An essay I wrote while going through divorce.
I’m getting a divorce. So we’re separating stuff, sorting through stuff . . . and I’m staring in the face of theater programs, tickets for events, wine corks wondering what to do with it? What should I keep? Throw away? What will my soon to be ex-husband want out of it?
Why do we accumulate stuff like that anyway? I think we don’t trust ourselves. I have a very worn Raggedy Ann Doll. My mother kept it, secured away in a drawer, waiting for my future when I’d reminisce about it. As a very small child, I played with a string of Raggedy Ann Dolls. When one would be hopelessly destroyed, my parents would buy me a new one. So the Raggedy Ann Doll she kept, the last dynasty, is very rough. It is very dirty and bald. I DON’T REMEMBER ever having a Raggedy Ann Doll and I still didn’t when I witnessed myself dragging one around on a home movie converted to VHS a few years back. So there you go . . . if my mother hadn’t saved the doll; if they hadn’t made the 8mm movie; if they hadn’t converted it to VHS . . . I might not know that as a 3-year-old, I was a destroyer of Raggedy Ann Dolls!
How terrible. That would be a shame. . . .
Wait a minute. Is that so bad? Do we need to remember every little detail? Won’t the details of true significance be retained by us without concrete, visual stimuli? Maybe the destruction of Raggedy Ann Dolls was actually more significant to my mother than to me? Maybe that’s why, although the worn Raggedy Ann Doll brings a smile to my face, I would really salivate over one of my Little Kiddles if she had kept one of them.
Anyway, I’m left with a bunch of theater programs, tickets to events, wine corks . . . assorted detritus of a marriage. All that visual stimuli, yet some of those events I don’t remember much more than a certain formerly yarned-haired doll.
Can it be that in a bid for sentimentality and meaning in our lives, we try to inject significance in objects and events that actually were . . . not that special? Maybe only just OK? I have a program or ticket for nearly every theater show that we ever saw; including ones that I purchased the CD for at the time and have since given to Goodwill.
I have two wine corks. Assuming that one is from the bottle of wine we consumed the night we got engaged . . . . what bottle was stopped by the other one?
I remember that bottle of wine from the night we got engaged. It was a Beringer Cabernet Savignon. I don’t remember the vintage, but it was a private reserve bottle.
Something about a “Lemon Chabot.” That wine was the first wine I ever drank where I understood why people . . . . drink wine.
“Well, that was because it was the night you got engaged,” I can hear voices saying cynically. Maybe. But I can remember the taste of that wine; I can remember all sorts of details from that day and night . . . the good and the bad . . . without that wine cork to remind me. The good and the bad . . .
“Bad?” Now the voices are startled. “Bad on the day you got engaged?”
Yes, I remember bad things about the day I got engaged. And yes, there can be bad things about the day you get engaged. Maybe we hold onto all that memorabilia because we are trying to seed our memories to remember the good instead of the bad. I asked a bunch of people lately if they remembered how they got engaged . . . the ones who remembered it most vividly . . . the ones who remembered the most, they had some bad elements that they remembered. Maybe that’s why they were the ones that remembered.
Remember all those kids you knew in school? All those friends that you cried about graduating away from? All those friends you thought you’d love forever? Which do you remember better; the best thing your best friend ever did for you? Or the rotten kid that spit gum into your hair?
I remember the first friend that died. I was 18 and she was 19. At the time she died, we had grown apart; but we had been very close at some time earlier. No matter how long the person was sick, no matter what the circumstances; death is stark and sudden and startling. I had been lucky up until then, this friend was my first. I told myself that I would write down everything I knew about her. I would remember everything. The shape of her mouth when she smiled; the timber of her laugh and her voice; the way she loved her friends: I would remember it all. We weren’t even particularly close at the time. But I wanted to swallow her details and keep them. She was gone and I wanted a record that she had been here. Not just the statistics of how long she lived or how she died; but . . . the person.
I never did. I didn’t write down a thing. Not one.
But I still remember the time she came into my parents house and hugged my mother and called her Mom. I still remember how she loved people with a passion and intensity I could only watch with awe until maybe a decade later. I still remember her smile even if I can’t quite hear her voice.
Here I am with my wine corks and tickets and programs. If I throw all of them away – maybe include half of the albums of wedding pictures in the trash bag; will I forget my soon to be ex-husband? The moments and years . . . the good and the bad . . . will melt away as if they never happened?