The Things You Keep When Someone Leaves


I have a sweater that is filled with holes, in a giant Tupperware somewhere at my parents’ house, and it wasn’t originally mine. I think it was a boyfriend’s in high school, and it was one of those things that was so comfortable and special and new at the ripe old age of 16 that you didn’t mind it being three sizes too big when you wore it to class. When we broke up, I just kept wearing it — it was too comfortable, too fully adjusted to my body, to throw away. (And I felt that it would have been weird to give back, but maybe he expected me to? It’s hard to tell with these things.)

Anyway, sweaters are often collateral damage of relationships. They are big and comfy and conveniently stop carrying the scent of the person you loved when they are no longer in your life. A few turns in the washing machine, and it’s forgotten all its memory.

I have DVDs. I have tank tops from old friends. I have stuffed animals. I have relics that litter my life like a particularly disorganized museum exhibit, showing a visitor all of the people who have come into my life and then left it with enough haste to forget to ask for their things back. I still have a tube of Dr. Pepper chapstick from a friend in middle school. It’s been empty for years, but I felt weird throwing it out. Why in the world would I keep a tube of empty chapstick? I picture the first few minutes of an episode of Hoarders, where they describe the subject’s descent into living in their collection of old newspapers. Maybe I’ll drown in a tub full of empty chapstick tubes.

But I digress.

Occasionally, someone has asked for things back when they were making their exit. It’s usually an act filled with some measure of spite, a way of saying “I want to remove myself so thoroughly from your life that not even my drug store sunglasses will remain.” It’s all very scorched-earth, And I admit that, in the moment, the desired effect was achieved. I felt insulted, and indignant, and incredibly sad to have to let go of their little trinkets. Once, I pretended not to know where a guy’s mixed CD was because I wanted to keep it. I liked that CD, and felt that I had, in some way, earned it.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe you start to feel entitled to a little piece of someone when they leave because, even though what you had is ending, there was so much good between you before that shouldn’t be erased when the door closes. When I listen to that CD, or wear that sweater, I don’t even really think of that person. It feels like I’m sitting in a time capsule, in a time when things were happy and wonderful, even if I no longer associate that happiness with that particular person. Relics of a relationship or friendship are just that — little tokens of nostalgia that we can rub like a genie’s lamp to enjoy a moment of feeling safe and familiar.

We should leave each other little things here and there, even if we’re glad to be getting away, because we didn’t always feel that way. And you ultimately gave them something so much more important than your copy of a video game or your baseball cap — you gave them a part of your life. And they will always have that good little slice of you, even if you don’t confirm it with a stuffed parrot you let them keep on their bookshelf. But you should, because one day all of the pain and confusion of separation will be over, and it will be nice to look at something and remember, “I remember how happy I was when I got that, and I will be that happy again.”

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