October 21, 2014

The Junk We Hold Onto.


My Past Lives in a Box Under the Bed—A De-cluttering Story.

I completed an assignment: no reading for one week. I accepted this challenge thinking—I never read enough anyway. As it turns out, I read all the time. I start at 5:00 am and read through the day until I go to bed.

I read for input to increase my output—my justification.

On the first day of my week of no reading, twenty minutes in—I panicked. Not reading meant I had time to tend to my to-do-list. The list I avoid by distracting myself with reading. The list that is ever-changing except for the top three items:

1. Throw out the half-dead plant in the hall.
2. Cull the closet under the stairs.
3. Tackle your past-in-a-box under the bed.

I kept the plant because I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing out a living thing—I am just wired that way. The plant was ugly and parched because I always forgot to water it. It lived in the south hallway, next to the closet under the stairs. I only go into the hall to feed the dog—in and out for the dog.

When my mother visits, she always sticks her index finger into my plants, mutters a tsk and waters them. Even mom forgot about this hall plant.

So, I threw it out.

It felt good.

I moved to the closet.

I purged purses and endless supplies of never-used, re-usable bags. I stuffed our daughter Lila’s old hot pink suitcase with the broken handle into an empty bag of dog food. I pulled out custom-made riding boots to polish—too expensive to toss even though dated and probably still painful to wear. Ducking under the middle stairs, I reached dilapidated  boxes busting with photographs of the seasons of our lives so far:

pre Derek and Cait
post Derek and Cait
pre-us (again)
dating (again)
post-us (again)
Derek and Cait’s marriage
the farm
the birth of our daughter Lila
all of our animals

I dragged the boxes Quasimodo-style into the dining room. Not in the road of foot traffic but sending a signal: to be dealt with as a family, probably over pizza or beef stew and a bottle of wine. But—not alone.

Two down…Next, the box from my past that lived under the bed—to be dealt with alone.

The now off-white rubber-maid lid had two sets of fingerprints: mine and Derek’s. Strict instructions were given about any movement of my past-in-a-box: anytime I moved pre-us, I carried the box; anytime we moved together, Derek carried the box. And, nobody goes into the box except for me.

I slid the box out from under the bed and carried it downstairs to the living room and set it on the floor. I removed the lid. Here is some of what I found:

Old, rolled-leather collars from really good dogs—tags still jingling.

A gift from a friend from 1989: a folded up red and yellow flag from the Soviet Union that my brother had liberated from my room when we lived together on Grant Street—that I had stolen back from his when we lived together on Dorset Street.

A letter written to myself, sitting in the rain at the end of a three-day orientation camping trip in the mountains at my new prep school of choice. Homesick.

My baby book was inside. Our daughter, Lila and I were the same height and weight at birth: six pounds, nine ounces, nineteen and a half inches long.

An old driver’s licence and un-circulated U.S. coin sets—the annual Christmas gift from my grandfather. Letters from both parents—during their divorce.

A pulley to nothing. A foot from my childhood brass bed, fitness and scholastic awards, and letters from friends who don’t send letters anymore but ‘like’ things on Facebook. Wine corks from big nights and champagne corks from small ones.

A nickel-sized, baby blue pin that read: Just a crazy mixed-up kid.

Dozens of cards from my mom: inspirational, humorous, horsey, abstract—some with one liners; some left blank—nothing needed.

You-Owe-Me notes written in my father’s hand: horse deals gone south, the German Shepherd puppy I could not afford, the truck I needed to haul horses around New England, credit card debt from a youth mismanaged.

A baby announcement from someone I didn’t marry. A leather wallet I could not part with.

Invites to art gallery openings, poetry readings, playbills from great shows and matchbooks from great restaurants.

Newspaper articles about my Dad, old horse show programs, a letter from my grandmother about my grandfather: Mac is off for a complete army check-up. Something he’s needed for a long time! Code for—the doctor, the U.S. Army Colonel—he’s in rehab.

The scrapbook from when I was hospitalized for two months at age seven with a broken arm from a fall from a horse—get well letters from kids at school and spidery Polaroids included.

Old pit passes to race tracks, rose petals, an apology letter. Sets of keys to apartments I fled. Two letters from my brother, his graduation speech from high school and a color copy of a painting he did of an Indian in a headdress.

The yellowed listing from our farm with two Tragically Hip concert ticket stubs stuck to the back. The white velvet box for my engagement ring—receipt jammed up in the satin lining.

A black and white, 8 x 10 head shot of me with a pencil drawing of the same taped to the back—twins.

A poker chip.

A December 31, 1997 desk top calendar page from the little zen calendar with push-pin holes that read:

Every exit is an entry somewhere else.

I slid the loose, mismatched treasures into manila envelopes—the pins, the corks, the dog tags. I rubber-banded the cards and letters back into their puzzle. I tossed the trash. I plucked out some photos to add to the family photo sorting night—yet to come. Later that evening, I let Lila sift through school certificates from when I was her age and showed Derek the letters he’d written to me— From: Canada, To: Somewhere, U.S.A.

I sealed the lid and parked the box in the closet under the stairs in the space created from the earlier purge. I shut the door.

That night, I wrote instead of read. I slept 


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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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