Stuff

For a while – several days – I thought I’d lost my wedding ring. I eventually found it, but while I was ringless, I discussed the situation with a friend. She was dismayed, at first by the possibility that I’d lost my ring, and then by my lack of concern.

“It’s your wedding ring,” she said, as if maybe I’d missed the most significant detail of my own story.

“I keep thinking it’ll turn up.”

“What if it doesn’t?”

I shrugged. “I guess I’ll get another.”

For a second, she just stared at me, incredulous. Then she had me mentally retrace my steps, which didn’t help, but did give her something to focus on that wasn’t slapping some sense into me.

She thought a wedding ring should hold more sentimental value. She thinks I’m broken. She could be right.

***

I got married in April of 1987. Seven months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, we moved from an apartment to a condo. We rented a U-Haul, and in a single day we packed it with everything we owned, cleaned the old place as if our lives (or more accurately our cleaning deposit) depended on it, and arrived at the condo in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. Our new neighbors were asleep, and we were exhausted. Deciding to unload the truck at a more reasonable hour, we grabbed our cat, a couple of blankets and some pillows, and slept on the floor of our new home.

In the morning, the truck was gone. I will spare you the details of my husband’s frantic attempts to convince me that he wasn’t playing a practical joke. I will tell you this. It takes a while to wrap your brain around what it means to be missing everything. When they found the truck a few days later, it was parked outside a dump, empty except for some hangers and an old box spring.

We went to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner in a daze. They gathered their own things, gave us some pots and pans, some dishes,  a grocery bag filled with Tupperware. My mom loves Tupperware. That night, we put the clothes we’d been wearing for two days into the washer. We sat on the floor, naked, wrapped in blankets, and watched all the clothes we owned spin themselves clean.

We replaced things little by little, bought at first just enough clothes to get us through a week. I threw temper tantrums, hating all the empty space. My stunned numbness had turned to rage, and I grieved ferociously for all that was missing. It was worse than if we’d been robbed, because it wasn’t selective. They didn’t just take what was valuable monetarily, they took photo albums and shoe boxed memories, yearbooks and journals and a bald, blue-eyed doll I slept with as a baby…

I remember lying awake at night trying to recall, item by item, all the stuff we had. I’d make lists in my mind, mourning the loss of each thing – a cigar box of bad poetry from my first boyfriend, hundreds of LPs, art projects from elementary school, letters from relatives who were now gone forever. I think I was a little bit crazy during that time. Grief stricken, indiscriminately angry, bewildered.

Ultimately I had to tell myself that it was just stuff. I said it aloud. Firmly. Over and over again. “We are okay. We still have a roof, each other, our cat. That’s what matters; the rest is just stuff.”

I learned that lesson well. It’s how I moved through the loss, and it’s part of me now – for better or worse – my expectation of impermanence. When the truck got stolen, I learned about endings; I learned to let go. I learned there is no point in holding onto what simply does not exist anymore. I learned that trying to hold onto it makes you crazy, sleepless, enraged. Isolated.

So yeah, it might mean that now I’m a little broken. It might mean that I don’t emotionally attach myself to things like wedding rings and keepsakes, and honestly I think there is something sad in that. But it also means I know when to let go. I know not to torture myself with “what if” and “if only” and “remember when.” I know not to rage against what cannot be changed.

And I know how to move past endings because I know absolutely that there are beginnings on the other side.

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40 Responses to Stuff

  1. terrepruitt March 10, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Wow! What a lesson in learning to let go. I am sure you are over it . . . . as you have stated, but I am sorry. That sucks. I have a lot of stuff. I am a stuff person.

    Stuff that is garbage to others, but to me it has “value”.

    Glad you were able to learn from it. And it is nice that you became more relaxed about stuff, instead of the opposite. :-)

  2. Estrella Azul March 10, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    Must have been terrible at the time! I can’t even imagine it, though I’m not an overly stuff keeping person.

    My mother and grandparents are another story… they are very bad at throwing away things they don’t need. So not just things that hold any sentimental value, but they don’t throw away almost anything.
    Every time I go by the garage and see all the junk nobody needs piled up, I think: “Oh, how I wish the day when I throw you all away comes already!”

    Yes, I also have many things which aren’t just stuff to me, but hold sentimental value and I’d rather not lose them or throw them away, but on the other hand I’m reasonable and wouldn’t keep a dried moldy piece of pizza just cause it was amazing and we had a great time, I’d keep the box :P
    Okay, exaggerating here, but you you what I mean.

