I recently came back into possession of the contents of a storage unit that I packed three and a half years ago when I moved abroad. Some of my belongings were broken and others that I swore I’d packed were mysteriously missing, but the things that mattered were there: my Himalayan salt lamp, a pair of bookends shaped like elephants, every T-shirt that my former employer gifted me to make up for the lack of work/life balance, my first pair of pointe shoes.
There were stacks of books that have become more relevant since I first read them in my coursework at Vassar a decade ago: a massive tome on the history of welfare, and the books I read for my critical race theory seminar, a class in which we once, memorably, divided ourselves into fives to drive to some off-campus landmark only to realize that the white students had self-selected into one car and the Black students into another. There were copies of Gone with the Wind and The BFG, and the works of William Faulkner, packed in alongside James Baldwin and Austerlitz.
There was also, ominously, the journal that I kept from 2015 until I packed three suitcases and boarded a one-way flight to Copenhagen, and more ominously, a book whose inscription I’ve thought of occasionally since I was gifted it for Christmas eight years ago by someone to whom I guess I no longer speak, and most ominously, my high school yearbooks.
My husband had a storage unit too and between the two of us we paid an arm and a leg to store, among other things, both a toaster and a toaster oven and duplicate copies of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Bonfire of the Vanities, and a history of al-Qaeda that wasn’t written by Tom Wolfe (if only!). Then we paid an arm and a leg to get rid of the duplicates that don’t fit on our spacious new countertops, mostly furniture, mostly mine, since my husband is older than me by a crucial few years that mean he was onto West Elm while I was still living on Allen-wrenched Overstock knock-offs.
What was left after were the milemarkers of how I got from there to here, and I had to choose what to junk and what to squirrel away in the back of a closet that also belongs to someone else, and I still don’t know what happened to all of my coffee mugs. Good thing I love a metaphor.
A while before I moved, I shipped a few boxes of mementos to my parents’ house. It was more to free up room in my “cozy” West Village studio (read: shoes in the oven) than to put distance between me and any handwritten letters I once received in the mail or, my God, programs from Cal Shakes, or anything else that, should I stumble on it while also listening to “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” might give me an aneurysm, but it was nice not to step onto a land mine when all I was doing was looking for the Playbill from when John Cameron Mitchell tore a ligament reprising Hedwig two decades on.
Having safely stashed the relics of the years I spent getting, alternately, heartbroken and sunburned, I was surprised that my storage unit hit me so hard. I’d forgotten that it wasn’t preordained, back in the spring of 2016 when we were circling around each other warily, that my husband would become my husband. I’d forgotten what it’s like to escape from a crowd of sweating, salivating strangers into the photo booth at a kitschy Brooklyn bar after midnight. But pry apart the pages of a journal or pull a glossy strip out from a pile of Playbills and there I am, a fossil.
Of course I’m under no obligation to keep, for example, the yearbook from my sophomore year of high school, in which I failed to open my eyes for my school photo. Other people throw out old things. I couldn’t possibly. I like — and maybe I’m a masochist — the rush of remembering something I’d forgotten about myself. Things have a half-life that my iPhone camera roll, omnipresent in my hand, can’t approximate.
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to urge New Yorkers in need of storage to avoid the company MakeSpace like the plague, unless you actually want your stuff broken or lost. Which, listen, if you don’t want to actively throw away your high school yearbooks but you would also prefer to forget that you didn’t open your eyes in your sophomore school photo, might well be a good strategy/