Hot. That’s the first word that came to mind. It was only eight in the morning but the temperature was already hovering around eighty degrees. The forecast was calling for 100 or better before the evening would have a chance to offer some relief. I drove up to the keypad positioned just outside of the gate to the self-storage where the remains of my adult life slowly simmered behind a steel roll-up door. With rigid accuracy, I punched in my access code and, as the gate began to slide open, I idled through it toward unit 902.
Random, passing thoughts ricocheted around inside my head as I eased my car through the aisles of lockers. I began to think of how, in the mid-west, we long for days like these while we brave the bitter winter cold that grips this part of the country each year. As the grayness of winter presses upon our spirit with its frigid indifference we relish the memories of the previous summer and its yellow-white optimism. We remember summer as a time when all things are possible. We think back to summer loves, family gatherings, seemingly endless childhood days that dissolve seamlessly into the glowing reddish backdrop of late sunsets dotted with fireflies. As the biting winds of January and February howl across a lifeless landscape only to steal our breath, numb our hands and sting our faces we cling to the memories of previous summers and long for their return. We long for them until they’re fully upon us with their oppressive heat and relentless sun and then our thoughts turn to the autumn to come and the crisp relief it will bring.
Perhaps it’s ingrained in our nature. Maybe we are predisposed, as part of the human condition, to never be satisfied with what surrounds us at any given moment. Something better awaits us around every corner. It is this discontent that drives us to achieve, however. This constant dissonance between our head and heart pushes us to aspire to greater things in the pursuit of the ever-elusive “If only…”. That line of thinking evaporated quickly as I stopped the car in front of unit 902 and my thoughts returned to why I was there to begin with.
Our divorce was final and our home of the past thirteen years was now a place for another family to fill with their own memories. What remained of the contents of that home was now piled high behind the nondescript steel door I fumbled to unlock. Fortunately, the lock cooperated fully with the key I managed to find and surrendered immediately. I removed the lock, slid the latch and lifted the door. What greeted me was a locker that was far emptier than what I had remembered.
She had just moved into her new place and had, as we had agreed she would do, carefully perused the locker and removed anything and everything she felt she could use to begin building her new life. I wasn’t interested in keeping anything in the locker anyway. I had no interest in furnishing my new life with remnants from a previous one. I did not want to build new memories on top of the old. I did not believe that would make a solid foundation for whatever lie ahead of me. This was not a mission to reclaim what I once had but rather to take stock of what needed to be donated and that which could not be donated, disposed of. The feeling that now gripped me was one of utter and complete loneliness.
I was alone in this locker and now charged with figuring out what to do with the leftovers of my life. These things that no one saw value in at the moving sale we conducted just weeks before and that she had decided she didn’t have need of, or room for. Suddenly I felt as though these remnants and I had much in common. These things of little to no perceived value. These things for which she would not, or could not make room. With that, another thought took root.
As we move through this life, we are little more than collections of memories, feelings, intentions, aspirations and achievements. Storage lockers unto ourselves, we accumulate these as we experience life. Most of us, at one point or another, invite another collector into our experience where we open our individual lockers and allow a perusal, of sorts, by the other. We begin to share and exchange what we have accumulated throughout life. Much of the time, the exchange is even and both collectors are enriched having received something that they never would have otherwise had. Occasionally, the exchange is one-sided. One collector begins to remove the contents of another’s locker without replacing it with something from theirs. Eventually, one is left half-full with contents of questionable value. Sometimes what remains is nothing that is worthy of giving to another and we must find a way to dispose of these things before moving on. The question then is one of: How?
I took a careful inventory of storage unit 902 and began to make my plans on how to deal with its contents. As challenging as this was, it has proven easy compared to what remains locked away.