Cleaning Out My Closet (September 25, 2012)

“You’ve got your ex-husband’s bathrobe hanging on the door, the pajamas, shoes and books of another estranged boyfriend and an office chair donated by yet another former lover. Why are you holding onto all of this stuff?”

Such was the incisive observation and inquisition from my main squeeze, the man who is beginning to help me put away years of frustrated hopes, rejection, pain and sorrow in an inability to foster a requited love relationship of equals. It wasn’t until he drew attention to the discarded elements that represent a lifetime of romantic missteps that I finally stopped to ask myself, “How are these mementos, these vestiges of the past serving me in the present?”

The answer, in large degree, is that they are not. Beyond creating environmental discomfort for my current partner when he visits my apartment, I’m not sure the retention of these keepsakes accomplishes much more than laying building blocks of painful memory over which I stumble. My ex-husband’s bathrobe, while large and comfortable, has a habit of leaving magenta colored lint on everything with which it comes into contact. Much like the character of the man who once wore it, I can’t move about freely for fear of inciting a messy riot which no lint brush seems to be able to contain.

The aforementioned office chair was a thoughtful gift given to me by a gentleman I dated last year. He said that his own body hurt while watching me strain to type at the soda fountain kitchen table, seated atop a backless bar stool. Somehow he procured a supported office chair that can be adjusted to reach the height of my monitor. While this utilitarian item was much appreciated, it clashes greatly with my studio’s aesthetic and there’s been ample time to search for a replacement. I just haven’t, I realized, because I am reluctant to discard tangible evidence that my spinal well-being actually mattered to someone.

As for those pajamas, shoes and books left in the wake of my last relationship: I’ve hidden them in the recesses of my closet for the better part of five months, preserving them like fossils from an archaeological dig. I deluded myself that the bond which formed with so much promise even as it ended in disillusionment was strong enough to yield an eventual friendship. It’s not the first, nor probably the last time I overestimated my necessity to another’s equanimity. Having confronted the reality that he and I will never again occupy places in the same social sphere, it is time to gather and return.

It seems somehow appropriate that when I restore these belongings to my former companion, I will be receiving precious little in return: two bottles of shampoo and conditioner and an extra set of housekeys. I never allowed myself to invest in setting up house at his place the way he did in mine. This appears to be a pattern. When the union blows up and after the dust settles, I escape with the essentials in my purse, never having to worry about a painful return to the scene. Swoop in, don’t get comfortable, swoop out. Post-divorce, this has been a strategy for avoiding the kind of hurt you can only experience when forced to pack up and move out with only half a life in boxes.

It may be indicative of the transition I am currently undergoing that should my current relationship fail, I will need a lot more than a purse to remove the accumulated personal items I’ve felt comfortable enough to leave at his place. I am more invested than a spare toothbrush. It is both exciting and terrifying to let go and just enjoy the fall. But I realize this week, as I set about repackaging the remnants of affairs past and returning them to their rightful owners, this form of spring cleaning creates new space, figuratively and literally, for a cleaner and less haunted future.


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