Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Friday, May 02, 2008

Patient Belongings

I’m going to come back.

That was always the thought. I’m going to come back and get this stuff. Or, perhaps, I’m going to come back to this life. At this point, fifteen years distant from the thinking, I can’t with any certainty say exactly which was the thought. In truth, I’m not sure I knew which at the time, or even if I was thinking of the difference. There was just the thought – I’m going to come back.

And I did.

When I left State College in the Summer of ’92 to move back in with my parents and deal with the accumulating effects of my father’s strokes, I packed the contents of my apartment (hereafter referred to as “my stuff”) into a storage locker at Stowaway, Inc. and came here with some clothes and… well, I don’t really recall what else. I was going to deal with things head-on, as that seemed the only way to stop the constant barrage of blind-siding impacts as one thing or another demanded my attention. I was not going to get completely absorbed in this business. I wasn’t changing my destination; I was just pulling off onto a siding for a little while to avoid a head-on collision with the onrush of things with my parents; after all that had passed, I was going to roll back onto the tracks and continue on my way.

Yeah, right.

That’s not what happened. Never mind what I was or was not going to do. What did happen? Well, I didn’t collide; I didn’t pull off onto a siding, either; I derailed. Yeah – totally off-track, off the rails, rolling down the hillside to finally come to rest among the broken trees and tangled brush at the bottom, friction-polished wheels turned shining to the sky.

And I stayed. I was, of course, completely absorbed in this business. I dealt with what demanded to be dealt with. (Did it actually need to be dealt with? Further, did it need to be dealt with by me? Let’s turn that particular train of thought right back into the roundhouse. The whole concept of discerning – or even defining, much less meeting – these things called “needs” was always a very foggy one in my family. Let it suffice to say that there were demands, and I met them.) I dealt with my father’s health as it slid into a steeper decline. I dealt with his dying, and I dealt with burying him. I dealt with what would in retrospect reveal itself as the overture to my mother’s decade-long symphony of diminishing health and increasing demand. I dealt with my mother’s uncle’s death, and some off the massive mess he left behind. I dealt with my grandmother’s death, when it finally came after lingering at the door for half a dozen years. It’s tempting to say that I dealt with pretty much everything except my own needs; it’s tempting because it’s not entirely untrue. Oh, I dealt with doing what was necessary for me to survive during these years; I met the demands of my continued existence . I did not, however, do much, if anything, to actually answer my needs. Hell, I wasn’t listening to or evening acknowledging those needs – how could I possibly do anything about meeting them? I stayed, I did what demanded to be done, and it did not take long for those up-turned wheels to dull and seize with rust or for the swath of torn-up trees and bushes to fill in with new growth and vanish while the unused tracks above blurred beneath intruding grasses until there was no sign of where that wreckage at the foot of the hill might have come from nor the scar of its passing.

The only link other than memory to connect that overgrown wreckage with the rails above was the single baggage car, uncoupled before the rest went off the rails and left in storage back a ways along the line.

I know it’s just projection to imagine that after a while my stuff felt I’d abandoned it. Don’t know how I could see it any other way, though, given that I myself felt thoroughly abandoned by pretty much everything. Is it anything other than natural that the stuff in storage should end up saddled with a sort of totemic significance? Anything other than reclamation meant defeat. The thought remained: I’m going to come back. Foolish or not, that remained my sole intention.

I’m well aware – far too well aware – that at some point along the line this determination passed out of the lands of Reasonable, traveled all the way through the territories of Questionable and entered into the wilds of Ridiculous. I don’t need to actually do the math to concede that there’s every likelihood I’ve paid out more in rent for that storage locker over the years than the total cost of everything stored in it. That’s not what this is about. That was never what this was about.

There were times when I was asked to defend the consistency of my determination. Forgive me, but I still cannot see such a request as anything other than an insult. For all its faults, I’m grateful to this stubborn little hobgoblin for perching on my shoulder and affirming my doggedness.

Because I did come back.

This past Tuesday, 29 April, I came back with a rented U-Haul truck and emptied that storage locker. It was not the first time I’d opened the locker in that time: there’d been a small dipping attempt a few years back, when I’d retrieved some books, some CDs, my computer desk and some few other things, mostly whatever was right at hand and safe to transport in my pickup. But this was It: this was the clear-it-out, salt the earth and move on transition. When I pulled down the U-Haul truck door on this one and latched it with the padlock I’d taken off the storage locker, I was supposed to take my obdurate little hobgoblin and give him a true honest hug and perhaps a sorrowed kiss before grinding him under my heel and leaving him to the crows.

Let’s not mistake this for a cleanly joyful reunion, okay?

