Once, in the Wal Mart parking lot, I had found a mess of glossy scraps and arranged them into a photograph of a man and a woman. It was a selfie, cheek to cheek. "A bad breakup" I hypothesized, a connection that hadn't made it in the car, to the house, and into a frame on the mantle. Left as rubbish to be stirred by exhaust on hot concrete.
I don't know what to do with this box full of photographs. I printed them out. They made it home. They made it to a place where they were passed back and forth, smiled over, and set gently away for another time of sweet nostalgia.
"Stay Awhile," I had painted on the top. It's all one can really ask for, even if a relationship lasts a lifetime. It's always just "awhile."
When people come into my work celebrating a ___ year anniversary I always comment that, "once I made it three years."
Once I had been loved for awhile.
In 2013 I had a great purge. I burned everything, all the tangible memories, even stuff I had done in kindergarten. I burned everything that I didn't use on a day-to-day. I burned all the photographs and projects. Matt Ozrelic had walked by and asked if I was "going through a thing."
"It's the Year of the Snake," I had said, "it's time to let go. It's time to be lighter. Time to not be held down."
I was also borrowing a memory I had had in Olympia, Washington watching Alexis burn all her journals before moving to London. When I had protested, she countered, "there are things here just for processing. Things I need to let go. Things I don't want my mom to know if something were to happen to me and these were left."
She granted me permission to fish out her French notes from Evergreen the way Matt, years later, would fish out a little zine I wasn't proud of.
I'm not of Chinese ancestry, but I do consider the Lunar New Year and pay attention to Chinese publications that come out with omens and predictions. 2020 is the year of the Rat. In my own inappropriate appropriation of that symbol I think of rats as being pragmatic survivalists. They are considerate collectors, thoughtful, and sentimental.
This is all to say, I don't mind holding on right now.
I know it's holding me back from moving on, weighing me down, and sabotaging creativity, but letting go doesn't feel right at the moment..
Holding on is the opposite of everything I've ever done. I have no precedent or proper defense.
I'm not ready for my relationship to be bits of shiny paper strewn in a parking lot.
I don't want it to be ashes in the fireplace.
There is a community of people in the Toraja region of Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia who keep their dead close, perhaps lying in bed. The state of death of their loved ones doesn't create an absence as much as a stillness or silence. Is this how I feel? Is this what I'm doing? I do not expect in any way my past relationship to raise its head and speak to me as it once did.
But the symbolic discard of burning/burying feels as much as a useless gesture as keeping the box. In fact, it feels wrong.
Keeping the box feels right. That's all that can be said in its defense. In my defense.
In the least, if anything were to happen to me, a stranger could pick up the box intact and rightfully hypothesize, "she was loved once."