Perhaps because another birthday is looming, or maybe because I'm still a bit melancholy over saying goodbye to my son after his recent visit home, lately I find myself sighing a lot. Sighing and sifting through drawers.
Most people have a "junk drawer," a catchall for household odds and ends like AA batteries, flashlight bulbs, or the spare screws that come with those "some assembly required" furniture kits (What do you mean, you're not supposed to have any screws left over?). Often, the junk drawer holds memories too: souvenir keychains, birthday cards, a chipped ceramic paperweight made in elementary school art class.
I don't have a junk drawer. I have a whole room. Two, actually, if you count my bedroom. OK, three, with my late husband's workroom.
In my defense, and before you report me to that Hoarders TV show, my "junk room" is the spare bedroom that houses my dance costumes and comedy props. Through 15 years of tap and jazz dancing with Judy's Gang and a lifetime of playacting, I've acquired several closets' worth of sequins and Spandex, fake furs and feathers. I have wigs and wings, boas and beads, a rubber chicken and a 7-foot Grim Reaper scythe (which, I'm proud to say, I crafted myself). It's all stage stuff, nothing really valuable. But I can't bring myself to throw any of it out. After all, I may someday have need of a spring-loaded top hat or three dozen cummerbunds with matching bow ties.
Along with old costumes and props, this room holds several boxes of not-so-gently-used clothing, discarded toys, various craft supplies and obsolete items like fountain pens and wind-up clocks. All potential stage gear or masquerade party attire. That's what I tell myself, anyway. In truth, I have an irrational attachment to sentimental objects, tangible remnants of the past. They don't even have to be from my past; I've become the willing keeper of other people's memorabilia. I love old knick-knacks and vintage clothing, which is why I'm trying to avoid garage sales. My junk room runneth over.
Of course, I don't see any of the stuff in my junk room as junk. As George Carlin said, sort of, other people's stuff is junk, and your junk is stuff. So I guess it's really a stuff room. Stuffed to the corners. In fact, my stuff has begun to spill over to the next room, Barry's study/studio.
I had fully intended to box up and haul away his extensive collection of books and magazines and the dozens of unfinished electronic projects and repair jobs. Six years after his death, I've barely made a dent in the bulging shelves and cluttered counters. I feel terribly guilty every time I try to discard something of his; these things meant so much to him. So now the room is full of my stuff and his junk.
The stuff in my bedroom is confined to a couple of drawers, but it's important stuff. Fortune cookie inserts that appealed to me ("Good news is on the way"), black-and-white snapshots of my parents in their youth, a little heart-shaped box that holds the first tuft of hair cut from my son's infant head and a couple of his baby teeth, along with a note he once wrote for the Tooth Fairy, explaining that he'd misplaced the tooth he had intended to leave for her. If I remember correctly, she left him a dollar anyway.
I don't have any of my own baby teeth, but I did keep a wedge-shaped wood chip that Dr. Haling extracted from my left butt cheek after I tried to use the wooden seesaw at school as a sliding board. The giant splinter rests on a gauze pad inside a small plastic case and still has a little bit of yellow paint on one side. The scar, on the other hand, has finally faded.
Other treasures in the bedside nightstand include handwritten Mother's Day cards from Jimmy and an unfinished collection of state quarters. And a love note in Barry's bold scrawl. It's not poetic or especially romantic, but it's the only one he ever wrote to me, long before we were married. I remember he was embarrassed to discover that I'd kept that scrap of paper he'd tucked under my windshield wiper so many years ago.
Rereading the succinct note, I realize what I need to do. I need to clean out that room, get rid of all that junk, finally. To make room for more stuff.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.