I am a collector.
I didn’t know this until recently, though I can’t imagine how I’ve gone so long without knowing, considering my family’s favorite insult to throw at one another is “hoarder,” and I have been—on more than one occasion—subjected to this. That said, they mostly just say that to my mother because she saves just about everything.
I don’t save everything. I am happy to throw away old drawing projects, shoes that I’ve walked through, old magazines, bills, even the ones that I haven’t paid yet; I guess I sort of am a hoarder but not in the way my mother is, and certainly not in the way that would grant me a spot on the show.
I slowly noticed this new part of myself when my friends here in Savannah would come over to do housework. They became aware of it before I even did:
“You have a lot of books,” they would say. I like to read. “Do you always save the boxes that you get gifts in?” I like to compartmentalize, they help with that, plus I’ve moved so many times in the past five years that they make small things easier. “Could I borrow some of your music boxes for a project? I need to draw the insides.” Sure, you can take these three, but this one is too special. You can’t even see the inside, anyway, so it wouldn’t be of any use to you. “I love your rings! Do you wear them all the time?” I do! well, I take them off mostly when I sleep now because I started losing feeling in my fingers, but I wear the middies and the stones and the bands every day. the tree on my left actually never comes off, hasn’t since I bought it when I was fifteen.
I look around my room and all I see are collections.
All of the posters and frames on my wall are maps and postcards from places I’ve been (I collect maps and postcards) and so many books that my poor fireplace is dwarfed beside them (I collect books).
I looked down at my hands and I see thirteen rings, each from a place that I have lived or loved (I collect rings), and every surface in my room had a box, full of things, jewelry, or change, or just random small things (I collect boxes, and small things to put inside of them).
Some of these things I have had since I was a young teenager, when I assume this habit started. I started to notice everything. The box that holds old concert tickets and birthday cards, (I save cards. They matter to me.) I collect boxes, musical ones and hollow ones, I collect pennies with dates older than 1970, I collect tea tags that have nice things written on them, I collect dried flowers and sand from beaches and shells and beads and lipsticks and things with elephants or birds on them (I don’t even like birds in real life).
I collect memories.
Every gift I have ever been given that was not on my birthday can be seen somewhere. I have such an addiction to hold on to memories that I have a big piece of bamboo that I saved hanging in my window.
A friend of a friend asked me to put it in my bag on a beautiful night where we all had snuck into the bamboo gardens outside of Savannah.
He wanted to make a bong out of it.
I never gave it to him.
I have begun to dangle all of the little things I have saved over the years—things out of the boxes, old jewelry I don’t wear anymore, the key to my first apartment, sea glass, buttons, pieces of broken necklaces that I loved—all hanging from string so that when the light comes through that window they spread rainbows all over my room.
But the habit doesn’t stop there.
I collect abilities as well.
I find myself as the friend who, when something needs to get done, or somebody has a thought like “this needs to be fixed, I wonder who can do it,” I am the one they call.
I sew very well.
I do hair wraps on my friends all the time, I used to do them as a job and now for money every once in a while. You need a guitar or a ukulele or a piano lesson? I got you. You need a dramatic monologue book, or a musical theater audition book? I have one of those, come upstairs. You want a stick and poke tattoo? Awesome, I love doing those, let’s get started. Let me read your tarot cards, I have eight decks.
Let me read your palm. I can cook. I know cleaning secrets. I can untangle any knot. I am very good at taking care of my clothes and I can show you what to do if you want yours to last a long time.
I like things that are black, things that are dark red, dark purple, dark green, gold. I like printed photographs. I like things my mother gave me, things my father gave me, things I stole from my sister, things that my brother and I made.
I like pictures of my grandmothers when they were young (I look like a hybrid of my two grandmothers). Things that belonged to my brother that isn’t alive anymore, most of all; if there were a fire and I had eight seconds, his corduroy teddy bear, sock monkey, and a picture frame with his big blue eyes in it would be stuffed in my shirt because I would rather burn my skin than lose them. (I would grab the memory box too, but I went through this stage where I put stickers on it, which I regret, so I wouldn’t mind those getting singed off.)
I learned something new recently, and that is that under this tough-guy punk act I have going most of the time, and under the giggling happy fairy that hides under her, and the nerd that would rather read a science textbook than go out to a party that hides under her, and the basket case that hides under her, and the addict that hides under her, is a soft plushy core that loves to collect.
She loves to hold in her hands the memories she never wants to forget, she loves to love.
Author: Jazz Unruh
Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photo: Author’s Own
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