Tonight I did I couple of things designed to help me break my computer habit. I threw out the laptop table that rolled up to my chair. I tossed a set of TV Trays that we've kept around, "just in case" and tomorrow I'm taking my laptop to work, locking it to it's dock and leaving it there. Hopefully permanently.
As I take stock of my life and try to get it in order, I am working on habits: exercising, eating, hiding. But about my material items? Why the emotional attachment to THINGS? It's stupid, to care about having something in my house to look at because "it means something to me".
What it means is I'm not ready to let go of the past. What it means is I'm not ready to move on. What it means is there's something there, something hurting, something inside that still needs work. For me, it's two items from my pre-marriage life. Two things that I brought into this marriage that are just things. But they are things that if I let them go, might help me let go.
The first item is a pressed wood chest of drawers. It's about four foot high, has four drawers on the left and a small closet on the right, just right to hang up a pair of pants or maybe kids clothes. I got it when I was probably eight or nine (if my math is wrong and that age is incorrect, forgive me). It was given to me, probably for birthday or Christmas, from one of my step-fathers. The one that stayed around the longest and the only one who acted like a father to me, even for a brief period. I'm not saying he was a good man, or treated my mother and my siblings and I right, but he is the only man I ever remember calling, "Dad". There were alot of things around that time I remember, the boat we took on the lake that I couldn't steer, my race car track stapled to a 6x4 piece of plywood that I couldn't play with without supervision, my RC car that I couldn't play with unless he was home and "helping". But the one thing I remember was this chest of drawers in my room that I could do anything with I wanted. Socks in one drawer, GI Joe in another? Sure. Put my brother in the closet and hold him in? Of course!
This thing is falling apart. I've re-glued a couple of drawer fronts back on a couple of times and there are alot of extra nails keeping it upright but still, I've hauled it from Hamlin to Abilene to Austin to Oklahoma to Wichita to Burkburnett to Iowa Park to Abilene to Utah to Hamlin to Anson to Florida. And here it sits, in a corner of the dining room, with some CD's on top, Tupperware in the drawers, just bits and bobs. My wife has asked me to throw it out a dozen times because it's literally falling apart, it's scratched, doesn't go with anything, and is taking up space. Every time I say "No, it's the only thing I have left from..."
Who cares if it's the last thing left from that broken marriage? Who cares if it's the only thing I have left from my childhood that wasn't lost in the fire or stolen by roommates or pawned for beer money? What does it matter that I'm crying as I think about throwing out a piece of WOOD? I don't keep this chest for a purpose, I don't refuse to get rid of it because I need it. I keep it because it needs me.
Now hold on, I'm not suggesting this chest is a sentient being, it doesn't have feelings or talk to me when no one is around. What I'm saying is there is no redeeming quality about it other than what it USED to be. It used to be the focal point of my bedroom. Twin bed on either side of the room, chest in the middle, trophies on top. It was awesome. But once I grew up, once my Mom started having to be Dad too, the usefulness started declining. My clothes outgrew the chest, a single pair of my size 15 shoes wouldn't fit in a drawer. Why keep it? Surely I've outgrown it. But has it outgrown me?
Now days you can go to Walmart or IKEA and pick up a dresser or chest for $50, put it together in an hour and your house can look like a magazine. But never again can you get something that someone you loved built by hand. And even that may be my mind playing tricks on me, maybe my stepfather got it at a garage sale or he got it at the store, I dunno. What I like about this thing is what I mean to it. As long as I keep it around, it will serve a purpose. As long as I keep it around, no one will hurt it, break it, burn it, crush it. I'll probably throw it out next time we move out of frustration and regret it later.
NOW - the second item, if you're still awake, is a brass trunk with buckles and lock, it's cedar lined and in pretty bad shape. There's a dent in one side and the top is rusted like crazy. But it's mine.
Back in 1999 I was living in Abilene with a roommate, an older guy who was actually my boss at the prison. We were both from Hamlin and had been commuting to work together daily then decided that moving closer and into a townhouse was cheaper.
The day I arrived to move in was pretty weird. I had never lived with anyone but family before so I didn't know what to expect. But it was pretty cool. My roommate helped me unload my pickup and upstairs we went. I brought a weight bench, a couch that doubled as my bed, the aforementioned chest, a TV and a PlayStation so I was sitting pretty, let me tell you.
What was awkward was having to move the TV and PS off the weight bench every time you wanted to work out. I mentioned this to my roommate and he snapped his fingers and went into the storage closet out on the patio, coming back, lugging this huge box. It was light but sturdy, he stood on it to prove it's worth and up it went. I really didn't think about it alot from then on, it was just an entertainment center to me.
A year later the lease is up and he decides the town home is too expensive and wants to move to a conventional three bedroom apartment because he's just won full custody of his son. I quickly do some math and decide I don't want to live with a 10 year old that suffers from ADHD and what I can only describe as Dissociative identity disorder. The times he's visited were some of the most traumatic of my life, alternating bouts of screaming, laughing, crying, often followed by violent fits of rage that scared me to death. When I learned this child was moving in, I moved out.
I got an apartment in the same complex, because we still worked the same shift and drove the 10 miles to work together, plus it was pretty cake being a sergeant's best friend, I got all the good jobs in Central Command and the pickets, even towers once in a while. When I moved out, I grabbed everything and put it in my truck and was about to drive to the new place when he told me I forgot something and went and grabbed the trunk. I tried to demur but he insisted; claimed it was a going away present.
All in all it served it's purpose pretty well, holding TV's of varying size and shape for 10+ years, thru roommates kicking it, televisions being broken with 2x4's, fire extinguishers and untold numbers of drinks spilled on it. I've kept everything from books to clothes to games to food in it with no concern for the safety of the contents. Right now my wife's punch bowl is in it, something she would kill me over if it were to break and I'm not in the slightest bit worried about it.
But why keep it and why write this story about it? Because it too has been on the chopping block every time we moved, only to have found room and kept because one of us needs the other. After I quit working at the prison in 2000 (or was forced out, depending on who you ask), I moved to Austin and never saw or spoke to my former roommate the sergeant again. Before I had a chance to reunite I got a phone call that he had been murdered in his apartment, by his new roommate, with a hammer, with his son in the other room.
Now I don't know if that hit you like it did me but I felt deflated, and guilty. I've never know anyone that was involved in anything more serious than a fistfight or car wreck, I certainly hadn't know anyone to be murdered (there was one friend who committed suicide but that's another story). What if I hadn't moved? What if I was there with him instead? When I got the news, my eyes were immediately drawn to the brass trunk with it's broken lock. A box, that stored junk, that stored memories.
This guy wasn't in my life very long but made a huge impact on my life. I learned so much about growing up, about being a man, about doing what's right. His death is something that I think about every time I see this box. It serves as an end table for me now and every time I set my phone on it, I see my friend's face and remember. It's not worth anything in the shape it's in; if I put up pictures you would laugh but it's priceless to me.
I've never told anyone these stories, about why I keep these items, I don't think I've ever told myself these stories. I should go to therapy because there's probably a connection between the two most influential male figures in my life and a couple of storage items, along with my refusal to let them go.
Do I hold on to them out of nostalgia, out of respect, out of loneliness? Is there a difference? Is it my fault these men are no longer in my life? Are these things, the last two pieces of furniture from my pre-wedding life, the link to my past, to my memories or do they hold something more important? I like to think they do.
Some things cannot be bought
Some things cannot be taught
Some things cannot be forgot
Some things should not be sought
Some things will be thought
All things will be naught.