My heart teeters above a cold, slippery slope.
On our closet floor sits a bag stuffed with ski jackets and pants. It’s been there since the week of Christmas. I swear I’ll take it down to the spare room and hang the dusty things up. I will. When I clean the closet. That should happen any day now.
We need to jettison a lifetime of stuff, an entire house of material goods. The closet is the least of my worries. Clothes no longer thrill me. Shoes and bags are tools. Many women would brand me an embarrassment to my sex. I’ve been using the same purse for years. When it wears out I’ll buy one more. I have clothes from the ‘80s, maybe earlier. I still wear some of them. Most of my clothes are frayed at the cuffs and riddled with tiny cat-claw holes. My closet couldn’t possibly be a difficult place to start.
One closet shelf intimidates me more than all my drab clothes. My collection of vintage costume jewelry pins, from the days when a $20 do-dad was pure luxury, sits in two boxes. I don’t know what to do with them. Sell? Give away? Trash? And when I do, when I finally make a move, will my former life with a former husband, go poof? I thought I’d let go of those years a long, long time ago. That’s what I thought.
Our dream of sailboat cruising requires having less stuff. It’s the trade-off of living in a floating condo. Some cruisers keep land homes. Finances, and the headache factor, have convinced us otherwise. We’ve opted, at least for now, to store a limited number of sentimental items and original artwork.
That means decisions must be made.
Do I keep the 1940s classic cowboy dishes my father bought his parents with paper route money? What about the first chair my grandparents purchased? Or the pink plastic dish I made my mother in grade school, the one she kept on her dresser for the rest of her life? There is so much more. A greeting written in pencil on a scrap of plywood from my special daughter. Fair glass engraved with my grandmother’e name, her mother’s name, and the year 1910. And my Easy-Bake Oven — cute and turquoise, it brings resplendent images of a tiny me. How can I let that go?
What I feel is a less terrifying version of the grief I felt after the death of my parents. It was almost paralyzing then, the fear that I might, without their bodies to hug, their voices to hear, forget them. I feel the oppressive threat of loss. And if I clean the damn closet, I know it will start a long, painful good-bye.
But I must face the truth. We can’t take a five-bedroom-house worth of junk with us. It doesn't mean I can't take my memories.
Objects don’t cradle the past in their concrete arms. Things are mere reminders of what once was. Memories are held in the heart. We relive them late at night when we can’t sleep — harsh words, chances not taken, even heart-sickening longing. Old songs bring back feelings of angst and hope. Special foods comfort us as surely as our mother’s arms. Past love and pain flood back with conscious thought. That’s all it takes. All it takes.