My mom died two years ago to the day that I'm writing this. My dad is getting re-married next year and he's now selling the house where my siblings and I grew up. It's the only place we ever called "home," and I never imagined having to clear it out. It felt like something that would always be there. But part of being an adult is facing the clichéd-but-true realization that everything comes to an end, whether you're prepared or not.
When I told my girlfriend I was writing an article about moving out of the house I grew up in, she said, "why the fuck should anyone care?" and maybe she's right. However, there's something almost mythical about North American suburbs and nuclear family homes like mine. It's evidenced by their treatment in our pop culture, the ever-lauded films of John Hughes and 80s Spielberg, in the literature of Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, and the entire emo-punk genre. Home and family are individual yet universal. Everyone wants a peek at the stories hidden behind the picket fences because everyone knows how weird their own versions are.
I knew there was a lot of stuff hidden away in my bedroom. I wasn't quite sure what I'd find or how I'd feel about it. So without much warning I hopped on a plane from Vancouver to Ottawa, unprepared for what I would discover by cleaning out the house that I had lived in since birth.
A Knockoff Fleshlight
Hidden away in the depths of my basement storage room, under piles of old band t-shirts and university textbooks, I found Sheila. During my undergrad I discovered that Fleshlights were a real thing you could order online. I thought they were hilarious and often joked with my roommates about buying one because who would want to put their member in a rubber sleeve that looked like a flashlight. I guess I joked about it too much and for my birthday my friends pitched together to buy me a Fleshlight knockoff, fully loaded with a ribbed lining and a vibration control. I named it "Sheila." Of course my curiosity and early-twenties-hormones got the better of me and I tested it out. The cleaning process was too much to bear, and it was never used since. After that it sat in my room for years as something I would pull out at parties for a quick gag. Once I graduated school, I just couldn't part with such a thoughtful gift and figured it was a good idea to hide it in my house. I'm almost positive my parents found it at some point, but never wanted to ask about my weird self-pleasure habits. Maybe they just thought it was a flashlight.
Birthday Cards from My Mom
I've always had a strange relationship with birthday cards, never wanting to keep them because "they're just paper," but never wanting to throw them out because it's proof that some people care enough about me to write a message on a piece of paper once a year. Finding a few birthday cards I kept from my mom was the most emotional discovery of my week at home. I had no idea they were in my room, and reading them was like hearing my mom's voice again, something I thought was only possible now through my dreams. The card she gave me on my 16th birthday stands out above all the others, and as I read her simple, loving words over and over I wept in my childhood bedroom for a rather lengthy period. After finding these cards, it became the purpose of my cleaning to find more hidden messages from my mom, more renewed, "I love yous," as if she were still there with me.
Empty Salvia Bottle
Back in 2007, my group of high school friends, collectively self-titled "The Brass Beaters" after watching The Warriors, got bored with weed and drinking by Grade 12. We were looking to try something new, but most of us were too vanilla to do anything harder. That was until we found out salvia was not only legal in Ontario, but sold in head shops. How strong could it be if it was legal? We bought a couple bottles and went back to my place one weekend when my parents were out of town. We bro'd down in my backyard while taking hits of legal hallucinogens. One of the Brass Beaters came late to the party and we packed him a bowl, telling him it was just weed. He thought he was having a fit of psychosis for 20 minutes, despite our attempts to calm him down. In hindsight this was a terrible trick to play. I kept the bottle because at the time I was convinced that my experiences that night were life altering. They weren't.
Letters from Ex-Girlfriends
Tucked away in various drawers and at the bottom of book boxes are letters and keepsakes from my past girlfriends, all the way from Grade 5 to my most recent ex. These are the type of things I suspect a lot of people keep because they serve as a reminder that someone at some point in time cared about you, and it's always nice to feel wanted, to feel loved. The funniest of the bunch was a postcard my 5th grade girlfriend (now married and pregnant) sent me from PEI in which there is no hint of her affection for me, only a description of her trip, "Our beach is so nice. Red sand is so smooth but the seashells cut your feet. Ouch!"
The hardest to read were those from my last serious relationship. This was my first real love, and that came with naive promises of being together forever. Her letters and birthday cards were always expressions of deep love and the bond we shared. Reading them over didn't leave me sad or nostalgic, but rather left me with a fondness for young love and a strange sensation of distance—somebody I held close for four years of my life was now as foreign as a random on a train.
Brass Beater Ring
Remember that impressively silly name that my friend group went by? It didn't stop there. The lot of us went on a Grade 12 grad trip to Cancun, Mexico, the city where white male tourist dreams come true. Our resort was far enough removed from the realities of Mexico that the only problem we had to consider was whether we should order watery beers or tequila shots. Somewhere between the haze and debauchery of the all-inclusive week, one of my friends decided it would be a good idea to commission a local jeweler to make custom rings with our "gang" initials, "BB." Of course we all agreed this was the best idea we'd ever heard and coughed up a bunch of money to get these bad boys made. We all wore them for the summer before university started—these glorified friendship bracelets—and everyone of them broke but mine.
My CD Collection
I count myself lucky to be part of the last generation that predominantly purchased music in a physical form. It was exciting having to save money for that album you desperately wanted and couldn't hear any other way. At the ripe age of eight, my mom took me to Sam the Record Man to purchase my first CD, Aqua's Aqua's Aquarium. I used to play this album on repeat in my room, singing along to "Barbie Girl", while playing with action figures and Ken dolls. I guess even back then I was comfortable with my sexuality.
I'm not sure anything screams 90s quite like anthropomorphized sharks that drive motorcycles with bulging muscles and khaki pants. I was obsessed with action figures, just like any other kid. Only difference is my parents spoiled me. My sister and I would spend hours playing with them and coming up with insane storylines. Looking back on it now, I realize this was likely what planted the seeds of desire to become a writer. I kept only a couple of my favorite toys, and put the rest in a box for my dad's garage sale. Hopefully they go to a good home with a kid who gets as much out of Street Sharks as I did.
I found plenty of other stuff in my house over the week I spent cleaning it out, some stuff I thought I had lost, other stuff I couldn't figure out why I'd kept in the first place. It was a surreal feeling that brought on a wave of nostalgia, both wistful happiness of indulging in good memories and sadness for it all being behind me.
Digging through my room was like an excavation through my mind to find the memories that I never knew I had lost. It left me thinking that if I had secrets stashed away, my siblings and my parents must have some of their own stories hidden away from me (and themselves). While I don't believe in ghosts in the esoteric sense, I do believe that such secrets and the stories behind them are what will remain even after we're gone.
At the end of the week, on the last night I would ever spend in that house, I held back my tears, confessing to my girlfriend how was devastated I felt. She said, "You're lucky. You have a history in one place of almost 30 years. Most people don't get that."
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