Today I attacked the storage unit. I tore open the door to its cavernous interior, gazed upon its towering contents, then shut it again and was afraid. After a little personal pep talk: ‘Come on ya pansy. Man up,’ and other bullying comments from macho Steve, followed by ‘Hey! Don’t be so mean. This is hard stuff,’ from compassionate Steve, I reopened the door and tried again. Reminding myself to breathe, I stared hard at the contents. It was impenetrable – a wall of stuff. I continued to stare at the wall. I began to hyperventilate and so reminded myself not to breathe quite so much.
I think that a large part of my problem with this storage unit is that it forces me to look into the past, and much of my past, I’m not too excited to look at. I dug out a computer I have not turned on in 10 years. I really have no idea what’s on it. But it’s not excitement I have at the idea of finding out; rather, it’s a kind of dread. Not quite as strong as dread perhaps, more like foreboding. Firstly, I know that whatever it is, there will be stuff I don’t want to lose, and so must keep. That means more stuff. Admittedly digital stuff, so not taking up a lot of room stuff, but still, it’s stuff. There will be pictures on it of people who are no longer in my life, which always makes me feel a bit melancholy, though it won’t be a strong enough melancholia to stop me looking at them in the first place.
For me it’s always amazing looking at old photos; floods of memory come pouring back. Situations, places, people; mostly forgotten until triggered by the image. People forgotten – it’s sad to forget a person, but I do it. And I wonder, if not for the photo, would I have forgotten them forever?
Stuff does this for me too. It triggers memories, which is why I loathe to dispose of certain things. I found a wooden box in the storage unit today. It’s some kind of antique film processing unit. Big heavy wooden box with a lead-lined tumbler in the middle, and brass fittings; a beautiful thing. Dad had it restored and gave it to me for my 25th birthday. It’s utterly useless; it’s big and heavy, and it’s not really a display piece. It’s classic stuff to be got rid of. But the memory of my father that it released when I unburied it was priceless. And it’s just one of hundreds of items like that. I know that keeping stuff around just because it triggers memories of someone who’s gone is living in the past, and any shrink will tell you that living in the past is, mental health wise, a no no: it creates in one, a downer vibe. But to me, the memories of the man are all that is left of him, and some memories fade and disappear, forever it seems; and certain of the stuff can trigger memories so strong, that it’s as if for a split second he’s still here. Am I to throw that away?
I imagine what my father would say to this: ‘Forget me; find someone else to expend your energy on, someone living. Get rid of my old and dusty shit; bring new things into your life. Do not spend time dwelling on me, because if in death I am now part of some greater thing, I will do for you what I would whether or not you think of me. And if I am wholly gone; my spirit and my soul and the essence of my being gone; then dwelling on me will only waste your precious, limited life. And if it is that your dwelling be the only thing that keeps me in existence, then I do not want to remain in existence, sucking up your precious living moments, feeding like some ghostly vampire on the very thing that I gave life. Move on and find joy, and if in joy you then think of me again, let it be only thoughts of the joy we had together. Do not waste your life dwelling on me, remembering snippets of the day-to-day past that only serve to make you feel loss.’
One of the items I pulled out of the storage unit was a pair of tennis racquets. One was mine, and one was Dad’s. We used to play together often, and these were the racquets we used. Given that Dad’s been dead for 15 years, I’m guessing they were at least 20 years old. They were good racquets at the time, but they’re old. I decided to throw them out. It wasn’t an easy decision, not only because of the memories they hold, but also because of the needling feeling that I might be able to get some money for them if I stuck them on eBay. I decided not to waste my time given their age and the likelihood that I’d be lucky to get 50 bucks for them.
So I go to the tip, and I’m driving around chucking out little bits of stuff, and to minimise the risk of coming home with the shit instead of ditching it, I’m wanting to get this done as quickly as possible. Bear in mind this is a waste management facility, not just a big landfill, so I’m taking furniture to this bay, plastics to another, e-waste over there, etc. I drive up to the “Last Chance Hotel” as the dump scavenger’s shed is affectionately known, and when I get there, one of the workers comes over to check out the new booty. It seems that waste management staff can smell attachment in the same way that dogs can smell fear, and because he was a kind-hearted man, he tried to convince me to keep the tennis racquets. ‘Are you sure about this buddy? Have you thought this through? These look pretty darn good to me. You could get some money for these…’
Then there was the chair…not just any chair, but The Red Chair. The Red Chair once enjoyed a privileged position in the heart of one of my girlfriends: an important girlfriend: the most important girlfriend. She’s gone now. But her chair I kept: after she threw it out: after she replaced it with another chair; a new chair. She was brutal like that; never struggled with being attached to stuff, just chucked it out. It had been a favourite chair; a chair that she had had re-upholstered; a chair for which she had had a new cushion made; a chair that had journeyed from place to place with her – then one day, without warning and seemingly without a second thought, she cast it out onto the street.
So I rescued the chair and put it in my storage unit, thinking one day we could put it in our holiday house. But we never quite got to the point where we could keep our holiday house for ourselves; it had to stay rented out, and so the chair stayed in my storage unit for I’m guessing, about 7 years. It’s still got the fur and claw marks of our cat all over it. It’s probably worth some money to someone; it’s a well-built, heavy chair. But again, to eBay the thing for 100 dollars if I’m lucky, is insufficient return on effort, and it’s better to rip off the band-aid was my thinking, get rid of it quick. I don’t want to have it hanging around the house for weeks while I photograph it, write descriptions of it, wait for people to bid on it, answer questions about it, wait for them to collect it, and help them load it; only to feel miserable when I finally watch them drive away with it. Better to just chuck it out and not look back; just as she did 7 years ago.
But of course I did look back; and when I did, I saw an inanimate chair trying to look stoic, but managing only to look sad and confused. Seeing it standing there in the dirt, alone in a bay marked ‘Lounges’, I had an overwhelming feeling that this was an act of abandonment. I was sad to see it there and not in our house where it belonged, with my girlfriend sitting cross-legged on its cushion, cat in her lap.
And ignoring all the memories that the chair unlocks every time I see it, memories of happy times which now make me sad, I left it there and drove away, glancing back a few times as I went, knowing it would be the last time I’d ever see it. It’s too late now of course, but I wish I had put it on eBay, because somehow the idea of The Red Chair being smashed up by the waiting bulldozer and ploughed into land-fill seems brutal and callous, a betrayal, an insult to the place in my history that it holds.