Throwing My Life Away
As my past receded and the future marched forward
More than 20 years ago, I sold my house and moved in with my partner. Her spectacular house and curated furnishings were such that most of my stuff didn’t make the cut. So I took a large storage locker under the rails of Central Station in Montreal. The trains passing overhead created layers of dust, which seemed appropriate as my past receded and the future marched forward.
To be frank, this was also an insurance policy against the possible failure of the relationship and a possible time when I would have to refurnish a new house or apartment. To be frank again, I didn’t have a track record of successful long-term romantic relationships. So it was a pragmatic act, and my past just lay there under the tracks.
Occasionally, I would visit my past to look for a book, a pair of skis, maybe to fetch my snow tires, but the locker, filled to the brim, lay mostly undisturbed.
Over the years, as friends from out of town sent their children to study in Montreal, the volume was somewhat diminished as sofas, chairs, chests of drawers, lamps, bookcases, dishes and pots and pans furnished any number of student apartments. I imagine my stuff eventually made it to the curb as these same children graduated and dispensed with what had become items that held no use or meaning for them.
With time, the volume being stored diminished, and I transferred the remaining items, along with the dust, to a smaller locker.
As we age, the prospect of increasing revenue decreases, and the need to save money inexorably increases. In joint discussions, my partner ruled that the locker was a variable cost and the contents had to go. This was deemed a practical solution to a problem that had yet to exist in my mind—being able to afford it. But anticipating problems and acting before they happen is the mark of prudent couples. So I agreed, reservedly and somewhat under protest.
Remembrance of things past is enhanced by objects from that past, and sentimentality rears its predictable head. Since the prime objective was emptying the locker, most of the contents made their way to my partner’s garage to await triage, a place where her practicality and my sentimentality met.
Practicality prevailed, and I began numerous trips to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, the Atwater Library used bookstore and, finally, to the eco-centre, which is what municipalities euphemistically call their dump these days.
Paintings my mother gave me went to the Sally Ann along with bookcases that would fit in the car, old scuba equipment, a ball gown my mother lent to a past girlfriend, vintage movie posters, linens, wine glasses and tumblers, a boomerang my peripatetic great uncle gave me as a child, ski racks for cars I no longer owned—all went there in several trips.
I dropped most of this stuff off furtively, in the fear I would be stopped and asked whether I was sure I wanted to donate these valuable items or be reprimanded for leaving them to get rid of useless junk. I skulked away each trip.
As a publisher, I had a lot of remaindered books printed optimistically for authors who greatly overestimated demand. These went to the eco-centre in several dozen unopened boxes heaved up into a great blue container, along with the authors’ hopes of a best seller.
My grandfather’s library: no one else in the family wanted it, so I had it. Each volume signed by him. Marginalia and typos marked in blue pencil. Now, it was not wanted. Either I had read them or wasn’t going to. It all went to the Atwater Library with the faint hope that some of the collection would make it to the stacks where I could visit it but never would, and the other half sold to people with a deep love of literature at their annual sale.
Finally, the discovery of two boxes of letters, school papers, and manuscripts. I have always said I have not changed since I was five. I reach back in memory to that five-year-old and I see me and a direct connection, the same boy and man, connected through time. Going through these artifacts, I learned that was not the case. Maybe that is a good thing. I have actually evolved and grown, whether that is for the better or worse to be determined.
My early adulthood was still a time when letters were written, and writers wrote back. I re-read rejection notes in reply to submissions of poems, short stories and even a novel—ironically from one editor who decades later published a book of mine. I had kept this whole motherlode of letters, between so many correspondents who were dead or missing in action. Frivolous and funny letters from my friend Mary, who was trampled by a horse and died at 19. From Rosemary, who was bipolar and ultimately stepped in front of a Toronto subway train. Al, who died early of cancer. Maggi, a girl I worked with at the Carleton University pub in the seventies. Lost touch. I wonder where she is now.
I made a careful triage, one folder to keep and go through more carefully; the other to give away, which I put in a large recycling bin. I awoke in the night and retrieved it. Some memories are too valuable to throw away, though I have not looked at any of it since.
I have saved the rent and lost some of the memories. Still others I have regained. Most importantly, the future is before me.