    For example, the wooden cup made beautiful with the decoupage technique I posted about yesterday would’ve been long gone if my mom wouldn’t have brought it back from the charity box each time I tried to get rid of it :)

  3. Becky March 10, 2010 at 4:32 am #

    Such a sad story — but I couldn’t stop reading it because it was so beautiful at the same time.
    Stuff is just stuff — if it can be replaced. Memories are with us always, no one can take those away — although sometimes I’m sure we wish someone would.
    Detaching from objects and situations is good — moving on is good.
    Sometimes I wonder if we, as people who don’t worry about the stuff, let go and move on too quickly with other things — things that should have a little more permanence. Maybe sometimes it’s better to work out a good ending then to count on a better beginning.
    A lot to think about on a rainy Wednesday morning! Thank you! It’s perfectly brilliant as always!

  4. judy March 10, 2010 at 4:45 am #

    Terre, Although I do sometimes worry that I’m not attached enough (I think that might be a cultural sort of pressure I feel), I value things, especially gifts. But I let go easily. I accept endings. (Probably a broader topic for another post!)

    Estrella, Once, Gretchen Rubin posted about people who compulsively buy (and keep) and people who compulsively don’t. Both tendencies fill a psychological need. I guess sticking to our own natures is what we need to do…

    Yes, Becky, I think that might be the risk to being like me. I may accept endings too easily. I think about that a lot.

  5. Mary March 10, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    Stuff… It is amazing how much sentimental attachment can be applied to it. I cannot imagine the anquish of discovering everything that you own being gone. I would be lost. But I can understand how you feel now.

    I can also take a different perspective on this. A year and a half ago we had to go through my mother’s house and split up or get rid of “stuff.” She now resides in a nursing home and it became necessary to sell the house and part of her land to pay for the costs. Mom had a lot of stuff packed in that little house.

    My siblings and I spent a weekend going through it. We also brought my mother out from the nursing home. As we went through her antiques, she told us the history of the piece. I now have many of those pieces along with the cupboard that she kept them in. At times, my sister and I had to leave the house as we were overcome with emotion.

    My mother is still with us, although her mind is not as sharp as it once was. On that day that she is gone, I will still have “stuff” to remind me of her. I think my favorite is an old green coffee mug that she had gotten as a promotion from a bank. I loved that mug and would always grab it in the mornings for coffee at breakfast when I was visiting. We would sometimes linger over coffee, talking until it was almost time for lunch.

    Mary

  6. Toni March 10, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    My husband misplaced his wedding ring for two years and we didn’t stress, cause we knew it would show up at some point. It did.

    My wedding band has now disappeared, but we don’t worry, cause we know it has to be somewhere in the house. We know this because I haven’t really worn my rings in about 10 years (that’s another story) so it most likely fell down in a drawer somewhere and will eventually be uncovered.

    We’re still married – for nearly 18 years now – and the rings don’t make that more or less true.

    However, losing everything I own, I can’t even imagine that. I’m such a stuff person, I’m pretty sure I’d want to hunt down the theives and kill them with my own two hands. Literally.

  7. Tricia March 10, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    OMG! I’ve never heard of ones entire possessions stolen from them like that. How awful and violating. It’s equivelent to a house fire wiping out everything.

    I’m glad you’ve moved on the realized the true meaning of “stuff”.

    On another note: I’m married, have a ring but won’t wear it. Rings make me crazy. I fiddle with them, twist them, turn them, slide them up and down, this last all of five minutes before I pull it off. Yet, I love rings, sometimes I put up with the crazyness just to wear one. (My wedding ring makes me the crazyest; does that mean something?)

  8. judy March 10, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Mary, I love your coffee cup story. The feelings you have about it are beautiful. I do have things I love for the memories they hold, but I don’t think they have the power to devastate me with their loss anymore.

    Toni, Yes, actually, Chad has lost his wedding ring twice. (He’s wearing his third.) ;-) And that murderous rage? That’s what I was working so hard to get past. It’s kind of terrible to live with that.

    Tricia, Me too! The ring I thought I lost is a sport ring. A replacement for the diamond ring which looks really pretty in my jewelry box!

  9. Kristin Callender March 10, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Having a large family I am constantly surrounded by stuff & have made the joke more than once that I’d like to lift my house and shake its contents into a huge dumpster and start fresh. All jokes aside you learned a great lesson the hard way. Like you said, it wasn’t selective, you had no say in what remained. I love your outlook on it now, that people are more important than things. That’s not broken, it’s inspiring. Thanks.

