"It is the poet's job to remember"
Gerald Stern

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Is In Your Closet?

I'm in the middle of clearing out years of stuff from my house. I'm finding things I haven't seen in years, buried deep in closets and every place else I've put things for storage. I keep asking myself why I ever bought most of it in the first place. I'm not talking about the two cases of light bulbs, a carton of tile trivets, and outdated greeting cards left over from my son's Cub Scout fund raiser days. I know why I bought them. That was an act of charity predicated on not wanting to accompany an eight year old door to door and impose upon all our relatives. Everyone always bought the candy, but the hard goods didn't move much.

I found my Suzanne Sommers Thigh Master that I attempted once and should have returned under the money back guarantee. I found the contraption with a pulley that got hooked to a door knob and rubbery ropes that attached to the wrists and ankles. I actually followed the directions on that one, got down on the floor and hooked myself up to exercise. The pulley flew off the doorknob and whacked me in the head. I believe that is what happened before I threw it in the closet, but the resulting mini concussion may have wiped the exact circumstances from my memory. I found a second set of ankle weights. Why I have enough for four ankles, I don't know. However, I do make excellent use of the first set set because the box they are still sealed in makes a perfect doorstop. There are curtain rods in unopened packages, shelving I never put up, and a couple of Christmas gifts I hid when the kids were little and forgot where I put them. There are bags of clothing that I was certain would come back into style. Most of it has, three or four times without ever leaving the bag. I have warranties from appliances and gadgets I barely remember owning.

I have saved bank statements and insurance policies from companies that went out of business a decade ago. I have a copy of every income tax return I ever filed. I keep these things because I'm always worried that I'll have to prove something. I'm certain that as soon as I throw out those canceled checks from 1972, someone will knock on my door and demand to see proof that I paid the insurance premium on my ex-husband's car or want a copy the check for the bassinet we bought for my now 38 year old daughter before she was born. There are paid bills from credit cards I cut up 20 years ago. I keep thinking maybe one of them will send me a notice that they have no record of the bill being paid, that interest and late payments have continued to accrue, and I now owe them four hundred thousand dollars. I want to be able to pull the hard copy check with the big red bank stamp on it and say, "Ah hah!!"

The truth is that I've never had to prove anything. No one has ever asked for a canceled check or a bill stamped 'paid in full.'

Once the IRS sent me a letter stating in their frightening official way that I hadn't filed a return for a certain year. I thought I finally would have vindication for taking up the entire back of the closet from floor to ceiling with boxes of my saved paperwork. I could victoriously say, "So there!" to my friends who laugh about my belief that I will one day be called to substantiate my innocence with a crumbling piece of paper. I called the telephone number on the letter as the IRS asked me to. I explained that I had filed a return for that year and would be happy to send them a copy. I also told them that they had even sent me a refund for that year and I could send them a copy of that bank deposit as further proof. The woman asked for my social security number, checked in her computer, and then said that it was their mistake. THEY had gotten a number wrong. I asked where to send my proof that I had filed. She proceeded to tell me that it wasn't necessary and I could just ignore the letter. She apologized for the error. Not only did I not have to use documentation from my obsessively saved stash, the Internal Revenue Service told me to ignore something. And they were nice about it.

Everything else is being tossed, but I'm thinking maybe I just should let all my "proofs" remain snoozing, dusty and yellowing, like some old good luck charm in the back of my closet.

Time passing

I know I have no concept of the passage of time. I'll say something like "I just bought that stove" to one of my kids, and they'll look at me exasperated, "Mom, you bought that 12 years ago." I also can't recall when they adopted that annoying eye-rolling thing they do either.

Yesterday I was trying to remember when we painted the living room. I know we painted it the same color twice, but I can't recall the last time and the old trick of using events as a measure isn't working. Was that after we put the new tile floor in the bathroom? The year we got the dog? I know we painted it after we got the new light fixture in the dining room. That was the time we painted everything because before the new chandelier went in we painted the ceiling...which made the dining room walls look dingy so we painted them...which made the living room and sun porch look dingy...so we painted them too. I spent months cleaning rash-like paint spots off the hardwood floors and refer to that episode as the Great Painting Epidemic. When did we buy the chandelier? I could ask the kids, but I'm just not up to it.

This quirk runs in my family. One day my brother was visiting and noticed a broken electrical socket that needed to be replaced. We weren't using it, had covered it with a electrical tape, and it was in a corner hidden behind a chair. My brother, who was an electrician, said he would come by in a few days and replace it because he didn't want "the baby" to possibly touch it and get a shock. I suppose it wasn't all that long ago that he thinks he promised to return with a new socket and he had mentioned that he hadn't forgotten on several occasions. Some time has gone by. No one has touched the socket, the chair in the corner has been replaced twice, and "the baby" will be 32 years old in December.

One of my uncles used to write the date he painted a room on the wall in an inconspicuous spot. He was one of those meticulous organized men, with every screw and nail sorted and separated by size and type in jars. I can still see my aunt pointing to the scribble and justifying her pleas for new color, "See, you haven't painted this room in 15 years!" He couldn't deny it. Then he would have to get out the drop cloths and brushes instead of playing golf or going fishing.

Not being able to remember and leaving something tangible to hold you accountable is probably mostly a good thing. But since I'm not looking forward to the whole ordeal, I think I'll pour another cup of coffee and spend a little more time ruminating around in the luxury of forgetfulness.