I used to be able to throw things away. I used to be good at cleaning out closets and riddng desks of unneeded objects. Not anymore. Now I can hardly part with a beach towel that hasn’t seen the sun for ten years or a depleted stuffed animal if it once sat on one of my daughters’ beds.
The change was sudden and unexpected. I was making the bed, my wife was in the shower, and as I was flattening wrinkles by sweeping my hands across the sheets she had just risen from, I was struck by the warmth of the sheets and blankets from her body heat–heat that had moments before been in her body, heat that was now in the bedding. And while I realized even then that I wasn’t having a moment equal to Archimedes’, I was sorely tempted to shout “Eureka!”
I know the reaction was an overreaction, but that’s the way it is with striking moments, like the moment when someone who’s been sitting across from you on the subway for two years–someone who you noticed without noting–suddenly adjusts her hair in a way that makes you fall in love.
For years, on those rare occasions when I helped make the bed, I may have noticed the lingering body heat in the sheets, but it was one of a thousand sensations that go unnoted every day. But that morning, as I swept my hand across the warmth still in the sheets, I thought, My God, my wife is leaving something of herself on whatever she touches, like a trail meant not to be followed but just to mark her passage.
And I realized it wasn’t just my wife–it’s everyone! We all go through life touching things and leaving ourselves behind. And I don’t mean whatever viruses may be on our hands, or skin cells that drop off. I’m talking about something more essential–something that at some level is our body heat but that might be, on another level, and in other ways, more permanent, more ethereal and less measurable.
Which is why, later that day, when my wife and I began to go through the things that had filled the shelves and drawers of one of our daughter’s bedrooms before she had finished college and moved out of the house, I thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t throw any of this away. I can’t even give it to Goodwill or store it in a box for the May, neighborhood garage sale.”
“Excuse me?” my wife said, a woman who had been fighting a life-long battle to keep me from throwing away anything that sat unused on a shelf or in a drawer for longer than a week.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “we can’t throw anything away.”