  10. Caroline March 10, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    Wow, I can’t even imagine what that would be like, losing all my stuff. It sounds to me that you are not “broken” but actually in a better place than I am. Stuff is – well just stuff. While it is great to have, can make life more convenient, and conjure up memories more easily for us, you have learned to let go of the material, and focus on what is important – your loved ones, the here and now, and moving forward. Lovely lovely post as usual my super talented and sparkly friend!

  11. Amy March 10, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    A friend asked me a few weeks ago, “If your house caught fire, and knowing that your husband/kids/dogs are safe, what is the one thing you would grab?”

    Without even hesitation, I said, “My external hard drive.” Why? Because it has all my beloved family digital pictures and videos on it from the last 15 years.

    Books, plates…and yes wedding rings can always be replaced. Having said that, my heart sank reading your story. I would have felt so violated.

  12. judy March 10, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Kristin, I love that image – shaking out the house. I feel that same way. It’s been years since the truck was stolen, but it didn’t take long to accumulate way too much new stuff! And here’s a funny fact. Because we bought everything at once, there was this point, months later when underwear and socks and things all started to wear out at once.

    Caroline, Thank you! You know where I noticed it most recently? On Facebook. High school friends find me and I have nowhere to look to place them. No yearbooks… and since I haven’t had a yearbook for years now, I’ve lost a lot of those memories. Our stuff does keep things fresh, I think. And still… I think I’m (mostly) better off now.

    Amy, That was the part people did not immediately grasp. The irreplaceable things that were stolen. There is a whole section of my life for which I have no photographs. And if it weren’t for what was at my parents’, I’d have nothing from my childhood.

    • Caroline March 10, 2010 at 9:02 am #

      Interesting isn’t it? I wonder if I can borrow your story and use that as a reason NOT to accept ol high school friend requests on fb?! I might have to give that a try :o) I’m spending so much more time there now that my Twitter friends are there – wonder what that says about me…. ;o) LOL great post!

  13. ironicmom March 10, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    Wow. What a story. If you haven’t written this up as a personal essay and submitted it somewhere, you should. You tell it well. Newsweek’s My Turn? (or is it Your Turn?)

    Regarding the wedding ring, I totally get it. Neither my husband nor I wear our simple bands. I hate rings on my fingers (so much so I made him promise not to get me an engagement ring), so we don’t. And we’re about to celebrate 10 years of marriage in a few months, rings or no rings.

  14. karenfrommentor March 10, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    You’re not broken Judy.

    I don’t understand why some people think that there must be a one size fits all when it comes to how we react to things.

    How you feel is how you feel. If it’s right for you, then it’s right.

    Maybe the next thing that you should lose is the friend who thinks that you’re broken.

  15. BOBBY March 10, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    If my place were ablaze (as Amy mentioned above) I would grab Kim and the cat (mostly in that order) and go have dinner! And as I was eating and sipping a margarita I would start thinking about what stores I would go to the next day to upgrade everything that was smoldering!

    I suppose I think the same if something or everything was stolen. I would only feel bad if those that did it left a mess (I am a bit tidy). Although, more likely than not, there would be feelings of wishing their getaway vehicle was hit by a train… OK, I know, bad karma there.

    It’s certainly nice to have a few things, keepsakes I suppose, that spur memories and times long past. But not since I was about eight, when I would get a new pair of PF Flyers, have I really been tied to anything stuff-wise! (the Farrah Fawcett poster in my later years is a whole other story!)

    Real quick, and not in ANY way to make fun of that traumatic incident, I am going to reread your story with the Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” playing in the background. It seems an appropriate choice. And a good tear jerker always needs music — think Brian’s Song!

  16. BOBBY March 10, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    its funny, your story makes me think about how it was instilled in me to always appreciate everything that I was given. And, at the same time, to remember that not one item was ever more valuable than the person that gave it to me.

    You were a good muse today!

  17. John Pruitt March 10, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    I remember the day my parents told me this had happened to you. I wanted to hurt someone on your behalf and couldn’t understand who could be so idiotically evil.

    I’m sorry the lesson was given to you even now years later. Back then I wanted to call and voice my support but we really were not ‘phone’ buddies. Heck, when I first contacted you to ask about any contact info on the Roaches, I thought you’d pull out a list of the ten thousand stupid things I did while living across the street and growing up.

    I should have remember that that list was most likely in the uHaul and I was safe. ;)

    Hugs to you for comfort on a memory of a bad happening.

