which is dutifully tucked in the front of the book).  I still have my friends under their maiden names.  I first added their boyfriends, then husbands (sometimes changing the last name, and sometimes not) and even a baby’s name or two.  Some are cross-referenced under their married names or spouse’s name as well.

I remember living in Washington and putting Steve’s name and address in Boston in my book with a bright green pen, never imagining that I would marry and take his name and his address a little over a year later.  We don’t live there anymore, but I remember how I felt all the times I opened the book to see his numbers there.  It was almost as if we were closer somehow, always knowing how to reach him (home number, two work numbers in Boston, fax number, parent’s number, three numbers in Washington, two friends’ numbers, and the two hotels from his reserve duties).

Changing address books also chronicles those who mattered once.  Do I really need to keep JB’s work number?  What about SB’s address in Albuquerque?  Does he even live there anymore?  Didn’t he marry that nurse he was dating?  Am I ever going to need to call him for any reason ever again in my whole life?  And what about that yellow post-it note with faded pencil numbers on it….Who is Frank, anyway?

I can remember how excited I was to enter some numbers (if she gave me her home number she must want to hire me for the job!) and how disappointed I feel to see those same numbers now.

The first number under A is for my alma mater, American University.  All the departments are (alphabetically) under one big heading, very neatly written in while I was recovering from a tonsillectomy in 1986.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much farther than the A’s at the time, and the rest of the entries more accurately reflect the true state of my life.  Some are in pencil, some in pen, some crossed out.  B’s put under D’s because I would more readily remember their first name.  W’s under V because I started there by mistake.  S’s put under T’s and U’s because I ran out of room.  My husband refuses to even try to look up a number in there because only I truly know how to decipher the code.

Sometimes flipping through my address book is like taking a short trip.  I remember visiting with Gale, whom I’d originally met in high school, after she moved to Connecticut from California.  Re-connecting on the east coast, we quickly became close friends, even closer than when we first knew each other.  She has since moved to Philadelphia to go to graduate school (we did most of our visiting chasing guys at the beach those two summers), then to France, and now to Toronto, where I’ve added a boyfriend’s name, too.  This international distance has cut down on the number of phone calls we make to each other, and has caused some distance between us, but I think we both know the other is always there.

This book is friends lost and friends found.  Meg, where are you since we’ve lost touch?  Do you know I think about you?  Fie, I called and your number’s disconnected; how can I reach my buddy from college now?  Don’t you remember how we held hands during our graduation ceremony?  Do you miss me, too?…Then there is my friend, Suanne.  We lost track of each other after she went off to law school and I moved to a new apartment.  But she kept my parent’s address in her address book and recently wrote me there.  Major life events (weddings for both of us, a baby for her) had happened, but we were still friends, caring about each other and anxious to catch up on the years.  We are getting to know each other better through the letters we are writing now.  I’m glad she kept my folks’ address for all this time, and I’m glad to find her again in my life and in my address book.

My new black leather address book sits in my den with the dust of a year collected on it.  I thought if I bought an expensive one it would encourage me to start it, but I’ve resisted so far.  Even putting it on my “to-do” list, I still keep passing over it.  The task of weeding out my history, not to mention trying to fit all the new A’s from my in-laws in the new book, is overwhelming.

I have loved, lost at love, and lived through and with the numbers and people who have filled my life and these pages.  When there is good news to share, or bad news to tell, I turn to my book.  It is there that I find the comfort I need, the cheers, and the shared tears that make up my memories — by the number.



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