On Day One of this Challenge, while pondering why I wanted to give up product packaging for sixty days, I wrote:
Side note: I think this also comes from an emotionally-rooted issue of worrying that I’m a disposable person — that I don’t matter to others and so they feel they can easily dispose of me. I don’t want to be that. I want to be a person of value. I want to matter so that people think twice about losing me. Ouch. That’s a big thing to admit.
Last night, fifty-five days in, I sat on my bed and opened up a journal I’d started eighteen years ago. Folded inside of it, I discovered a seventeen-year-old letter from Ben, who’s still a dear friend and now my radio co-host. Lost somewhere on the second page, I found the following sentence:
“…You are 300% wrong about being replaceable…. There will never be another you.”
The entire journal — resurrected from the basement of my family home and stuffed with Shakespearean sonnets, letters from friends and boyfriends, song lyrics, refrigerator magnet poetry, and birthday horoscopes — is a gift. But that letter and those lines…
Only hours before reading it, I’d sat on my rug, paring knife in hand, with my 15-year old vacuum cleaner laying forlorn next to me. A part of its foot has dangled pathetically for months now in a state of sad mid-repair, only not yet replaced because it’s hard to find a new foot for an old vacuum. Otherwise, it runs pretty dang well. A few months ago, Roommate asked what I’d do with it if she bought us a new one? “Keep it, of course,” I’d replied. I don’t care that it’s scratched to hell: It was expensive, I’d gotten it specifically to battle airborne animal allergens, and why would you get rid of an awesome mint-green stick vacuum if you don’t have to?
I’ve now jiggered the foot off and deftly separate years of (mostly) (her) cat and (some of my angel) dog hair from its thinnest grooves with the paring knife. It’s satisfyingly gross work. Needling the long screw back through the wires and the wheel, the foot might hold tight for a little while longer until I give in and order a new one online. It’s been a dirty twenty-minute process of reviving the old thing, plus pulling gross stuff from the overfull bag since I’d not noticed we’d run out and hadn’t ordered more. But the foot slides easier and sucks more when I start to use it again. There are smarter vacuums to be owned now, for sure. But again — into what landfill would this vacuum go for no reason?
Back when Benny (as he’d signed it) wrote that letter, he’d been a few months into his freshman year of college; I into my sophomore. Our friendship had already developed into one of deep significance to both of us, from what I read: I’d started contemplating going to school abroad, in London, and his words were in reaction to my worry that relationships like ours would dissipate if I went.
I didn’t go to London. A year or two later, when I got a cat, I got a mint-green stick vacuum to suck up the first of billions of tiny hairs. I still have Benny, he still has me, and I still have the vacuum.
(So, so sadly, I don’t have the cat. I miss you, my feisty Nimue.)
I still have the journal, too. With its poems and lyrics and letters that I then texted and emailed to some of the writers, it sits in direct opposition of the root* of the word vacuum:
…1540s, from Latin vacuum: an empty space, vacant place, a void…
It contains the fullest expression of what I value: relationships and words. It’s a physical and tactile gift from my younger self to remind me of that right now. It inspires memories, phone calls, text messages, emails and, soon, hand-written cards to some of the journal letter-writers, too.
Fifty-five days ago, I had thought that my fearing I’m a disposable person was a new revelation; a reaction to recently but habitually being sick and single in my thirties. Evidently, I’ve struggled with that self-worth for a long time. But rediscovering the journal reminds me of my value to others, too. And as I see this Challenge’s finish line in front of me, I recognize:
If I can value a scrappy old vacuum as much as I do…. If I can enjoy the simple pleasures of the life I have…. If I so honor the people who fill it….If I can feel stronger and more in love with my world with every day of this Year? Well?
If my friendships and my vacuum are not so easily disposable, than I guess neither am I.