Thursday, May 19, 2011

The relationship box

I'm in the middle of a major basement cleaning project, going through old boxes and getting rid of a ton of stuff that I just no longer need in an effort to make more room for The Man and his two daughters (who will hopefully be coming to visit this summer). Most of it is quick and easy: Keep the Halloween decorations; donate the extra vacuum cleaner; keep the juicer; dispose of the 13 half-empty paint cans.

But then I came to those sentimental boxes. Those ones are always doozies, aren't they? The high school yearbooks (keep), the dance recital costumes (toss), the picture my little brother drew for me when he was 5 (keep), my prom dress (toss). And that box that everyone has: the past relationships box. What to do with that?

My relationship box, thankfully, is actually quite small. Once an avid letter saver, I've long since parted with the hangings on of all my past relationships. It's not that I'm bitter or want to forget any of them. Quite the contrary. I just don't need the notes, the cards, the ticket stubs anymore. I have completely moved on from each and every one of those relationships, and so their various detritus no longer hold any sentimental value. I do keep the pictures, but those never made it into the relationship box in the first place; they were never treated as special or private or personal (clearly, no nudie pics in my collection). The photos are just more evidence of every day life, no different from the photos of of camping trips and birthday parties and Christmas trees they're flanked by. And so those stay. But everything else made its way into the recycling bin a long time ago.

With one exception.

I'm still hanging on to a box from my ex-husband. Inside are mementos from our dating and married years that, at the time, seemed worthy of saving. I keep it now not for sentimental reasons (if I were at all sentimental about our relationship, I probably wouldn't have torn up my wedding dress to make the most awesome Corpse Bride costume EVER). It doesn't serve as a monument to our marriage, but as a peacekeeper to our divorce. Here's why:

Most of the time, I'm mildly annoyed with my ex-husband. We generally get along fine but, you know, he bugs me. He is my ex-husband after all. And periodically, that mild annoyance becomes something much, much more, and it's all I can do to keep from poking his eyes out with toothpicks. In those instances, it's helpful to remember that, at one time, I considered him a decent human being. That's where the box comes in.

I don't have to physically refer to the box. I don't have to dig it out of its storage tub and pull off the flowered top to flick through any of its contents. In fact, I've only opened it twice since our divorce seven years ago. Simply knowing it exists, knowing that there is concrete evidence of our relationship in my home is enough. Once upon a time, I liked that guy. Loved him, even, though it makes me cringe to even utter the word in reference to him. And if I found something to like about him once, he must not be a wholly terrible guy. Remembering the way I saw him then helps me to tolerate him better now.

The relationship box turned up yesterday as I was cleaning. I paused when I saw it, wondering for a moment if I should just finally dump it once and for all. I opened it and read a letter from my ex-husband. Then another. And another. It made me uncomfortable. I'm so far removed from that time in my life that I felt like I was reading someone else's private letters. I stopped reading and put the lid back on the box. I almost threw the whole thing away - all the letters, all the birthday and anniversary cards, all the dried flowers. But it reminded me, again, that we were once a couple, a pair, a team. We once enjoyed each other's company and were able to get along on a regular basis. It reminded me that he is a fellow human being and not just an ex-husband to be tolerated. And it occurred to me that I have many, many more years of co-parenting to get through with this guy, and that I'm going to want to poke his eyes out with toothpicks many more times before we're through. I'm going to need the perspective contained within that box.

What about you? Do you hang on to mementos from relationships past? Or are you a burn all evidence kind of person? And you divorced ladies out there: what did you do with your wedding dress?


T said...

I LOVE this post, girl. I agree that we sometimes forget that we DID think our exes were quite wonderful at some point.

And yes, I did get rid of my wedding dress (would love to see the Corpse Bride costume!) but I do have all of the other mementos. I think I'm saving some for my daughters too. I like showing them what a happy couple we once were.

Single Mom Seeking said...

I LOVE this post, too!!
After all, I've just moved and in between packing, I also "bumped" into my relationship box. Those mementos are "doozies" for sure!

I'd add: as T points out, someday, your son might ask to see a memento from the time that you and his father were in love. Those will be precious.

All I've held onto at this point are a few photos. But then again, I haven't seen the Ex for almost 10 years.

Martini Mom said...

Yes, absolutely! I've saved all of our wedding photos as well as our regular ol' life photos, in part for our son. (And partly because we were together for 10 years. Getting rid of photos that contain him would mean getting rid of a significant portion of my photos, period. Bye, bye photographic evidence of my 20s!) He also has a framed photo of the three of us together, circa 2003, in his bedroom. I think it's important to show him that we were once a happy couple (even though by 2003, we weren't), as well as let him know that I don't view our past relationship as something evil to be destroyed and/or forgotten. I'm certain it makes it easier to experience his own relationship with his father if he's not picking up on animosity or resentment from me.

I also saved our wedding video, but that's mainly because my late father is on it. And I still have my wedding ring, just because I'm not sure what to do with it. Sell it? It wasn't worth that much in the first place, but probably too much to just donate or give away. Hmmm...

BigLittleWolf said...

This is so hard. You write about it with a very delicate (and witty) touch. My relationship with my ex isn't quite so civilized as yours, yet I could never destroy things. It felt disrespectful to my sons somehow, even more than an act of sentiment.

But it's more than that. It's grief, a younger self, shared history. Maybe it's illusions I'm still trying to bury, or something I'm trying to understand.

I don't look at any of it. Things are in boxes in the attic or God knows where. But my kids still have albums and photos and objects in their rooms. That's their right. Their experience of things is not the same as mine.

You might enjoy this, from a few months back. It seems we aren't the only ones who can't disrespect those photographs, and just put them away.

(And you already know I'm very sentimental... )

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