do you remember when, yeah, we used to sing...
Among the things I love to do is throw things away. If our huge garbage and recycling containers aren't overflowing each collection day, I feel we've failed. The sound of the garbage truck making it's squeaky, lumbering turn onto my cul-de-sac each Thursday morning has occasionally prompted me, Pavlov's dog-style, to scurry around my kitchen one final time to find some errant bag of fuzzy baby carrots or a carton of questionable cottage cheese. Somewhere in a landfill out there is a $100 Home Depot gift card we got when we purchased our Dyson (pause for appropriate muck sucking reverence) two years ago my Tool Man insists I tossed out in a fit of filth purging fancy, but to that I say nay. I am committed to clean, but I am not crazy. Tool Man misplaced that card and can't admit it, but that's a discussion for another day.
Today's topic is tossing things. Over the weekend, I began the long-term job of tackling our basement, that half-space of our house serving double duty as a hovel for our children and a catch-all for paperwork and other life items we have no other place for or that Tool Man refuses to toss out (I'm not talking to you, mysteriously lost, very worthy gift card, but I'm definitely talking to you, Marvin the Martian items too numerous and unnecessary to count). Opening the basement door is like unleashing a challenge deep within me. Amid the chaos, I stand beholden at the top of the stairs and envision the final scene of Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know the one. That infinite warehouse of mysterious and yet perfectly arranged crates lining the walls, forklifts silently whirring down aisles to tuck things like - in my dreams - toy dinosaurs and pirate ships back into their properly assigned places. Mmmm...give me a moment, won't you...
While I was toiling away in the depths Saturday, I collected a pile of newspaper clippings and photos my children have been featured in and some other assorted mementos of their childhoods to date that I keep in a large plastic container tucked away in the basement's lone storage closet. Also in that container are several packets of letters written to me over the years. Several years ago, in an even bigger cleaning flurry, I went through the container and tossed out stacks of letters I received from pen pals when I was in junior high because I assumed I'd obviously never have contact with them again (this was before I learned Facebook was the great uniter AND my brain allowed their last names to vanish)(so, hey, if your name is June and you're from Virginia, or you're a red-headed boy named Stephen from Scotland, hello!), and a few mundane notes from college friends I once felt compelled to keep but determined were clearly unnecessary.
Among wedding and birth announcements (some not necessarily in that order) and letters from my parents sent to me while I was away discovering everclear and determining what to do with my life are also a small handful of cards and notes Tool Man gave me while we were dating, and under those? Under those is a massive tome of rubber-banded memories from the man I dated through most of college and for three years after. The collection begins with his high school senior photo and the ticket stub for the first movie we saw together (Parenthood - nothing like a light-hearted comedy about family quirks and the love of children to not put any pressure on a guy you barely know but can envision having babies with one day) and ends shortly after the inclusion of two ticket stubs to U2's Zoo Station tour the last time they dared enter my state (which, it should be noted, were quite shockingly affordable, yet provoke the type of memories in me that make it difficult even to this day to listen to Achtung Baby with anyone else in the room or car with me) and is padded by letter after letter after countless letter. Our relationship dates back to the days before the internet, my friends. OK, that's not entirely true. There was the internet, but it was big and bulky and involved things like dot matrix printers, and this cowboy boyfriend and I were just two broke drifters who counted our pennies post-graduation so we could pay our rents and make long-distance phone calls to the other in between postal packages. Considering we were mailing each other letters every other day, you can fairly assume our telephone bills were massive. I don't think my savings account has recovered yet today from all the times I had to visit an ATM to steal money from myself to cover monthly expenses.
I've tried at least twice before to toss these letters. Perhaps more. I don't purposely ever wander downstairs to paw through this part of my past, but there are many tucked within that particular rubber-banded packet that I could almost recite by heart even though I've not seen this former love in nearly 17 years. There are many ink-smeared pages that include plans for the wedding we never had, the life together that was advertised as nothing short of amazing, and the children we one day hoped to raise. There are the letters sent to me after we broke up that include lines about figuring things out and hopes for my happiness. I can recite those, too, plus the letters I received filled with his heart break when he learned I was involved with Not Yet A Tool Man. Those envelopes are flimsy and thin and bent along the edges, and the quotes he wrote along the outer edges seem faded because I often carried them for weeks - sometimes months - in my bag or tucked away in the pages of a book, pulling them out often to re-read them.
The last letter I received from him was in 2003. In it, he told me he still had every letter I'd sent him, and in closing, told me he was marrying. That letter was one I only read once before I put it away among the others. Once, that is, until this past weekend, when I sat back against an old crib mattress and amid the chaos of Legos, old baby clothes, and this life, and snapped the rubber band off a part of my past. Here's a tip. If you have even the slightest hint of PMS, if you know you can't watch a 'Hallmark Presents' television movie because the commercials will slay you, if just the thought of puppies and kitties makes you weak and prone to say things like kitties rather than kittens, DO NOT read old love letters! Seriously. But if you do, come prepared. No half-assed box of tissue will likely do. Say what you will about time and space, but seriously, when you've given your heart to someone, I quite think that they retain ownership of that part of you even you don't end up sharing your days together.
So, by now you're perhaps wondering if, after reading these letters, after having the ugliest of ugly cries, if I finally tossed these old letteres away. Why, just think of the number of tissues that could be made from all that notebook paper! To the moon and back! The answer is no. As much as I love throwing things away, there's something about this bit of trash or treasure, depending on how one wants to look at it, that I can't seem to bring myself to cart up to the recycling bin. Maybe one day. Or perhaps 6,205 more. Silly, perhaps, but at my core, I'm a bit of a silly girl.
How about you? Any old love letters lurking around in your drawers? Or did you get rid of them? Ever regret it, or have you never given them a second thought after dumping used coffee grounds and perhaps the last of any fuzzy-skinned baby carrots atop them?