Now that the summer has faded to a close, I turned slowly to the pile of junk that has been accumulating in my life over the last few months. It had been building in the shadows of drying towels and mildewy sport coats, but now, in the harsh incandescent light of fall, it lay at my feet in slovenly splendor.
Now, so much of the evacuation is pretty easy. You roll your sleeves up, crack your neck, and get to emptying out the refrigerator of the moldy salsa containers, near-raisins, and the Miracle Whip brought by long forgotten houseguests. The newspapers and magazines from June and July can be recycled into some sort of nutritious mulch, along with all of the returnable cans and water bottles. Old bills, bank statements, and phone books get to travel the same empty highway.
After the first few hours, the task bogs down. To clear the mess, you need to have a mind of winter. The gauzy fog of imaginary thinking has to be rent and balled up with the old coat hangers and mis-matched socks. Our stuff is who we are and our trash who we wanted to be. I pass every trashed treadmill with a sympathetic eye. I too have leapt from the cliff hoping to feel new air, only to land in the rock and talus down below. Nothing is sadder than our dreams deferred and deposited on the sidewalk.
For me, I have continued a large collection of broken things that I intend to fix as soon as I know how. I have several pairs of sunglasses that yielded to the bouncing fun of little boys which could be fixed with a little glue, a little wisdom, and a clamp or two. Several dress shirts sit in a bottom drawers, ready for their next life as rags after the elbows and the collars finally gave out. In order to throw out these projects, I need to smother the Wanna-Be Thrifty Yankee Mr. Fixit in my mirrors. I will stack his corpse next to the Triathlete, the Golfer, and the Skier. They all leave the house in garbage bags. Stripped of imaginary thinking, I meet the man in the glass, face to face.
Which means I can’t throw out gifts. My own imaginary thinking needs flushing, but I will let the everyone else’s good thoughts on my behalf mellow on the shelf. I still have sweaters knit by a young woman twenty years into my past. T-shirts, books, and paintings are totems of the good thoughts others once held. When the winter night is darkest, they shine out.
Nor can I throw out anything that they boys have given me. I have a full stack of hand-decorated cards for all of the appropriate holidays. I still wear the tie-dyed Mickey Mouse shirt from their winter vacation several years ago, along with several bow ties, a gallery of paintings, and several, extremely fast Match Box cars.
I cannot throw out toys. Long after they have grown bored of the Lightning McQueen Play Tent, it will remain next to the desk. The Hot Wheels race track remains propped up on the bookcase and the Lego submarines and helicopters line the mantle. Eventually, we will trade some of these things in for more timely toys, but I will squirrel some away for future.
In fact, I have already rescued Monkey-Man from the trash. Monkey-Man was a three dollar airport gift bought to calm an anxious and sad young man who had just left another stuffed animal in a cab. Monkey Man had ridden in cars, slept in cribs, fell off of high chairs, and spun around in the washing machine. Even if the young man could send the Monkey on his way, I couldn’t.
I am not ready to give up on the two year old just yet, even if he has turned seven and can hit baseballs down the street. With the monkey resting on my desklight, the year of cribs and Curious George and excited running footsteps still can chase the dawn. Without it, I fear that it may fade into the unremembered murk.
Souvenirs are the bookmarks in our lives. We buy them, and we keep them, because the past can disappear into a hundred pages of present. And the present can be so disappointing. We get up, make some coffee, drive to work, write the memos, teach the kids, have lunch, and drive back into an evening that barely leaves a moth’s breath on the calendar. And we turn the page and start again. Souvenirs remind us of who we were.
At this time of year, many people are looking for souvenirs on island. Life, be it in Hartford, Hanover, or Hungary, needs to continue on its gentle way. For some, they go back with a workshirt that proclaims their trash hauling prowess or skill with a cocktail tray. Others steal signs from the streets and hang them in their dorm rooms so that everyone knows how tough they are for stealing “Stone Way” right off of the fence post. A Bulgarian of my acquaintance went to Miacomet beach on his last evening, filled a Quahog shell with beach sand, and slipped off to pack his bag. I hope, in the years to come, he slips back to this evening on the sand and a rolling ocean.
I have my own island souvenirs. I have Iron man t-shirts from years gone by, books filled with sand, golf balls both lost and found, as well as an impressive collection of wine glasses and coffee mugs. Eventually, I will cull them down to a small representation for my own hall of fame, but at present I will let them clutter myself up.
There may be a time when I have to leave the island and settle into a November of stoplights, on ramps, and tollbooths. In the evening, I will take down this book of summer, find the page, and sink back into the summers of Watermelon Creams, Queen Anne’s Lace, and boys flung high into the air.