I place each foot on the floor and stand, centering my sternum over my feet. The ground does not move as usual. I make my bed and think back twelve hours, then twelve years. Twelve hours ago, I was so tired I didn’t absorb I am climbing back into my bed - the bed I slept in for ten years before leaving, and I haven’t been in for two years. I slept the sleep of the dead. I march through my morning routine, just like I always did. Into the bathroom to splash water on my eyes, the coffee pot whirs to grind beans and beckons me down to a piping hot pot it makes on a morning timer. It beeps when it’s done.
I get my cup of coffee then slug my way up to the top of the stairs where the sun always peeks in our East facing hallway window, I sit on the second and third stair, always the warmest spot on a cool spring morning.
“Don’t you want to sit in a chair,” Andrew asks me.
“Nah, the carpet is ‘plush,’” I tell him, an inside joke from the first days of our marriage in which he tried to convince me to sleep on the floor the night before taking my bar exam. I’m low maintenance, but let’s get serious. I type a blog post while sunning myself on the stair.
As routine and normal as this morning seems, it is anything but routine. I am a ghost in my own life - just visiting somewhere I used to be, someone I used to be. And, if you look down these stairs, you’ll see a catastrophe boxes, items being sorted between boxes, furniture slid around into strange places, big empty squares between indents in the rug where furniture used to be but is no longer. Everything is in upheaval.
I drain my coffee mug and pad downstairs for a second cup. This is where I find Andrew, toting his own cup of coffee and the 2014 Yoga Cats Calendar I threw away last night.
“What are you doing with that?” I ask. Seriously, how are we ever going to get this joint cleaned up if he keeps fishing things out of the garbage.
“What? It’s the Yoga Cats Calendar.”
“I know what it is. What are you doing? I threw it away last night! You fished it out of the garbage?”
"I didn't fish it out, it fell!" He turns to thumbing through the pages while he sips coffee out of the cat mug I know will be included in the box designated to “keep”. God forbid we give that cup away. Andrew had a breakdown when I put the chipped, plain-blue-$1.00-when-new mug into the Goodwill box.
“…but think of all the coffee I’ve drank from that mug!” He complains as he rescues the blue mug. I’m not going to say tears welled at the edge of his eyes because that may completely unwind the tough, seagoing pirate character he’s going for, but…tears welled at the edge of his eyes.
“Really?” I say, as I creep toward the cup to retrieve it and place it back into the box.
Captain Andrew has been this way for as long as I’ve known him. He imbues memories and emotions into the simplest of objects - usually, only the simplest of objects. He can take or leave that crystal vase from your great, great, great, great grandmother’s London Manner, but still in his possession are two pairs of JNCO jeans from junior high with burn holes in all the legs because he bought them with newspaper route money and remembers the first Chemistry class that made him want to be a Chemical Engineer. It’s charming (and to my benefit, as it seems unlikely he will ever toss me) at least until he fishes the Yoga Cats calendar out of the garbage while I’m trying to empty the house.
A few days later, we pile the mattress I slept so well in, “the Old Hippie Mattress” aka the Guest Bed, a third mattress shaped like a pizza (Sonrisa’s old mattress), a pink arm chair, a rubber raft, three wooden oars, a Christmas tree, a giant ply board, and my Great Grandmothers/Grandmothers/Mothers/My Harvest Gold Couch on the front stoop for bulk garbage pickup. “Thanks for all your hard work, Gold Couch!”
“Yeah, right Lady.” It says as I start walking away. “You are sending me to my death. Thanks for nothing!”
I ignore this, because couches don’t really talk. But, then I return because I can’t leave the Gold Couch with the last word. “I saved you at least three times. My mother was going to get rid of you years ago.”
“Humph.” It says.
The next morning, Andrew runs to watch as soon as he hears the Garbage Truck rumble up the street. “Wahow! Come check this out!” I scurry over to see what has impressed him so, only to find the Gold Couch being chomped to bits by a mobile, industrial-sized, wood chipper.
