December 07, 2009

Donating My Life Away

Even at 34 years old, my life is full of relics from my childhood. Sure, like most people, I have a box of junk in my closet that I can't get rid of, but given the tininess of my studio apartment and my desire to move soon, I've been trying to clean out as many unnecessities as possible - which includes getting rid of as much stuff gifted to me by my mother as I can.

Decorating the tree this weekend, I found myself being choosier than ever when it came to selecting ornaments for my six-foot Frasier fir, whose branches could not carry all of them. The more I associated an ornament with my mother - who annually gifted us Hallmark ornaments as kids, and then lavish, heavy, huge ornaments that were more her taste than ours as adults - the more likely I was to wrap it back up in its tissue paper and place it at the bottom of the box, buried in the empty wrappers of the ornaments that did make it to the tree. As much as I've been able to clear out of my apartment over the last year or two, for some reason, I can't get rid of those ornaments.

Instead, I set my sights on the big, clunky, wooden jewelry box in my closet. I'd asked for a small jewelry box one year for my birthday or Christmas, and my mother ordered this one off television, despite it being too huge for my space. In kind, she also started buying me a lot of jewelry off television, most of which has tarnished too easily, broken into pieces, or hung unworn for years. This jewelry box, and its contents, were the last big relic from a poisonous pattern of gifting with my mother that only ceased when I stopped calling home. Every morning when I get dressed, I look at it and feel sick. The necklaces get tangled on the hooks. The drawers swing open to the side but only if the top is open, which is impossible given the height of my shelf. The earring racks indeed hold earrings, after some difficulty inserting them, but the racks themselves fall out. And most importantly, I'm sure my mother still thinks I owe her something in return for this gift, some debt that I can never repay.

Last night, I emptied the jewelry box.

I kept the pieces that I'd purchased myself, or that had been given to me by Maria, and placed almost everything else in a Ziploc bag for Goodwill. With a stretched-out safety pin, I surgically untangled two necklace chains that had become inextricably intermingled. And I distributed the remaining pieces between a box gifted to me by Maria, and a new jewelry box I'd purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond for 20% off on Black Friday.

The irony is, my mother would be proud. She was always getting rid of things. Like the disease that hoarders have, my mother would get high off purging, giving our toys away to our uncle and our cousins before we were quite through with them, boasting about the value of the items that she'd donated to the Salvation Army. When she started giving away the gifts that we'd worked so hard to track down for her, on which we'd spent a lot of money we didn't have, my sister and I had had enough.

My purging feels a bit like revenge, even though my mother has no contact with me that would allow her to find out about it. But it also feels a bit like I'm channeling her, giving away perfectly good items that someone else would be thrilled to have.

Let somebody else polish the tarnish off the silver, untangle the chains, and swing the drawers out to the side. Someone with room in their life for a jewelry box so big. I've spent years trying to clean out my life, and I just can't keep these things in my home anymore.

What's left, besides the Christmas ornaments that only come out once a year, and only for a moment before I wrap them back up?

Well, there's still the tea kettle on my stove that I've been trying to replace for years...

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