I’ve acted in a way not in line with my values. I’ve stepped so far out of my comfort zone I may never recover. I took a ride on the wild side and ignored the impending apocalypse. I agreed to clean up and clear out everything that’s not needed. I don’t know what “not needed” means. I’ve eventually needed stuff I’ve had on hand for 20 years or more. What’s not needed today may save your life tomorrow. For example, I may not need key lime pie today, but someday…
When I talk about it, it sounds pretty straightforward. Grab some stuff, throw it out and then color it done. Clearing things out is anything but straightforward.
First of all, you all know that I like to be prepared. The complete destruction of society could happen any minute now, and the guy with the most stuff gets to be boss. If not the boss, I’d like to at least be able to barter for the planet’s last remaining pies. To do that, you need stuff. I have stuff.
Then there’s the thing that I may die someday. I’m supposed to care that my kids will have to get rid of my stuff. I guess I’m supposed to not want them to suffer after I die. Yeah, that’s it. Care.
As I thought about getting rid of my incredible treasures, I started to cry.
S h e – W h o – R u l e s determined the priorities. She herded me into the bedroom and dragged me to my dresser to clear stuff out. I played along and bagged and tagged a bunch of old shirts. I threw in some jeans that shrank while they were in the closet and a few hundred mismatched socks. After about seven minutes, I’d crammed a huge 3 mil thick trash bag full of really good and gently-greased clothing to give away. Was I done? No, I was not.
Since I did a good job and finished my work, I had to help the wife with her clearing out. It was unfair, just like the real jobs I remember.
How long could it take anyway? News flash: Women are different than men. They’re really, really different. It can take forever for them to do the simplest chore. No offense.
She takes a t-shirt out of the drawer. She looks at it longingly. She examines the weave of the fabric. She reads the tag. She smells the shirt. She turn the shirt over and does it all again. She stares off into space. I nod off from the long period of inactivity. “This one can go. I got it at Rural King in July of 2004.” I grab it and throw it in a trash bag. “You can’t do that” she says. “You need to fold it.” I wonder why I’d want to fold something going to a rag bin in the third world. “Just do it,” she snipes. I comply.
The next shirt came out of the drawer. She smelled it and stared at it forever. “Charlie bought me this for my birthday when he was 9. I can’t get rid of it.” I jumped in. “It doesn’t fit you and it’s a ‘50 Cent’ concert shirt. You hate rap.” I was overruled, and the shirt stayed.
It went on and on. Every, and I mean every, scrap of cotton had some sentimental value. How is it that a wife that can’t remember to check the oil in the car remembers the origin of every thread that’s entered the house in the last century? It makes no sense.
After painful hours, we neared the bottom of the first drawer while I held a mostly empty bag open. I felt like I was waiting for some other-worldly intervention to magically fill the bag so I could get on with life. It was like holding a bucket and praying for rain. “Oh, look” she said. “I forgot these were here. I looked in the drawer. Covering the bottom was every birthday, Valentine, and Christmas card ever sent by anyone anywhere. It was a Hallmark archive. She pulled the first card out of the envelope and read it as slowly as is humanly possible. I stood there thinking about the pie and coffee I was missing. I started to cry.
Deep in the county on the porch of a church sits two plastic bags. One is crammed full with sleeves and socks hanging out of the top. The other is square and neat and not nearly full. It’s small and has dried tears on it. They’re a metaphor for marriage. They symbolize what husbands experience every day. It can make them cry.
She mentioned that I need to go through the holy of holies, my garage. Sensing my horror, she reminded me we need to clear stuff out so that our kids won’t curse us when we die. I thought for a second and then went to the kitchen. “Sure honey, but let’s start here.” I opened the cabinet that held 10,000 pieces of Corning-Ware.
She started to cry.