By Gary M. Zeiss, Esq.
I rolled out of bed at around 9:30, early for a Sunday. It was going to be a nice day – not too hot, not too cold. Classic early October weather. Not a cloud in the sky.
I went into the kitchen and started the coffee. Then I looked outside at my job for the day. I’ve been putting this off for weeks (actually for years). Nevertheless, it needed to be done. No more procrastination.
I started the coffee and walked the dogs. Then I poured more and sat down in the living room for a few minutes. The Bills were playing the Giants – the game was just starting. I couldn’t give a damn about either team but the game still drew me in. Another 45 minutes passed.
I walked back into the kitchen for yet another cup. I realized that I was putting this job off yet again. I pushed the button and the garage door opened.
There it was, my stuff.
Not a normal collection of things that had accumulated over the years – my stuff was morbidly special. The remnants of a marriage and family shattered by disease and divorce. And it was my job to sift through it.
My stuff was most recently collected from three places: a 10×12 storage unit, an apartment, and what my ex chose to leave in the family home (e.g., the junk that was too good to dump or give away to the construction workers across the street, but not good enough for her to take). At least the house was empty and in escrow.
Finding a place for my stuff in our new home has taken weeks. I intentionally filled the closets last, meaning that I had to go through my stuff – the stuff that I paid to move – and give it a once over before it stayed. I can imagine my stuff feeling like a dog in the pound – “take me! take me! I don’t want to be put in the Blue Can!” Their pleas often worked.
This was only the stuff that I wanted to see on a day-to-day basis. The rest? Left to be woven into the web of the spiders that inhabit my garage – the door of which I just opened.
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I finished my coffee and went outside.
There was the trampoline I bought for my daughter and I after a Tony Robbins weekend. There was sporting equipment – thirty years of it – belonging to me, my son and my daughter. There were tools, drums, and wires – things to hook up old computers to old printers – but the old computers and printers were nowhere to be found.
There were tax receipts from the last 10 years, books, books, and more books. My 1,200 vinyl records, none of which have been listened to since about 1999. An old fridge and electric lawn tools. Extra coffeemakers, tools, and hotplates. Most boxes were labeled – allowing me to avoid the ones marked “memorabilia,” but some were just brown, square and demanding my attention.
Turns out that those boxes were full of the memories of what my life was. Pictures of a happy family – my happy family. Prints from my honeymoon, photos of my children as infants and children. Photos of my ex wife with what looks to be a genuine smile – one that I can’t remember seeing or even imagine her having anymore.
I kept having to tell myself that most cameras tend to capture only the happier times. Our memories, backfilled with the happier images that fill our photo albums, are allowed with time to forget troubles, anger and hatred. But for me, not enough time has passed, and it seemed as if I was looking at a caricature of my life – where the smiles are bigger than life and the frowns are hidden on the dark sides of our heads.
There were also some old notebooks – starts at journals from various years. As much as people tend to take pictures of happy times, they tend to write about difficult ones, and here I found the thread of discord that eventually unraveled this family. The frustration, the hopelessness, the fear of being alone that comes with a difficult marriage. The peeking out from the sand that I dug my head into – a page or week here, a page or week there, but ultimately enough to realize that the photos were like the moon – hiding our dark side from everyone.
In some of these boxes, I found items from happier times. Childhood paintings. A “Best Dad” plastic Oscar. My children’s handprints. A handpainted, rough ceramic plate. A bowl from a long-dead dog. Gifts bearing the engraving “love 4ever… K, M, J.” Nude photos of my ex that were taken during our pre-marriage trip to Scotland 20 years ago. Stuff that wound up in drawers, too precious to throw out, but not nice enough to display.
As I was picking through these items, I kept seeing myself in one of those newspaper stories about a major disaster. The kind where you see a lone survivor picking through the rubble of their home, looking for something to connect them to what they’ve lost. I also keep seeing a recent picture of a photo that washed up on a beach after the Japanese tsunami – of a father and daughter, themselves probably washed away. I keep wondering what caused the tsunami that washed away my life.
I know that I can’t talk about these feelings with my new love – it hurts her too much. She sees things much more holistically, more objectively: that it was a bad situation, that we are all victims of an illness that accelerated an already-present personality disorder, that we are broken and have lots of healing to do. She’s right, of course. After all, she’s picking up the pieces of both me and my son, all the while dealing with her own legion of concerns.
I open another box, telling myself again that the photos only show the “happy” times, not the worms in the wood that ultimately destroyed our foundation. But then I see the four of us, standing on a beach somewhere, smiling. I hold back the tears.
There will be new times with my new, blended family. There is happiness now like there was never before – a woman who actually makes me feel loved, not hated, a bed I look forward to laying in. My son is recovering – finally experiencing unconditional love from a woman with a heart bigger than I can imagine. My daughter is slowly and unsteadily returning. Plus, I have a new kid to raise who I’m just learning to love.
I look at the box, dry my tearing eyes, fold the top and put it back on the shelf. I leave the garage and push the button. The garage door grinds to a close. I grab another coffee, still hot. 12-10, start of the third quarter. The 49ers are beating the Lions. I don’t care. I doze off to the sound of…