Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Issues 'n Stuff

I am “careful” with my “stuff.” “Stuff” means practically every thing I own. “Careful” means a near-obsessive need to know where my things are located and desire to keep them looking new. Forever.

I can read a paperback book multiple times and it will still look brand new, with nary a mark in the spine, not a single page dog-eared, any stray fingerprints on the glossy cover carefully and methodically eliminated. Few others share my opinion on the “proper” treatment of books. For this reason, it is rare I lend them out.

Objects owned for decades remain pristine thanks to obsessing over placement, cleaning, and storage. Some items, including many bought during a three month stay in Korea in 2001, are in the original boxes awaiting that elusive, mythical “someday” and perfect house/room/life for their display/use. When (and if) that magical “someday/place” ever arrives, they will emerge into the light in near-perfect, blinding vintage newness. Or possibly, forever tainted with the icky smell of decades spent languishing in various basements or attics.

I once had a housemate who “walked heavy.” Furniture and decor shook (in fear, perhaps) when he lumbered by. Each rattle of the delicate Japanese lidded candy dish that was once my grandmother’s made my heart skip a beat and I held my breath. No longer able to bear the stress, I finally packed it away again for safety. Both his and the dish.

Vigilant oversight of my things probably started in toddlerhood. I was a thumb-sucking blanket-dragger. Following some respected adult’s suggestion, one day Mom disposed of my beloved, tattered blanket while I napped. It’s a miracle I could ever sleep again after that.

When I was 10, we moved across town. Unpacking my things in the room I would not have to share with my younger sister, I frantically searched for my favorite stuffed gray elephant which had long ago lost an eye and both pink felt ears. There I was, in my unfamiliar “new” room, in our creepy “new” 50-year-old house resembling a horror movie setting, trying to sleep through unfamiliar steam radiator racket, haunted house noises, and other strange goings-on, and my beloved, defective gray elephant was gone. Days of searching and grumbling (I KNEW it went into the box) finally elicited a confession – Mom had tossed it in the trash because it was ratty. Robbed again.

Further crimes were perpetrated against my personal property when an ex-husband chucked the box of treasures including my childhood diary and a rhinestone tiara won on the runway of the Ms. Yankee Pageant. A cohabiting ex-boyfriend tossed my albums of childhood photography and school yearbooks. Note to all – it is recommended you keep your filthy hands off the diaries of fledgling writers, crowns of beauty queens, early work of future photographers, and school memories of the sometimes sentimental. Unless, of course, you wish to fast-track your way to the title of “ex-.”

Worse than items gone missing or ruined by family and friends (whether unintentionally or deliberately), are things lost or destroyed by my own hand. I once had beautiful white gold and aquamarine earrings from an ex-husband who traipsed solo through a maze of market stalls in Seoul after I admired them while shopping together. They disappeared a few years later in Tennessee. After searching the house and a string of sleepless nights dominated by reviews of my habits which usually included removing my earrings and setting them on the coffee table, and later gathering up multiple items to efficiently transport to the trash and other rightful locations, the best theory was I accidentally tossed them in the trash with a handful of stuff during a multitasking tidying episode. There is a landfill in Tennessee accessorized with a gorgeous pair of earrings from a Seoul designer. After our divorce, I bought a silver skull and crossbones ring with citrine eyes which I wore daily and removed nightly for a year until it disappeared without a trace. There are times I wish the walls could talk.

The most unforgivable loss involves family documents entrusted by my grandmother. The plan was to have the beautifully hand-lettered in the Finnish language marriage certificate and birth records from the 1800s framed to give to my mother. And in a ridiculously chaotic move in 1996 that spun wildly out of my control (courtesy of the same yearbook and photo album chucking ex), the cardboard tube containing the documents disappeared. Forever. The scrap of paper with the colors of the inks and dimensions of the documents still survives, however, so every time I come across it, I can beat myself up again.

Yes, there are issues. I usually try to keep them under wraps. It’s why I hate being asked to lend items. It’s not you, it’s me. Ok, maybe sometimes it is you, and that’s why I’m like this.

Originally published September 8, 2014 on