The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents makes house calls. She will come to your mom and dad’s. They’ll be waiting for her on the other side of the front door like they used to wait for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They will think she looks professional in her cardigan, so they’ll have no problem leading her up to your old bedroom. Your dad will offer tea or coffee, maybe water with a lemon slice, but she’ll decline. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents won’t want to risk damage to the collection by bringing in unneeded liquids. This will make her seem even more professional. Your dad will smile at her, noticing how her sweater hangs like parentheses for her breasts. Your mom will smile at her, noticing she isn’t much older than you are now.
The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you it’s probably better if you’re not around when she comes to collect your materials. She said sometimes in the middle of a pack out—that’s what she called it, a pack out—the patron gets overwhelmed. She said the documents are already vulnerable. She treats them like they’re already damaged. She said she doesn’t want you to compromise the collection.
The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will start with the lunch box under your bed. It’s full of notes from your best friend from middle school, notes passed in the hall between classes, under desks in Language Arts. You saved them even though you stopped being friends after she made the field hockey team in tenth grade. They’re written in sparkly purple gel ink and folded into footballs. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will unfold each one like she’s opening a present and wants to save the wrapping. She will check each one for damage then file them in acid-free folders, one for each year.
The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will catalog every picture in your night table drawer. Ones of your high school boyfriend in a tux, in a car, in a pirate costume. Ones of you and your friend Deirdre, who slept over every Friday night and moved to Colorado the day after graduation. Ones you don’t remember taking of boys and girls you don’t remember kissing. She will slide each one into a Mylar sleeve. Stack each one in an archival box. Paste on a label in her neat all-caps: PHOTOS.
The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will take down your posters and collages using a micro spatula. She will roll them into long cardboard tubes. She will enclose your teddy bear in an acrylic cube and catalog your school notebooks and papers. One box for each grade. She will box old gym shoes, stretched out hair ties with their matted nests of dead strands, the crumpled, half-unwrapped tampons from the bottom of your purse. Each item dutifully filed and labeled.
The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will leave your parents’ house with a hand cart stacked higher than her head. She will shake their hands and drink a single glass of tap water. She will not ask for help.
When you see your room, you’ll be surprised by how empty it feels. You will trace your finger along the faded edges of the wallpaper where your posters hung. You will rub your palms inside the night table drawer, feeling for a shiny print. You will look under your bed and only find an orphaned sock. You will start to cry, sloppy and fast, then you will remember what the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents said about water.
In her email, the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you that papers and photos are the most vulnerable materials. The most in need of protection from disaster. When you asked her what kind of disaster she meant, she said: in the end, all disasters are water disasters.
Meghan Phillips is a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her flash fiction chapbook Abstinence Only is forthcoming from Barrelhouse Books. You can find her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets @mcarphil.