One of the birthday cards I got was handmade, from Nathaniel. He had taped a quarter on the inside of it along with a picture of him and me holding hands. It’s terribly cute. It reminded me that several years ago Benjamin gave me a card, handmade in crayon. Inside of it he had taped several coins totaling perhaps 40 or 50 cents. And the thing is that if I looked through my stuff long enough, I would find it. The money would still be taped inside it.
My writing space, the shelves in my room, and even in my truck there are stored items, treasures by my definition. Garbage and/or junk by most other standards. I can’t seem to let go of a lot of things. I tend to attach a memory to an object and then grow the irrational fear that getting rid of this object will cause me to lose something else as well. If I were to throw this away, I could lose the memory. I might be throwing away the love that this gift was given with.
Sometimes it’s not just in the middle of the night that irrational thoughts seem sound and sane. Sometimes, if held onto long enough, they become canon.
When I was 8 years old and moved from Arizona to Hawaii, my parents didn’t have trouble convincing me that the moving truck wouldn’t be able to fit all my stuff. I gave away some toys and actually threw away a big stack of car books, the kind one usually got from dealers. As I settled into my new home in Hawaii I had a good-sized bedroom all to myself. I also had a developing resentment that things were not as good here as they had been there. I longed for my life back in Arizona. Maybe that’s when I started to have trouble throwing things away. I realized that it was an unusual habit. But I was never inconvenienced by it until I had to move. The first real shock came when we had to leave Hungary after living there two years. We could only pack what we could check through on the flight home. I couldn’t pack the sword I bought and I didn’t even have room for the Russian gas mask.
I was sad to leave them behind in the apartment for the next occupant to enjoy. But I made sure I had room for other things. I packed a few pieces of a toy stroller that Naomi had. And I packed some broken parts of student’s desks from the school I had taught at. Those worthless items meant more than the sword or gas mask. They had pretty much no monetary value, but I made sure to keep them. Attached to them were memories of Naomi cheerfully pushing her stroller around our flat and teaching kids. I think I still have the items somewhere.
I don’t know what kind of person I would be if I lived in a mobile home with only a half dozen cats for company. I have only heard about a television show that showcases people like that so I don’t know much about people whose lives are severely affected by this disorder. If I had never married and had no family or friends, would I be one of those people? Maybe. I can easily imagine what I would be like and don’t even like to go there. But I was assessing the inventory of my life as I tend to do this time of year. When Nathaniel gave me that card with the quarter I remembered right away that I still have some lose change from a few years ago and I’m afraid to spend it.
So maybe I’ll look for that old card and break off the coins. One thing to do would be to add the quarter from Nathaniel to it, take it to the 99 Cent store and buy a candy bar for 49 cents. But the really brave thing would be different. I don’t know if I could bring myself to do it. But I could empty the change into my container of lose change and mix it all up. I don’t know if I could go there. Maybe I should do that. Because if I bought a candy bar I would feel inclined to not throw away the wrapper.
So my drawers are crammed with homemade birthday cars from my kids from over the years. There are toys on my writing space, some from my childhood and some recent gifts from my kids. I have bits and pieces from cars I’ve owned. Stepping back and looking at this habit from the outside it looks a little depraved. But to me it’s only attaching a memory to an object, even if it’s literally a piece of garbage like the disposable coffee cup that Prajna drank from during our road trip to Arizona where I saw the house I sat in years ago and threw away old treasures. This little foam coffee cup, worth nothing to the world, has a value to me I can’t quite understand. But it has a blend of memories. And there is a real concern inside me that if I were to drop that piece of garbage in the dumpster and never see it again, there would be an emptiness in my life.
There, I said it and that’s how it is. I know it’s not rational. Maybe it’s not healthy either. Maybe I should start with that handful of change. I could drop it in a donation box. It could be a start. We’ll see.