I am a creature comforted by things.
My house is a sea of clutter. Piles of papers riddled with old bills and university assignments. Shelves with dog-eared books and trinkets that have travelled the seven seas. Cupboards that don’t close from excess clothes and linen, some new and many pre-loved but all living with stories. Beds with a shoe shop renting the space underneath. Boxes and boxes filled with half-finished projects and dreams that I refuse to give up on.
These things make my heart beat faster, all strung together with loose threads of memories and bold acts of life that make it difficult to part with them.
I am attached to the memories they hold.
There’s a fear I have that letting go of them will mean letting go of the memories themselves; or worse, perhaps, letting go of a part of me, or a part of somewhere or someone else.
It’s an illogical fear, tangled up in the mess pile of things and memories.
Like the box that once lived up in my cupboard, tucked deep up the back, on the highest shelf, collecting dust on its once pristine, shimmery purple lid. Enclosed within, pain and love and a buried reminder of one of my used-up nine lives, the memories and things so couped up and stifled that any stirring of the lid made them lurch forward, stirring up a familiarity, a memory and a heartache that I couldn’t live without.
A wedding ring, engraved with names and dates. A silver love heart ring, a gift from the Motherland. A dried up bouquet of dead flowers. A garter. Cards from loved ones filled with well wishes for a forever life, together. Photos, old ones, ones that appeared on the surface to be filled with love. Baby items. Small notes. Ticket stubs. Love letters.
These things told a story, my story. A story that I thought shaped me, broke me, tangled me, defined me. A box, things, stories and memories that I feared would erase a part of myself I had grown so painfully attached to, should I have chosen to let go of it all. For years I chose not to. I held onto that box. I picked at the scabs. I let the story be told over and over again, every time I opened the lid to see the stuff that lived there, still too blind to see that the story no longer served me, that it was actually no longer my story.
But on particularly murky day in February, I took out the ladder, climbed up to the top shelf and pulled down the box. In the ceremonious manner in which I had previously engaged with the box, I laid it down on the bed carefully, dusting off its lid and opening it with shaky hands.
I scattered the photos and cards across the bed, reading words that really no longer meant anything, staring at faces that I really no longer recognised. The bouquet of flowers looked deader and dustier.
I took the rings out and slid them across the fourth finger with the vein that led to my heart. The rings looked odd. The shape of my fingers and hands had changed. I had changed.
I looked at these pile of things, dull and aching and useless; they were memories, big memories of a life of once lived, but they drudged up a past that no longer fit my story. Before I could think too much, connect too much with that old part of me, or find new ways to make the story still mine, I took the rings, placed them in a small ziplock bag and put them in my handbag. I threw the flowers in the bin, emptied the photos from the box, keeping only a few for my son, and gently ripped up the cards. The box followed the flowers into the bin with any leftover memories they no longer served me.
I felt the immediate sting of its absence, the ripping of the bandaid, but I let myself grieve for the loss, for the letting go of expectations of how I thought life should have been. Something I had never fully addressed.
The following morning, I made my way to Cash Converters in Sunshine. A small Persian man with a warm face and intensely dark eyes was waiting for me at the selling counter. I took the rings from the ziplock bag and silently slid them across the counter.
“You wish to sell these?” He smiled.
He turned the silver rings in his fingers, multiple times. It made me nervous, like a robber trying to palm off items that didn’t belong to me. He stopped turning when he noticed the inscription on the inside of the bands. “Wedding rings? These names yours?”
I nodded again.
“Are you sure you want to sell these? You don’t get much for silver these days. They might be worth keeping?”
I shook my head.
He smiled at me politely, his eyes questioning, and took out his calculator and scales.
I watched as he weighed and calculated, disappeared into the backroom and then weighed and calculated once more before scribbling some figures on a paper and sliding it across the bench at me. “As I said, it’s not much,” he warned.
$43.00 was scribbled across the page. These memories I had held onto for so long were worth forty-three dollars. I could feel the man watching me, waiting for me to change my mind. I fingered the rings one last time and slid them and the paper back across the bench, nodding.
The man handed me a pen. “I just need your signature here.”
I signed the paper and waited for the money.
The man placed it in my hand, holding it there for a moment. I avoided his eyes, but could not avoid his words: “It’s not always easy getting rid of these things.”
I thanked him and left.
Five days later, I took the forty-three dollars of memories to a tattoo parlour where I had these words of Frida Kahlo inked on my thigh.
Nothing is absolute. Everything does change.
When I got home, I realised that my house was full of things that no longer served me – letters from old lovers, baby clothes stored away for the next baby I’ll never have and photos of a life that was. These things were never absolute. Everything had changed.
I had all I needed inside of me, not in these things.
Two thousand and fourteen was a year for letting go the things that no longer served and trusting the change. And while I don’t yet have it all figured out, there’s one thing I did learn this year: like many other of life’s lessons, letting go doesn’t come when you ask it to, it comes when you’re ready.