I’ve written much of my efforts to rid stuff from my life. This has involved selling my CDs, unloading 2/3rds of my books, abandoning a substantial comic book collection on a Philly sidewalk and tossing out countless items ranging from furniture to tiny knickknacks and other ephemera.
Though I’ve rigorously worked to unburden myself, there have been limits to my ruthlessness. I haven’t abandoned everything. I’ve held on to a smattering of items, some for practical purposes, some because they function as a surrogate for my memory and, yes, even some for sentimental reasons. It happens.
I hold on to clothes far longer than I should, I know this. That’s a fairly stereotypical male habit, and it’s for a stereotypical reason: I loathe shopping. Dread fills me every time I enter a store and see a salesperson bearing down on me. The fact that I’ve had to be that salesperson doesn’t change how I feel about it: If I need help, I’ll find you.
A girlfriend introduced me to the wonders of Off-Price Retailers. These brightly lit, garish labyrinths of bargains are an affront to the senses, but they do boast 1 very important perk: The workers don’t offer to help you. In fact, they mostly can’t be bothered to acknowledge your existence, even when you’re standing directly in front of them. It’s a lousy shopping experience, ideal for me. I spend half an hour digging through racks of poorly organized clothes and end up walking out with something other than what I had meant to buy. On a truly successful trip, the only words I will have spoken during the whole ordeal are “Thank you” when the cashier says “Have a nice day.”
In 1 such retailer in San Francisco, I discovered an item that has remained with me ever since: A faux-leather jacket with white piping down the sleeves. Beaten and torn through years of wear and travel, I refuse to part with it. I’ve bought other jackets in the 7 years since, but she remains my main bitch.
My less practical mementos serve to mark the passage of time or to serve as reminders of a period long gone. To this end, I’ve held on to almost every note that’s ever been written to me, whether they were letters from a lover or just offhand missives from a friend.* As I work on my book, these epistles provide insight into my thoughts as well as those of the people who passed through my life. They are a reminder that love fades, friendships hold strong and people make a lot of grammatical errors when they’re emotional.
And then there are those items that have no actual use. Mostly, these include gifts from friends or family. To the chagrin of some girlfriends, I abhor receiving presents. Expressing gratefulness, even when it’s genuinely felt, is one of my greater shortcomings. I am one of the most awkward gift-receivers on earth, and I’d prefer it if you just didn’t bother.
The other reason I don’t like receiving gifts, though, is because I actually very much do appreciate the things people buy or make for me. I might appear to not care, but if you have given something to me – even in jest – odds are good that I’ve held onto it over the years. It’s cost me a pretty penny to ship these items across the country.
On my birthday in Philadelphia, my mother sent me an unnecessary birthday present just 2 weeks before I had to pack up all my possessions and mail it to California. The gift was a small mirror with a wide and fragile ceramic frame, crafted by an artist in my hometown. It’s certainly nothing I would ever ask for, and as far as a mirror goes it’s barely large enough for me to see my whole face in it. It’s incredibly impractical.
And every year since I received this gift, it is the first thing I put on my wall and the last thing I take off of it. Some years, it’s been the only piece of art that I put up. I love the thing, impracticality and all.
I’ve left a lot of people behind, many of whom I will never see in person again. That’s the way of life; nothing unique to my circumstances. In absence, I have done as much as possible to hold onto some fragment of their lives, their presence. Having these souvenirs has, every year as I packed my stuff yet again, provided a brief reminder of my friends from all across the country.
My mementos are a time capsule and they are worth every cent of extra postage I’ve had to pay to keep them.
And so it can be said: Lovers, co-workers, roommates, friends of all stripes, I have carried them with me.
*This is not just a habit from my project. I once received a random letter from a boy in Russia – an apparent attempt at initiating a pen pal – and though I never responded, I’ve always held onto that note.