  18. judy March 10, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Ironicmom, I hadn’t thought about turning it into something for submission. I will think about it now. Thank you.

    Karen, Well, I was interpreting her reaction. I’m sure she would never call me broken. (But thank you for getting all protective!) ;-)

    Bobby, I love what your mom used to tell you! (And, yeah, I definitely hoped the thieves would get hit by a train. At least.)

    John, You’re so sweet! Hugs back!

  19. karenfrommentor March 10, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    Awwwwwwww at John Pruitt. That was so incredibly sweet.

    [little did he know I needed a hug today too, so I’m horning in]

  20. simonscotland March 10, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    You are not broken ~ you are an inspiration. To have lost everything is hard enough to comprehend but you went one step further and gotten beyond the murderous range and have emerged as a better human being. There are items i possess that I would be sad if they were gone but none are as important as the people who inspire me daily with their kindness. Thank you for being one of these people

  21. terrepruitt March 10, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Oh Simon, so beautifully said. I want to ride on that one . . . . . (yeah, what he said).

  22. Dani H March 10, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    There’s not much I can add to the comments of everyone above, I will just echo their thoughts that this is another example of how amazing you are in your dealings with life. I have lost many things through the years, or never even had them in the first place, but it’s the people that matter the most. Thank you for your friendship, J. I treasure it and you.

  23. adamslisa March 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    that is the most unbelievable story. That would shake me to the core, and I am a person who definitely has had big things happen! :) I am typing this fast, so I can immediately share it with everyone I know. Thanks for sharing it.

    By the way, my husband and I have been married for 12 years. Some time ago he lost his wedding ring. We got a replacement. I didn’t think twice about it. But a truck full of all of your possessions? wow. I’m speechless.

  24. joannefirth March 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Judy, first of all, I am terribly sorry that this happened to you and your husband and can’t even fathom the shock you must have felt.

    Starting over with literally no possesions must have been a very long road for you. You are not broken because of it though. You had a very hard lesson in what is truly important in life and have accepted it. You are a hero for that.

    Thank you. <3

  25. George Angus March 10, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Good on ya, J-meister.

    Some folks never get past this kind of stuff. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to experience such loss but it seems like you’re a better person for it.

    Thanks for providing yet another glimpse of the life story that has brought you to where you are today.

    Cheers

    G

  26. judy March 10, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Simon, I feel exactly the same way about you. xo

    Dani, Thank you. It is indeed.

    Lisa, That is quite a compliment coming from you, one of my personal heroes. You inspire me daily.

    Joanne, Instant perspective. ;-) Thank you, sweetie!

    George, I love when you call me j-meister (maybe even more than j-dawg, but it’s a tough call.) I would not get over losing you nearly as well.

  27. bnthotful March 11, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    I riveted on these two sentences –

    “It takes a while to wrap your brain around what it means to be missing everything.’
    AND
    “We sat on the floor, naked, wrapped in blankets, and watched our clothes spin.”

    Between those two sentences you went from missing everything to starting anew with everything you needed – each other. Cool.
    ———————————————

    For me, on a smaller scale, the day I lost my checkbook (in which I studiously recorded every transaction and reconciled with the bank statement every month) was the last day I kept minute track of the comings and goings of my money! Although initially ‘un-mind-wrappable’ the sudden separation eventually brought a pleasant sensation of freedom.

  28. Sue March 11, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this unfortunate event with us all and the subsequent changes in you that it brought. It makes us all closer to know stories like this that shape our friends.
    I can only hope your doll went to a little girl that had never had a doll before. Wishful thinking, I know. Too bad that “honour among theives” doesn’t mean or guarantee the proper use of what they steal.
    You broken? Scratched, like a new car with it’s first scratch. After that you were ready for the rest of the bumps along the way. Here’s wishing you the least amount of repair visits!

  29. Jane Bretl March 11, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    Judy, what an amazing story. It is truly worthy of publication, beyond these fond pages. I am so touched by it, as are all these other readers based on their heart-felt comments… and yes, people reach out to you because you are a friend, but your writing is so powerful I know it could touch millions of people if they could see it. You are that good.

    I am awed by your personal journey through this, but also what a test of your brand new marriage, right off the bat. No wonder you do not need to wear a ring, or have any other thing, once you make it through an event like that together.

    Thanks for inspiring me today!

