She stood there, immobile, unsure how or what to start packing. Years of paints, paintbrushes, paper, clay, sculptures, twine, beads, bits, feathers and things that have no value but have all the value in the world.
‘It’s just a paperclip,’ I said. ‘You do not need this.’
A tear rolled down her cheek.
‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘Or, maybe I do. That clip held together the first painting I exhibited. I do need to hold on to it. Or, if not me, somebody else might want to use it.’
‘It’s a fucking paper clip,’ I said. ‘It goes…’
I swept it into the bag for rubbish.
This was me, helping a dear friend pack up her life. She’s moving from South Africa to England.
They have paper clips in England.
But packing is hard. The blue dress, even though it hasn’t been worn for years, is gorgeous. The teacup that’s been in bubble wrap forever; it came from a great grandmother.
Objects of beauty. Of meaning. Of memory.
What stays and what goes? What gets thrown away and what gets given away?
We went through a bag of baby clothing. Our babies grew up together. I recognised the dinosaur hat. The sippy cup. The blankie.
‘God,’ I said, ‘I cannot believe you kept these. I gave all my baby stuff away years ago. Years ago.’
I held the blanket.
And then suddenly a tear rolled down my cheek too.
Of course she had to keep the dinosaur hat.
I had to keep my dinosaur hats too.
We hold on to things because they are a part of us. They are our memories, our emotions, our ties to things and people and times. They are love.
How does one part with anything?
I dug the paper clip out the rubbish.
‘It stays,’ I said.
She breathed in, a sigh of relief. We both wiped our tears. And I blew my nose into a handkerchief.
It’s the handkerchief of an old lover. We’re not in touch anymore.
But it smells of him. It is a part of him.
It is him.
Of course I’m not letting it go.