Perhaps this history could begin with the Big Bang, but instead I’ll begin the day my mom left my dad, packing what would fit into her pale blue Volkswagen Beetle and heading to a new life.
If the object didn’t fit into that car, she didn’t take it with her. She didn’t come back for it. She didn’t ask for it to be sent. Of course, she didn’t have much to call her own anyway. The year was 1972.
As a child, I liked coming across her left behind things, and I could never bring myself to ask her if she wanted them because she might’ve said yes.
Then my dad married his second wife. She loved giving or throwing things away, things that weren’t hers in particular. I came home one day to find many of my things lined up in the carport. Not only things I didn’t play with anymore, but favorite toys too, the plush dog I slept with and the records I listened to.
She took back every gift she gave me for Christmases and birthdays. She took gifts other people gave me. She took and destroyed photographs I had of my mom and grandmother. I learned to hide things or to take them to my grandmother’s house to keep them safe. There was the Halloween I stole back my own belongings, hiding them in my trick-or-treat bag.
I finally went to live with my mom, which meant moving and not having too many things, but I did keep some items I treasured. Then, after a man tried to break into our place, however, my mom broke our lease, which she couldn’t have afforded to do. She said we had to sell things. I was told to pack my suitcase, and what didn’t fit, she’d try to sell. In the end, I had two suitcases, but I gave her things I’d once smuggled out in that trick-or-treat bag: my Flamenco doll with the red dress (a gift from a family friend), my toy Volkswagen Beetle, and my piano-shaped music box (a gift from my grandmother). I handed over other things as well, like the candle I’d bought with my lunch money at an art fair.
Eventually things changed, as they do, I went back to living with my dad and accumulating objects.
Until my mom’s death in 1989, she moved every year. It meant she never kept that much, only what she was truly willing to box up, carry, haul, and unbox. As I quoted before, she often said, “Do you own it or does it own you?” This question has probably helped me avoid being a hoarder, but I don’t really like getting rid of things.
When mom died, she had been in the process of moving again. I entered her apartment to find most everything already packed, which made it all easier to move into my bedroom at my dad’s, where it all stayed until 1996. If I could’ve, I’d have kept her apartment forever, just so I could still visit her things. Practicalities of money, time, and space kept me from being quite that mad.
There’s something oddly reassuring in saying goodbye to objects. In a way it feels ridiculous. In another way it feels like saying goodbye to parts of one’s self. This object mattered to me and something of me now resides within it.
Thanks for reading.