in the attic

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a saver. Hoarders take in all the cats. They hold onto all the magazines and newspapers and mail. Savers keep the things with sentimental value. Hoarders stack their piles in the way of life—high towers of precariously perched magazines, too-tall bundles of mail, each folded and returned to its envelope, all of it claiming surface and volume. Savers put their keepsakes in plastic boxes in the attic. Hoarders keep things out of fear; savers keep them out of love.
Still, I’ve saved too much. I have enough ornaments for three Christmas trees; Halloween costumes that, while I made them myself, fit no one; original boxes from cameras and computers I no longer have; hat after hat after hat; a sewing machine I don’t know how to use; a serger machine, ditto; leftover copies of the magazine I used to publish; 72 VHS tapes we’ll never watch; box after box of point-and-shoot photos, five pictures worth looking at again; lighted garland and a lighted wreath we’ve never used and will never use; a yellow Boby trolley with a set of clogged Rapidographs and black-from-use Staedtler erasers; boxes full of books that were never unpacked when we moved here 20 years ago; dry-rotted duffel bags.

And then there’s the paperwork. Even if you save nothing (who are you?), you have a few years worth of documents, tax returns, and bill receipts. I have more: papers and designs from high school and college (my favorite: a font I designed, the example and title a reference to The Cars, with an A+ from Ed Smith, an art teacher who died a decade ago), clever or meaningful correspondences, birthday and congratulations cards with sentiments so lovely they probably made me cry, acceptance and rejection letters, press clippings from the times I was in the news or in the band. One of my favorite saved things: a letter to my daughter’s first-grade teacher informing her that I will not enforce the use of the D’Nealian k. It was a funny letter, but the school did not laugh. Instead, I got a reputation.

Until recently, all of this “savings” was hidden under the eaves, in the cabinets we’d had built for this very thing. But the gems are spilling, and I’m worried that they’ll come crashing through the floor and kill me in my sleep. So I am sifting through, sorting out the permanent keepers from the things that can go, like tax returns from 1997 and business receipts from a venture that failed in 2006.
In holding on and discarding, I’ve learned three things.
1. I was always bold. Among my high-school papers is a comparison of Dracula to Vlad the Impaler: “A Tale of Two Sickies.” The pair of “bloody” holes punched in the upper corner was my mother’s idea, but I wasn’t afraid. There’s also a rhyming poem—for tenth grade English—called “or maybe an aspirin,” which ends with the line, “or maybe a good fuck,” as if I had known what that even meant.
2. I am a good friend. Sometimes I wonder why people like me, and I still don’t know the answer. But if I had any doubts, words people put inside these hundreds of cards should dispel them. I could take away from this the fact that I have good friends. But how can you consistently have wonderful people surrounding and supporting you, saying  extraordinary things about you, unless you’re good to them? More proof: breakup letters I’d written to two old friends I felt had wronged me. They are better friends than ever now. 

3. I am an optimist. This one might sound like a stretch, but there’s no other way to explain it. I have saved, for at least a dozen years—some much longer—clothing in size 6 and 8. OK, yes. I admit it. The size 10s are up there, too, now.

I’m sentimental. It’s true. But I can count the times, this one included, that I’ve looked at those cards in the last sixteen years on one finger. So most of them are in the box of our five-year-old iMac, where I’ve stuffed 50 pounds of papers for recycling. But I kept a few of them and a few of my school papers. And yes, I kept all the clothes, too. You never know.

Close Menu