We hold onto things for a few reasons – to make life easier/more comfortable, to help us achieve our goals, to improve our security, and to help us remember. Its the last one of these reasons that can turn to shit.
When my grandparents moved from their home of forty years to an assisted living retirement village, they knew it would be the last move for my grandfather. My grandmother took a few pictures, some clothes and practical furniture and didn’t look back. We were horrified that she would abandon so much that she had once valued and taught us to value. We just knew she would regret this, and we begged her to save her precious things in storage, just for a year or two. She declined.
“For what?” she said.
My grandmother has been a widow for a decade now. She says she still wakes up every day feeling incomplete without my Papa, and she says it hasn’t gotten better over time. My Grandmother has never felt sorry for herself and doesn’t think much of what she calls “ballbags,” so I take it as a fact that its like she says it is. She knew she would live her last years without her best friend, but she didn’t fill her space with the cherished “muchness” accumulated through their nearly three quarters of a century together, items that prompted stories of their global travels and eras long gone. She knew what I didn’t know. She knew her memories weren’t contained in whatever objects held their associations. She knew she couldn’t carry their weight or navigate the space they would occupy as her senses diminished and her body weakened and her heart broke.
Three weeks ago, I officially gave up my lease at a rental home where I’ve stored the things I couldn’t defend making space for in my husband’s home (a house that already haunts him with all of its things, things that invite us to hold our breath to the point of suffocation). I placed the barely-used retro kitchenware in a few boxes I presented to my oldest daughter for her to use over the next few years in college. Two weeks later, the boxes were still in the back of her car. She informed me that her dad would not permit her to store them in his (large, single-occupancy) home in these transition months nor allow them space in the car they plan to take to college. I told her I understood. I did not understand, and this became apparent to my husband at a family dinner where I brought up the boxes and my daughter reacted defensively, prompting my husband’s upset at her entitled behavior. After dinner, the three of us unpacked the boxes into my husband’s garage, my daughter contrite and silent, my husband barely containing his irritation over the boxes blocking the tandem bike and the shelf with the extra condiments. I felt like shit.
I don’t like this story. I don’t like that going to college isn’t a family thing. I don’t like that my daughter is not taking pieces of me with her on the roadtrip to college with her dad in the car that he bought her, that they will buy everything new and create more memories without me. My kids and I had some really shitty years together, and it means something to me that we bought colorful pots and pans and kitchen staples even though I can’t cook and we barely had a kitchen. Those boxes were all hope and love because that’s the only part of our story I wanted her to take with her.
What would my Grandmother say?
Well, at this moment, my pile of powder blue shit sits in the garage, kept company by the myriad ghosts of all of the other shit that fills our space. The shit I made her keep and made him store looks like fear, not like love.
I can imagine a different story, one where the shit in boxes transforms back into things with value because they serve a purpose, make life easier and improve security. I wanted that to be the story she would take with her about us, the story of the kind of mom I want her to have. Maybe she won’t need my shit to remember my love.