Inspired by Russell Crowe I’ve decided to hold my own Art of Divorce auction. It sounds much more glamorous than a garage sale. A grand event to say goodbye to the pieces of a previous life and start anew.
“Here is my stuff,” Crowe wrote in an amiable note at the start of the auction’s printed catalogue. “Stuff I have worn, stuff I have bought, stuff I have admired, stuff I have loved, stuff that has made me laugh, stuff that I have sweated through.”
He said the sale would mark a cathartic end to his amicable divorce proceedings from Danielle Spencer. And I get that. Memories get caught up in all sorts of stuff. From sturdy leather jockstraps to chariots.
But alas, my catalogue won’t be as extensive as Crowe’s, no leather boots worn in Romper Stomper, nor violins from the 18th century, just the detritus, if that’s not too harsh a word, of a near 30-year relationship.
But where to begin? At the beginning of the end, nay, a few years before, for the beginning of the end is always further back than first seems. The amicable separation of furniture and saucepans and blankets and Tupperware that happens when you agree to set up two homes.
But now my stuff is mine. Stuff I have worn, stuff I have bought, stuff I have admired, stuff I have loved etc, but occasionally you’re reminded that some of that stuff that remains still reminds you of what has gone.
Every now and again I have purged, my minimal living even more pared back. The linen cupboard is as bare as it’s ever been, shelves too stripped clean. A box of cards and letters, many from him, was riffled through. Did I really need to keep anniversary cards from 1990 whose sentiment was no longer relevant? No.
But what about children’s drawings and wedding dresses and photographs of holidays and books once shared?
In her Huffington Post article Memories Matter – Resist the urge to purge after divorce Theresa Stiles found she couldn’t get rid of the stuff, nor the stories of what it all represented.
“My children have family pictures in their rooms that assure them they were created out of love,” she writes. “I still hang the personalised ornaments on the Christmas tree that show the four of us as sleigh riding penguins or happy little elves. I feel it’s important to remind them we are always going to be a family ‘til death do us part; we just define it differently now.”
She says happy memories serve as an anchor, tethering us to the past in a positive way. She admits sometimes that it’s easier said than done. And it is.
On my son’s bedside table is a photograph of his father and I, from a wedding, not ours, caught laughing, long ago, that period where all your friends are committing themselves to love, to life. Sometimes I look at it and wonder what happened. More and more I look at it and my first thought is, was I ever that young? I think that’s a good sign.
Yet I remember one moment of acute heartbreak in the packing up process when my ex left behind a photograph he had taken of me atop a mountain in Switzerland somewhere.
Our first overseas holiday. The view from that mountain, and of our life to come, stretched out beyond the horizon. That view wasn’t his now. I sometimes wonder if any physical memory of me has a place on a shelf somewhere in his new life.
Yet I’ve long been a believer that women are the keepers of memories. That we’re more likely to store stuff as well as stories, tucked away in corners of our homes and hearts.
Part of me feels that the albums filled of photos of newborns and first steps and first days at school belong with me. That I was the one to hang finger paintings on the wall, file away report cards from kindergarten. The one to build our family story.
I know, on the good days, that it’s time for me to start building my own family story, making my own family memories. I know that all four of us will be forever intertwined but I’m at my happiest now when these new chapters are being written.
Holidays, meals, conversations, experiences. It’s different. Lighter in a way. More free. The children are older and that’s changed the core of it. I watch them make their own memories and I know I have to let go. Let go of many things.
By Karen Hardy