Photographs of ourselves at our happiest that were supposed to be nice reminders now stared at us from the fridge as if to ask, "Don't you remember when you were happy together?"
Refrigerators, like photographs, are about making things last as long as possible. They’re about taking things with short shelf-lives, like milk or memories, and preserving them beyond their natural spans.
I'd started the photo collage on the fridge when I moved into his basement apartment in Jersey City. He had insisted that I move in, yet my things stayed packed in boxes in the hall for months. I’d felt like a visitor, cleaning up after myself and awkwardly asking for things.
His fridge had been fairly empty, save for a few Family Guy magnets. I thought it was the perfect place to start to slowly add myself to the apartment- he rarely went in the kitchen. The photos I chose were snapshots of the things we’d shared- snowboarding, traveling, and working on our matching candy-apple red motorcycles. With the photos spread over the white of the fridge, it seemed natural that those two smiling people would share an apartment, like they seemingly shared everything else.
Photos have always been my secret way of holding tightly to the things that matter most to me. Photos are not a way to better remember the good times- they are my way of clinging to things that cannot be kept- moving things, breathing things, transient things. I like the idea of taking a moment and keeping it forever, like the next moment never comes and nothing ever changes. I keep them as evidence that things were real, long after they cease to be.
When we decided to move to a bigger place in a beautiful New Jersey suburb, I finally felt home. After years of being in and out of dorm rooms and overpriced sublets across New York City, I was ready to be there. I unpacked the fridge photos first and covered our new fridge in us- photos, postcards, ticket stubs. Proof. Eventually I added a message board, where, in the beginning, we'd leave each other cute messages, and at the end, I’d leave him reminders of his traffic court dates.
Over the next six months, we did a lot of arguing in that kitchen. Photographs of ourselves at our happiest that were supposed to be nice reminders now stared at us from the fridge as if to ask, “Don’t you remember when you were happy together?” We’d gesture at them in anger and accuse each other of having changed. Snapshots that were taken just a year before felt like a different life.
When moving out of our apartment, I stared at those photos as I separated our utensils. His, mine, his, mine. I left the fridge collage for last. I took down our memories and stacked them in a box which would eventually be shoved beneath my bed at my parents’ house, an underground of old lives. Examining each picture as I took it down was like asking myself the same question over and over: what went wrong?
There were many reasons, and no reason. We'd passed our expiration date.
This is my refrigerator now. There are different pictures, postcards, ticket stubs. The pictures feature my family, my long-term friends. The post cards I bought for myself while traveling. My refrigerator is no longer about asserting myself in a place that is not my own, it is about the things that always remain. It's about taking stock of what's left, about appreciating the things that don't expire. It’s about holding on to the things that don't need to be held tightly to last- things that don't need to be frozen, or chilled.
I did keep one thing from our old fridge- a magnet featuring different moods. He’d bought it for me as a joke, so I could give him advance warning as to what to expect from me. I didn’t keep it because it’s funny, or cute, or even for old times’ sake. I keep it as a reminder that although my fridge may be all about me for now, eventually I’ll share it again, but only with someone who makes room for me, and who doesn’t need a magnet to know how I feel. Going forward, my fridge will only be about the things that don’t go bad.