My mother stood with her hands on her hips and stared at the junk in the yard. Twenty-three years were laid out in front of her on a wonky grid of Disney sheets. "Remember when you used to wear my sweatpants and pretend you were Jasmin?" she asked me, pointing to a corner of the sheet where Aladdin and the Princess were shown snuggling on a flying tasseled rug.
"Do you remember when you used to grant me one wish, and I'd wish for more wishes?"
"You've always been such an enterprising child, even when it came to make-believe."
"I'm not a child anymore, you realize that, right?"
"Oh, you'll always be a child to me. My sweet baby. Always."She pulled me in and wrapped her arms around me. Her spindly frame felt as thin as paper. I secretly wanted her to age like all the other Southern women did, with emotional gristle and physical heft. Instead she grew softer and more slight. I wanted her to be a mountain, but she was a fistful of baby's breath.
What didn't sell in that morning's yard sale was scheduled to be hauled off by a moving van to the Salvation Army warehouse. We had less than 48 hours before we needed to turn over the keys to a woman in a pencil skirt who was responsible for selling it to someone else.
"I never imagined I'd leave like this," my mother said. "It's crazy to think of all the memories."
For the last two years, she had been the only one living in the house. I left for college, and eventually so did my sister and finally my brother. Slowly the modest-sized house, which was situated in the boonies between a swamp and a glue factory, transitioned from an over-crowded prison to a eerily quiet relic of our own past. Our childhood bedrooms became storage rooms for shit we couldn't find a place for in our new apartments. Things were starting to break in ways that my mother had to be far too clever to fix by herself. She rose to the challenge, but you could see the demands were chipping away at her inner light.
Their divorce had not come as a shock to us. In fact, we prayed for it, yearned for it, down on our knees begged for it. As years tumbled by, we couldn't understand why they kept choosing to wait and wait and wait to pull the chord on their marriage. My parents brought out the monsters in each other. I'm talking bottom of the barrel nastiness. Neither of them were bad people, but together, they were a terrifying and destructive force. They dug into each other with invisible claws that only the other could see. No one in the room could see what was happening, but they were tearing each other apart with single words, exchanged glances, one too many utterances of an inside thing.
Two memories come to mind. 1) My father asking why my mother never wore dresses. 2) My mother refusing to acknowledge my father walking into living room. She would train her eyes on the television, fix them militantly at the blue-tinted glare, never letting her gaze go astray. It was the quintessential cocktail of life stress and poor communication skills, which resulted in an angry him and a passive aggressive her. It still crushes me to think about what their dead bedroom situation probably looked like; I've never had the gall to ask. Five years? Ten years? More?
I snaked through the junk, and junk it certainly was, things I didn't even remember I owned surfaced, and suddenly I wanted it all back. I wanted to say How could you give this away? It all seemed so personal, like some pathetic museum of my childhood. Why would anyone want this stuff? But people did, dozens of people from town came and rummaged like rodents through all the things that used to be ours. But no longer were. They were vestiges of a life.
All of us undstood we had to move on, especially me but it didn't make it any easier. I'd binged on a marathon of Hoarders earlier that year and felt sickly averse to the notion of holding on to physical objects simply because they were linked to a memory. After watching nearly 20 episodes, you really are convinced that shit is the not answer, that acquiring it or holding on to it doesn't make you happy, or better, or more connected to what you lost. As it turns out, it can do the very opposite. So you purge, purge, purge until you are left with only what is necessary. Keep your tangible memories to a minimum, that's how you move through life with fluidity and grace. That's how.