It’s easy to accumulate stuff. My entire life is hoarded into my parents’ basement, decades of school papers and random collections, along with billions of photos from the pre-digital era. I think about all this now because I finally bought a house big enough to take the masses with me, and truth be told, I don’t want to. And while I’m more than slightly ashamed at my hypocrisy – using their space as rent-free storage, but not wanting to muck up my own house – I’m also proud for forcing myself to finally face the piles.
Going through the heaps had been easy to put off, and it had been just as simple to dump in. Unsure what to do with this medal or that blanket? I don’t really want more stuff, but I couldn’t fathom tossing them, and so they were relegated to existence as portals to other places and times. I hold the signed marathon t-shirt and see my aunt who, despite terminal illness, showed up to cheer me on waving a huge smiley face sign. I read old love letters, wondering how I let all the good ones slip away, a montage of faces and voices playing in my mind. I found my necklace, and I am a third grader, trading the plastic potty charm for the mini skateboard. Every life moment continues breathing because it takes tangible form.
And then Autumn wakes up, and I’m snapped from my reveries. I wish she’d sleep longer, so I could just get through all the stuff that’s been the bane of my brother’s existence. He always asked:
“When are you going to go through all your junk in the basement?”
After a while his continued interrogation over the years was comedic, as if the day would come when I’d willingly part with my collections of fancy erasers or bobble heads. He was a smart guy, but always with the inane question. He is one of few who has known me my entire life, and understands all too well my unhealthy yearning to stay a child, thereby avoiding mortality for myself and those I love. It is a concept I came up with when I was four, experiencing an anxiety attack in the middle of the night. I was afraid of death and ran to my parents’ room where I began shaking uncontrollably. I asked my mom:
“How can people live, knowing they’re going to die?”
She told me they don’t think about it, which didn’t work for me, and so I came up with a plan based on the naive assumptions that people die when they’re old and that we have some control over our destiny. Somehow I convinced myself that if I didn’t move forward – commit to a job or person or other adult responsibilities – and my siblings did the same – we’d all be immortal. Of course, it doesn’t work that way – especially because my sister wasn’t aware of my idea and turned my parents into grandparents, which obviously wasn’t supposed to happen because we all know grandparents die.
I agree it sounds silly, but also not, because part of living is avoiding death. We put on our seat belt and eat healthy food, practice yoga and see doctors. But there also comes a time when avoiding death takes over living, and it’s then time to face reality.
Autumn had been up for a while when I got her from her crib. It was my spring break, and she was scheduled to go to daycare so I could get stuff done. Justifying sending her when not working, I told my mom:
“I have so much to do – clean out the basement, unpack all my boxes, get the new place ready. I just need the time.”
And as I flipped through my millionth photo album, looking at pictures of people whose names I once knew, it just didn’t make sense. None of it.
Keeping all this stuff doesn’t keep the day, and throwing it away, doesn’t toss it from my memory. And also, why waste time going through things that only represent people when I have the opportunity to be with real humans? One in particular, who is only one once.
So I emailed Autumn’s teachers, and said she’s playing hooky, because a few more hours of the stuff in the basement gathering dust won’t make a difference, but a few more hours with my baby will. And I vowed to myself that in the future, I’d spend more time holding on to people than things.