Getting Clean

I want there to be a lesson, a punch line, or the revealed face of irony. Not this time.

Two days after we broke up I received a package in the mail. It contained the following items:

1. A toothbrush I used a few times at her place.
2. A small sketch I had quickly done to explain stained-glass windows.
3. A ten-dollar coin bank in the shape of a robot.
4. A pen.

I added the contents of this package to the shopping bag of stuff she dropped off for me that held more gifts I had given her like lingerie and a dress. In short, anything I had ever touched or given to her had been removed from her apartment and sent back to me in some Orwellian cleansing of the emotional record. It was a brilliant, passive-aggressive move. Instead of just throwing the offending items away, she had sent them back to me as if to say, there isn’t even evidence that we were together now.
Wow! It really is one hell of a fuck you.

The bag sat in the back of my car for a week. I couldn’t throw it away. It didn’t seem right. I wasn’t sure what to do with the stuff but the thought of throwing it into a dumpster filled me with sadness. It didn’t seem like the proper way to honor the tenderness we had shared. The other option was to put it all in a box and leave that box in the back of my closet. I wasn’t going to do that either. I already had a cardboard box in there from a previous relationship that remained unopened. I wasn’t going to start a mausoleum of dead relationships.

On Mother’s Day, after I talked to Mom and got an earful of relationship advice, I finally got out of bed took a shower and gave myself a task to distract me from my self-pity. After all, I was the one who finally said this isn’t working. Time to move on.

I drove my car to the car wash. As I went through the car with a vacuum, I was faced with the bag again. What do I do with it? I took a breath, picked it up, and tossed it into a plastic trash barrel. That was that.

That is that is never just that.

Once I started spraying the outside of the car, I became focused. At least I could concentrate on the task in front me now. That’s when I looked up and was greeted with a scene that took me a moment to process. A fine mist of water vapor had formed just behind the car and around the trash barrels set out for people to use. The conditions were right that a rainbow had formed over the one I had tossed the bag into. Reaching inside was a homeless man getting the bottles and cans out. In his free hand he clutched a sheer teddy I had bought for her no more than a few weeks ago. He stood up and took hold of it with both hands. His hands were huge and encrusted with dirt like two catcher’s mitts left outside, but he held the teddy so delicately as if he understood how special it was. Our eyes met then. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders with what I took to mean the universal body language of; can you believe someone threw this away?
Just as my mind set to work on finding some grand meaning in this sight, he shrugged his shoulders again, brought it to his nose, and blew. I guess it didn’t have the desired result because he scrunched it up into a ball and tried again. With great effort he repeated this several times, looking each time before balling it up a little more and trying again with greater force. Eventually he bunched it up unceremoniously and shoved it into his back pocket.

He looked back into the barrel, reached in, and this time took out the robot bank. My ex and I had a private joke involving robots. It’s a long story but you know how couples will develop insides jokes? This was one of those. When I saw it in the window of a store I was walking past, I rushed in and got one.

He shook it next to his ear and sure enough a stray coin rattled around inside. I knew what was about to happen next and shook my head in disbelief. He brought the small, white statue up over his head and in a single motion brought it down on the pavement in front of him where it broke into a few large pieces. Having liberated the quarter, he smiled and once again looked inside this barrel of treasures.

I always want there to be some grand truth in things like this. I want there to be a lesson, a punch line, or the revealed face of irony. Not this time. Sometimes it is just a homeless guy blowing his nose on the teddy you bought for a woman that he picked out of the garbage while a rainbow lands all around him.


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