What if you disappeared tonight, and at some point in the future, even tomorrow, an archeologist tried to understand who you were by the stuff you left behind?
If someone had only my possessions to determine my character, to try to chart my life and my culture, I wonder what conclusions they would draw. Here is a woman who liked sweaters and boots and jewelry and religious icons and nail polish. Or, here is a woman who was vain and shallow but tried to appear spiritual by collecting religious crap.
Maybe they would factor in my books, and deduce that somewhere in that shallowness, there was once a thinking organism that read and cherished Flaubert, William Burroughs, George Eliot and Balzac. Maybe they would see all the books on abnormal psychology and assume I was a therapist or a mental patient.
One of the Christmas gifts I received this year is a book of old photos, published by a guy who collects found art and the personal effects of dead strangers. The photos show some gay men in the early 70s, wearing Biker gear for get-togethers in the woods somewhere. They are only vaguely interesting and don’t inspire my curiosity, but rather a dim sense of pity that they probably lived much of their lives in secret longing to just be themselves.
I wish I could take my shit with me when I die, like the ancient pharos. It’s not that I own anything valuable. I just don’t want to be judged or pitied. I don’t want strangers to evaluate my accumulated crap and decide I was a loser. I will need to give everything away first or burn it all. Or maybe I’ll realize how stupid it is to worry about some idiot trying on my clothes in a thrift shop or my poor underwear laying under some rotting fruit in a dumpster.
I now possess a big suitcase full of my son’s clothes. Everything is so indicative of who he was! He was a gentle soul who loved softness. A pile of old cashmere sweaters, some I have mended, some with huge holes at the elbow, all of them black, grey or dark bottle green. Huge pairs of baggy trousers in corduroy or velvet. No denim jeans. Maybe they weren’t soft enough or maybe he just wanted to reject the uniform of his peers. So many dark soft clothes that I can’t go through all of it at once.
And yet, after he hurt himself, he lived like a monk, with only two sweaters and a few t-shirts and a single pair of shoes, He didn’t want any of his other belongings. He had already given most of his guitars to his brother. His belongings might mislead a stranger to guess he was a dandy of some kind, but nothing could be further from the truth. He never felt comfortable in his body. He once told me that he felt like a radio or some other device, with all its wires exposed. I agreed that I felt like an amoeba without a protective membrane.
Both of us eventually tried antidepressants. For me, they worked. After trying seven different medications, he gave up believing there was anything to cure his depression.
In the pocket of one of his jackets, I was stunned to find a bag of old needles and plastic spoons. What were they doing there? Had he stashed them there in a hurry one day? He hadn’t worn that jacket in more than a year but no one had come upon that bag.
It didn’t make me angry. It didn’t disgust me. It was part of his life and part of who he was. It was part of everything he went through. I’m keeping the bag because there isn’t one thing about him that I want to forget or that I don’t love and won’t keep on loving.