Spring cleaning always takes me a little time to get into, but when I do, brother watch out! I ripped through several closets this week, along with a ton of other stuff including the back yard. Somehow my office is messier than when I started, but that's mostly due to the garbage bag full of trash in front of the closet and the stacks of stuff I still need to sell on Amazon. My office goes through these stages when I'm cleaning, you see. It waxes and wanes like the moon, all full of my possessions one minute and then looking sparse because I've put everything away.
While I was going through the closets, I came across my bill file from 1994. Yes, I'm serious. Bank statements, cancelled checks, garbage bills, credit card statements... all from 10 years ago. I'm pretty certain that the statute of limitations on these things is well and truly over and that I'm safe tossing them out. But I'm terrified of identity theft and so I turned all Enron on myself and insisted that I shred everything.
I have a shredder so it's not as if it was a big deal or anything, but the exercise did require that I take everything out of the envelopes (yes, I kept the envelopes. No, I don't know why) and send each thing through the shredder a few pages at a time. This was quite enlightening, as I got to review old checks and financial statements. 1994 was the year I bought my first house, broke up with my ex-fiancÚ Cheese Boy, met Brat and also met my husband. Needless to say, it was a pretty monumental year. And yet, as I looked through my checks and credit card statements and the flotsam and jetsam of that time of my life, I found that I seemed to remember precious little of it. It took a lot longer to identify the payees of most of the checks than it probably should have.
A lot of checks went to the salon where I used to get my nails done. I gave that up pretty soon after moving to the new house because I was finally starting to understand that long nails and high tech work don't go together. The polish chips about 10 seconds into typing and I'm much faster on the keyboard when my nails don't go beyond my fingertips.
An inordinate number of checks were written to Tower Records. I don't remember buying as much music as the bank statement clearly shows I did. I mean, I know I went through a stage where I was making really good money and I didn't have much to spend it on so I would buy five or six CD's at a clip but I don't remember dropping $50 a week on music. There were a couple of months when I did though. No harm done, I guess - my CD collection rocks and it's not like I wasn't paying other bills or not saving or anything. A lot of the biggest purchases were made right after my Cheese Boy and I broke up. I wasn't eating much (the famous depression diet) so I guess I was spending my lunch money on music.
God, if only I could find it in me to spend my lunch money on music these days. I don't need the nasty breakup, but I could sure use the slenderizing benefits of rearranging my monetary priorities.
There were the usual checks for utilities, credit card and rent, one particularly nasty month when the amounts of some of the checks was downright alarming (that would be the month I bought the house), and one check written to Cheese Boy.
I turned that one over and over in my hands for a while, fascinated by the physical proof of a relationship I've pretty much exorcised. Everything I own now either came from before that two-and-a-half year relationship or after it. The few remaining pictures I have from Cheese Boy's time are boxed up, the memorabilia from trips and concerts also well stored. This isn't because I can't stand to see that sort of stuff but simply because I don't have any use for it and being a sentimental person I don't want to throw it out either. Nearly every gift he gave me has been given away, sold or tossed out. A lot of the stuff we got together was temporary in the first place. Hand-me-down furniture, early life-on-your-own plates, glasses and cookware, cheap linens. That sort of thing. I was only 20 when Cheese Boy and I moved in together and he was only 21. We wouldn't have known good quality if it bit us. So a lot of stuff has simply been replaced over the last decade out of sheer necessity.
But more than that, after we broke up I went on a sort of spree to make my house my own, replacing a lot of the crap we'd bought together with stuff I liked. Stuff that was mine, that didn't have memories attached. You see, the plan was for us to live in that house together. But it didn't work out that way. In fact, the day the escrow closed, Cheese Boy informed me that he wouldn't be moving into the house with me. It wasn't much of a surprise - things had been going south for a while - but what the announcement lacked in shock it more than made up for in panic value. I was 22 years old and buying a house. Frankly, I was scared to death and I was angry. Angry at him, angry at myself for trusting him and angry at the house for being mine. It took a few months before I began to see the house as the really wonderful thing that it was. I needed time to accept it and learn to like it. While I was doing that, I had to do things to make my mark on the place. A lot of those things included getting rid of things Cheesy and I had picked out together. It was just too infuriating to have them in my house.
Eventually (though, in retrospect, not that much time at all) I came to love that house. It became the haven for a new group of friends - friends that I still have today and love more dearly every year. We started to call the house The Mecca, and that moniker has traveled from that first house to my current domicile (the one I picked out and bought with my husband, who didn't do anything more momentous when escrow closed than exclaim, "Damn there's a lot of stuff to sign, isn't there?" He's a keeper). My first house became a symbol of my independence, my strength, my ability to take care of myself. It became my safe place and I came to defend it like a lioness. I stole a line from one of Eddie Murphy's stand up routines and it became my tongue-in-cheek battle cry. "It's my house! And if you don't like it, you can get the fuck out!"
Please note that that phrase has to be uttered in a slurry, drunken Eddie's-Dad-at-the-barbeque voice to be truly authentic.
I think the only things I have left now that I got when Cheese Boy and I were together are my Nonie's bedroom set (which has nothing to do with Cheese Boy and everything to do with my Nonie), and the flimsy bookcase that I'm constantly saying I need to replace. The bookcase has no sentimental value whatsoever, I'm just too cheap to go buy a new one.
I sold that house a little over two years ago. It wasn't as hard to sell it as I thought it was going to be, in large part because I hadn't lived in it the last year I owned it (I was living overseas). I was also extremely jet-lagged the day we moved, having returned from a trip to South Africa a scant 15 hours before the moving van arrived. I do remember looking around one last time before I headed to my car to lead the caravan to the new house. I thought about the day I moved into the place. The garbage bags I used to haul my stuff because Cheese Boy had said he'd get boxes for moving but then, since he wasn't actually moving with me, abdicated responsibility for. The crap my dog Roman took in the living room because he was so nervous about the change of scenery. The way my parents hovered in quiet concern as I tried to figure out where to put the couch. I hadn't pictured any of my things actually in the house until the moment they arrived. I just hadn't been able to wrap my mind around the combination of my things and my house until the exact moment the two came together.
It's a momentous thing, the first place you live alone. The experience was more jarring for me that I might have planned it because of the circumstances, but 10 years later I can honestly say that wouldn't have done a thing differently. I wouldn't have it any other way. First coming to terms with my house and then coming to love it is a process I'm grateful I went through. It's a process I had to go though.
The only way out is through.
I thought about all this and more as I turned that check from 1994 over in my hands. And then, with a smile, I dropped the check into the shredder.
- KNP March 7, 2004