I gasp, then wail….”Oooohhhhhhhhhh! I DID NOT NEED TO SEE THAT!” I hide my face in my hands and hyperventilate. “I put a family member in the wood chipper!
We sold our collection of normal-people couches to the niece of a good friend. The morning before they arrived to pick up the couches, we ceremoniously enjoyed our “last cup of coffee on the couch” while we waited for their arrival. Andrew and I held each other side by side as we watched them drive down the street, like we were attending a friend’s funeral.
“Is this normal? “Are normal people like this?” I ask as I boob about one thing or another that’s going into the sell/giveaway pile. I carefully label a box containing the only Buddha I own, due to a superstition about the misplacement of Buddha figurines leftover from my childhood - when my parents left behind the cement Buddha they picked up in San Francisco on their honeymoon only for our family to be subject to a series of unfortunate events. Our luck improved only once my little sister and I returned to our old house to retrieve said Buddha.
For each object that represented a memory between Andrew and I (which is literally every object we own), I would chant: “I love the husband, not the object, I love the husband, not the object” as I tossed the thing into the give away pile. My mantra helped, but it did not cure me of the suffering.
As I sniveled about this process on social media, other friends sent notes of encouragement: “Things are just things! Sell it all! Don’t box anything up!” One sailor sends me a TedX link to a speech about the process of “Bless and Release”.
“Thank you for your hard work, Thingy. Now go into the wild and bless someone new!” This only gave me a pit of guilt in my stomach for all the Thingies I am packing into boxes. “This isn’t going to help anyone here in this box.” But, I won’t let go.
(Yes, I'm aware Future-Leslie will cuss Leslie-Now for labeling these boxes in such a half-assed manner.)
We develop a categorical designation for “keeps”: (1) Photo albums; (2) Christmas Ornaments; (3) Gifts from other people we love; and (4) Kitchen Widgets.
Who knew that packing and emptying your house is so rooted in your self-identity for the future. As I analyzed my collection of books, I realize I'm not judging the value of the books themselves but thoughts we pondered years ago. I’m hanging on to the landmarks on the path to whom we are today. The whole thing is rooted in my desire to inoculate ourselves from the loosening of our history when senility hits. Furthermore, the Oddgodfreys are notoriously cheap! We can’t imagine re-buying all of the things we acquired over our first lifetime; how painful that would be. As we analyze the kitchen gadgets, we try to predict the future. What kind of kitchen does the Oddgodfreys-of-the-Future keep?
We twirl into a dither. If you have any hope of maintaining sanity, you cannot make the decision between keeping or tossing a stainless steel William Sonoma garlic press your grandmother gave you years ago into a symbolic decision about your self-identity of the past or future. Just don’t do it.
I’ve always known clutter creates weight and distraction, but I didn’t realize that Things You Love also weigh you down. In fact, they help root you in place. It’s far more difficult to exist as a freedom seeking nomad while carrying your Great Grandmother’s baby cradle. Over and over again, this trip is a process of yanking up my own roots and shaking off well packed soil. I imagine the purpose is to stretch my roots to farther reaches of my own existence, but in the meantime I feel untethered. Let’s hope I’m more like a Bromeliad than The Old Oak Tree.
Soon the house is devoid of all furniture except two folding chairs, the reupholstered arm chair AKA The Gold Couch’s Sister, and The Love-Table. “Should we give away the Love-Table?” I ask Andrew.
The Love-Table is a small garden table we tiled with an Italian themed mosaic on our first Valentines Date together. The Oddgodfreys and The Love-Table go way back. Andrew looks at me with horror in his eyes. “Yeah,” I say. “The Love-Table has to be like our relationship’s Buddha. If the Love-Table goes, the whole thing will probably fall apart.” I said this tongue in cheek, but Andrew immediately ran to find packing materials to put it away. I sigh as I hoist the thing into it’s own box, and then worry. I should not have tied the success of my marriage to the survival of the Love-Table; I regret making that joke.