Friday, June 08, 2007

Familiar Faces

It's a strange sort of unpacking we're doing. Our other moves were simple, if irritating, affairs; we just loaded our belongings into boxes at one end, and a few days or weeks later unloaded them again. This time I hadn't even been the person packing everything - there were so many friends and family helping out that day that boxes were just filled, taped and hustled to the truck without my even seeing inside them.

Once we got to my parent's house those boxes lived a sad sort of life for a few months, mouldering in the garage while we pulled out only the few things we considered "needs." That meant that legos were quickly uncovered for one child, books for another. Movies and computer programs slowly emerged and were found shelf space as available. Everything else sat there, ignored by me and fretted over by my mother.

Eventually the dust and the possibility of flood forced a new plan - large plastic bins. It meant disinterring the box contents and at least trying to force a general sort-by-category on the contents. I knew it had to be done; I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

All of Kirk's things were there - we had even kept socks and t-shirts because, of course, he would need them when he got back. Arm-pit stained white t-shirts should not be emotional objects, but they smelled of him, and when I opened the first box and came across them I simply closed it up again and left.

There were his Russian things as well - uniforms of various types, the hideously impractical and uncomfortable tall leather boots, pot-metal awards pinned half-haphazardly onto a strange, thick swatch of cotton cloth.

Even the boxes of kitchen things had traps for the unwary - the Wildflecken stein we had bought together, the pottery bowls and mugs with moose and bear on them from Alaska. Every thing - a story.

In desperation my mother finally did it all, tossing everything into bins based on her best guess as to what it was. And there things stayed - about 12 large blue bins containing everything we owned - our mutual past.

Now, in our new house the kids and I have been doing archaeological work on those bins, slowly working our way through. We haven't seen much of this stuff for over three years, and I find I have no expectations about what will emerge. I recognize it all, or almost all, I just haven't thought about these things for so long that they no longer feel like mine.

There are the two crystal "snow ball" candle holders from Germany, the chipped set of mixed cappuccino cups and saucers from Wechtesbach which the kids used for tea-parties when they were small. There is a small Greek vase with the Death of Achilles on it, and two plaster bas reliefs - St Cecilia and a Gryphon. There are antique pictures we picked up at flea markets, and a series of photographs of the cliff-side beach near our house in California framed in plain black frames.

We bought these things because we loved them, and because they were powerful reminders of things we did, places we lived - our story in objects. Maybe it's because that story-line was broken, but I do feel removed from them all. Our things are only acquaintances now, no longer friends.

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