  30. Judy March 11, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    What a terrific post. I’m a sentimental one and I would have been crazy with worry. Thanks for sharing this!
    Judy

  31. judy March 11, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    Bnthtful, I love your observation of my movement from one sentence to the other. And yes, there is freedom in letting go. I don’t know why it worries me sometimes that I do not feel as attached to things as other people do. I guess it’s knowing that I am not typical. And yet… I have a very deep sense of being properly aligned. Well, on this matter. ;-)

    Sue, yes, I feel that too, the sense of discovery when I learn something important about someone I care for. (Every single post Lisa Adams has ever written.) ;-)

    Jane, I will cut out your comment and put it on my bulletin board. That means a lot to me coming from one as talented as yourself.

    Judy, I was crazy. No doubt. Thank you for commenting.

  32. Megan March 11, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    I can feel the misery of the moment in your writing; I don’t know how I’d cope with something like that. But I can see how you’d have to learn the lesson or lose some part of your mind.

    It’s not such a bad lesson to learn; it’s true that our marriages are far more important than our wedding rings – which after all are only meant to be symbols of the real thing. I’m glad yours came back tough.

    Yours,
    Megan

  33. Bryan Borland March 11, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Best. Post. Ever.

    Judy,

    Your voice as a story-teller is powerful. I saw every moment you described as if I were watching a movie. I know you’re probably supposed to see everything you read like that, but there was just something special about this – and the style in which you wrote – that completely transported me out of my office and into your memory. Personal. Intimate. Sad. Strong. Real. Raw. Detailed.

    I could write so many good things about what you’ve shared here – from a “craft” point of view. From a human point of view, I want to just give you a hug.

    You’re one of the most talented people blogging today. And *that’s* no exaggeration.

  34. Bryan Borland March 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Also, please submit this to the New York Times magazine – the back page in the Sunday edition.

  35. judy March 11, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Bryan, I remember when I was first trying to figure out what this blog was about, beyond politics which had me so fired up at the beginning. I was nervous about posting personal stories and expressed concern in a post that no one would want to hear about me. You commented, saying you liked when I wrote about me. The rest is history. (Everyone can decide whether to thank you or curse you now.)

    Thank you for this. And for you. Big love.

  36. Luke James March 13, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    You’re right. The concept of possessions and material happiness is something inherent in western society.

    For years I lugged boxes of books, keepsakes, CDs, DVDs etc etc. I carried them upstairs, downstairs, dusted them – constantly convincing myself that I needed these things to make me whole.

    It’s awful what happened – but every event, journey and cloud has a silver lining; or, a silver line: “I learned there is no point in holding onto what simply does not exist anymore.”

    I became so tired of material possessions so when various life events changed my view significantly, I was both relieved and liberated. So much so, that when I was married, we didn’t take any photos or want any gifts. We had rings, but even those are, well, at the end of the day, just bands of metal.

    We can justify so much via the human ability to attach symbolism to inanimate objects; yet, what’s truly important is the flesh and blood of ourselves and the people we love.

    Our minds are so well developed, there isn’t an iPhone or camera that can come close to the shots we have in our memories.

    We tend to consume things when in reality, as artists and people, we should be ‘experiencing’ as much as possible.

    You have your memories Judy. They couldn’t steal those. In the same way as nobody can stop you writing them down. You can recreate the images, foibles, voices, appearances and emotions of all the people in your life, past and present – with words.

    You’re doing it already.

    Best wishes, Luke

  37. chezhui March 14, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Hey Judy, I lived through a house fire where me and my hubby lost almost everything we owned – except our lives, my cats lives and some treasured photographs. I too missed certain clothes for awhile because they represented memories of fun events. But in the end I was able to let go.

    Like you, to this day, I too am not emotionally attached to things. I do have a little crush on my mini cooper (true confessions) .

    I think this event, many would call life shattering, was a liberation. A call to value what really matters friends, family, experiences versus stuff, things, or as I like to call them clutter.

    At the time we got to live downtown Toronto in a fully furnished condo while our house was rebuilt for almost a year. We replaced some things. It was like a do-over. And in the end it was a fun experience. It may be my 15 minutes to fame, as the newspaper headlines read “Showering woman rescued by sanitation worker”…

    Sounds like a good prologue for a book.

    Mairi

  38. judy March 14, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Luke, “We can justify so much via the human ability to attach symbolism to inanimate objects; yet, what’s truly important is the flesh and blood of ourselves and the people we love.” <— YES! And as you say, what we experience is what shapes us. The stolen truck is evidence of that. Thank you for stopping by.

    Mairi, Truth be told… I have a little crush on your Mini Cooper too. ;-)

  39. Becky April 3, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I. Still. Love. This. Post.

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