It’s strange, the things I hold onto.
I remember my mother’s voice climbing steadily into the fog-wreathed ridges of panic as she gripped some bauble between thumb and finger, asking “Why do you keep these things?” and gesturing helplessly at the sherpa paths trodden so delicately by my little feet in between the papers, the books, the forgotten dishes. I remember my mute shrug in reply.
Of course, I knew why I kept the thing. I still remember. I kept it because it reminded me of a family camping trip with a friend’s family — the same friend who once recorded a whole cassette tape for me with her and her older sister singing along with their favourite Top 40’s. They laughed and shoved each other with every track; you could hear their bodies hit the wall. An elementary school gift. In high school, the same girl talked birth control with me in the bathroom nearest the theatre. She wore a lot of shiny black vinyl, then, and I deeply envied her ability to carry it off.
Stories breed more stories. This is why I keep things. To remind me.
Today I spent time with glue and photographs, squeezing together a years-late wedding album, writing captions in CAPSLOCK for my family, but unable to caption myself. (I can’t articulate anything beyond my smiling, red, wet face; it tells the story better than I can.)
Yesterday I stacked together all the clothes I’ll donate before we move and thought about each piece as I folded it. Some were my old roommate’s clothes, the ones she had once given me before a move. Some of them were thrift-store and consignment finds: a mesh jersey from a children’s soccer team, leprechaun green and torn in places, that I purchased from a shop in Seattle the day before Death Ray and I spent our first night together. I remember the fitting room: raw wood panelling with hipster-irony album covers thumbtacked into the studs. Hipster-irony Neil Diamond on the speakers. He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother. Some were dresses that no longer fit my body or my aesthetic, things that I have always wished would look better on me, things I push to the “someday you’ll be worthy” category of my mind. (Those things are always less powerful when they’re in a mound on the floor. You can make your own little midden, your own little charnel house, out of the things once used for punishing yourself. It’s fun.)
What you give away is just as important as what you keep.
“These are your graduation proofs!”
“Oh. Yeah. Never bought any. I thought Mom had some.”
“I’ve never seen these. You were so cute! Look at that smile!”
“I was happy. I was moving in with you, the week after.”
“And look at this one! You look so tiny, next to the guy giving you your diploma. You make him look like a giant.”
“I make everyone look like a giant.”
“Why didn’t you buy any of these? You look so pretty, right here. You always look so pretty when you’re happy.”
(Just then, whole swaths of my youth become painfully clear.)
“…You really like them?”
“Of course! Look at this face!”
“…Okay. I’ll get some scissors. I have a little frame. If you want to keep it, I mean.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. You might just…not. You might change your mind. You might stop liking it. You might think it’s silly. You might want to throw it away.”
“It is silly to have your wife’s graduation photo at the office. But not when she’s this beautiful, in it.”
Who we give things to is even more important.