You can collect them however you want. In a tattoo, in photos, scrapbooks, Facebook albums. You can keep them in jars on dusty shelves in the deep archives of your mind, arranged alphabetical by whichever name you remember. Keep them wherever you’d like- it’s your collection’s content that matters.
The first people you collect are the Shapers.
The friend who stood up for you on the school bus, who yelled at the boy that crushed your toilet paper roll virus model.
Older kids that made you feel cool.
Dress up pals, the princess to your space invader, well after playing dress-up was socially acceptable.
Everyone who helped you learn.
And helped you learn and helped you learn and helped you learn. Who got up early or stayed with you late.
Everyone still teaching you.
People who have told you that you are good.
Anyone who has ever told you that you’re bad.
Your third prom date, who called you in desperation but ended up being the best prom date you ever had. You were doing them a favor, technically, but a restored faith in the American institution of prom is a priceless gift.
Teammates, co-conspirators, cousins, peers-makers of tree houses, bed sheet forts and kids-room plays: admission always $.25.
Siblings- you fight, you don’t speak, you share. You’ve always shared too many things, but your shared genes may be the key to figuring yourself out.
Then you have the Helpers: the ones who are there when life starts to take its shape.
People who have done you a favor.
Or bought you coffee.
The people who lent you money, either to pay for parking or to run away and get a potentially useless degree and figure out how to live.
People you have worked on crazy projects with. People willing to make your crazy projects happen. Cardboard furniture, chalkboard painted corn hole boards, music videos to Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Mixed-tape makers. These days are numbered if not gone- do not throw them out. You will never regret owning The ENTIRE soundtrack to Empire Records, arranged in order of appearance, not just the songs the producers decided would sell.
The person who made you aware of the word ‘cloying.’
That guy in the pick-up truck who saw you walking down the street, minding your own business, and shouted at you to smile more. Now, because of him, you know that you do not like that.
Friends and strangers that have let you crash at their place, for short or extended periods of time, with or without compensation beyond toilet paper, peanut butter and gratitude.
Anyone who has ever protected you in a mosh pit
Or introduced you to a new type of music, the life changing kind and the normal kind.
The friends that do not talk about how fat they think they are.
Anyone who has ever shown you something new. Like the last sewer gas destructor lamp in London (the last lamppost lit by sewer gas).
The boss who first trusted you.
The colleague who asked you for help.
All the people who have ever given you a key to anything.
The people you write to. The ones that write back. Hand-written letter writers: keep them forever, no matter what happens. It’s not hording: it’s collecting.
People who write notes inside books:
“Darling! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!” says a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.
“Remember me when the world discovers you.” written in a copy of Holes.
“I hope this book fuels and inspires your own writing ambitions as much as it has my own.” ~ Lolita.
Lastly, you have the Lifelines: the people that you need.
The people who spell check you.
Trash collectors after an awful day.
Anyone who has ever read your writing and made it real.
Or help you plan out your life in Baltimore to DC traffic.
That person who caught you hiding in your car, and reached out later to make sure you were alright.
Your first true Meet-Up Friend. Your eyes met from across the private bar, packed with a social scene you did not understand and the moment you see her old-school Oregon Trail vs Trex t-shirt, you knew she was the one.
Anyone who has ever asked you a question that you’ve never even asked yourself (‘Are you in love with him?’ ‘Maybe.’).
The people that stay with you when you are incessantly illogical. The ones that let you talk, listen to you babble, and then tell you, gently, that you’re being idiot.
Those who have helped you get all the thoughts out of your head before they rip you up like frightened teenager’s diary page they never want discovered.
The person who reminds you for hours over the phone to breathe, breathe, breathe.
Anyone who has ever made you feel like what you were doing was the right thing to be doing.
Or dragged you along to something they just know you you’ll like.
Or peer pressured you into doing something you really did want to do.
Even collect that person who you only know a little, or the people you only see once a month.
These are the people you keep, the ones you collect, the people where all of your stories come from.
They are the people you see every day, once a year, and the ones you will never see again.
“How to Collect People” is written by Maria Goodson.
Maria C. Goodson is a writer in Baltimore who co-runs a monthly reading series. Learn more at writersandwords.net.