For one thing, I’m touching my stuff for the first time in fifteen years. Fifteen fucking years. That’s more than a third of my life. (And it feels like it's more than half.) Each thing I took out of that locker was heavy with regret, weighted by years of missed chances and lost opportunities. The dust that coated it all might just as well have been an early sprinkling of dirt on my grave. The thought had always been I’m going to come back. Now, the thought was It was never supposed to be this way.

I’m going to come back. Never was this thought more stabbingly clear than it was in the moment of stark terror when I pulled out a box labeled “Kitchen – Food.” I’m going to come back. That was the thought, remember? I wasn’t putting this stuff into storage. I was going to come back. Years. It was not supposed to be this way. Fifteen years. It was never supposed to be this way. Apart from some canned goods and a package of dried apricots that’s best not considered at length, this particular stab wasn’t as gruesome as it might’ve been. Pasta, some rice, a couple of packs of five-for-a-dollar Ramen Noodles and a few boxes Jiffy cornbread mix. Lots of tea bags. And – in a different box – some booze: maybe half a bottle of Bacardi 151, less than half in the Yukon Jack, an unopened (?!?) big 1.75 litre plastic bottle of Seagram’s 7 and two bottles of red wine, also unopened. (I’m curious about the wine; it’s a 1987 vintage; not ideal storage conditions, by far, but still…) There’s much – so much – yet to open, so I may well find more frightening things. None of this was put away with any thought that it would sit there the way it has. It was never supposed to be this way. I was going to come back.

Some write-offs have already gone out in this morning’s trash. There is a lot more to go through and a lot more to go out in the trash. The first floor of my house smells mighty damn musty and, frankly, looks like the inside of a storage locker. This is not a cleanly joyful reunion.

Still, this evening I listened to a particular CD for the first time since 1992. (Yes, I unpacked a box labeled CDs almost immediately. Yes, I know I’m pathetic.) I finally have the measurements of a piece of furniture I’m determined to have in my home. (Hell, I have the actual piece of furniture, albeit in pieces.) I have a glass bear bank containing several hundred pennies (all from 1992 or before). And somewhere in all this stuff should be a hat rack on which I used to hang my hat. (There’s some cool image in there, I’m certain, but I’m not quite up to teasing it out just now.) And at least as significantly, I don’t have anything in storage half-way across the state. For good or ill – and I am not at this moment wholly certain about assigning the proportions of either – one of the last concrete ties connecting me to those years of my life has been unknotted. I fought for years to keep it from being cut.

So now I’m left with two loose ends.

And enough rope to hang myself.


Blogger Andrew said...

Greg, the CDs would be the very first box I opened also. I don't think it's pathetic. It's a piece of the past you can easily pick up (or some such metaphor). I probably would have hit the Yukon Jack second because I, personally, haven't tasted it since around 1992.

Question. Is the stuff in the locker in some way represents that stand-still you've been in at the side of the tracks, so to speak? If so, is dealing with it at least a sign of movement forward, not in the direction you planned in 1992, but at least in a direction of your own choosing?

12:04 PM  
Blogger christianready said...

I'd suggest that the phrase "it wasn't supposed to be this way" is one that all of us have uttered at this point and in others as well in our lives. And yet, there we are, on our journey in life and heading down our respective roads. Perhaps the question is, where is this road headed and if you don't like it, which direction would you like to go instead?

I don't think it's pathetic. I agree with Andrew. If anything, it sounds like you've taken quite a step.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Rob S. said...

I woulda gone right for the CDs, too. Now, boiling up the Ramen? THAT would've been pathetic. (Scientifically interesting, perhaps.)

Congratulations on the Big Retrieve. Good luck with the sorting. And enjoy your beautiful downtown bear bank.

How is it that you had the actual piece of furniture in hour house, but had its measurements in storage?

11:02 AM  
Blogger Greg! said...

Oh, I guess that could be a little unclear.
The pieces were all in storage, and had their measurements with them.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

Of course the CD's that's the least pathetic, most life affirming thing ya coulda done. Music connects us to important moments in our lives. Don't believe me, just watch Diner or Hi-Fidelity (OK, that's me being pathetic, using glib film references to push trite but truisms).

Anyway, I hope you still have that rykodisc sample disc that you dubbed some tracks for me back in, I think 1990 when I dropped in on you in State College shortly before I spent more than a third of my life (and counting) ex-patria. It had the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic doing the Rocky and Bullwinkle theme. (I think the sucker's long out of print, worth hangin' onto).

Don't worry about those loose ends, it's what you're left with when you cut those Gordian knots.

(Color of the label: Maroon....)

7:46 PM  
Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home