Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thing Abuse

I am a chronic abuser of things.

I can say this now without shame or fear of retribution because I know that the objects of my abuse, undeserving of it though they may have been, have no feelings, no morals and no desire for revenge. I also know that even though my behavior was seldom justified, it was equally seldom intentionally abusive in the strictest sense.

Mostly, it was accidental.

I have been breaking and/or losing things since I can first remember. Some of my earliest memories deal with the frustration and anger resulting from losing or breaking something. Usually that something was not mine. In fact, it's only been relatively recently, when my 'affluence' has permitted me to buy things of my own to lose and/or break.

I say "and/or" because usually, I can mange to do both. It's always just a matter of time for one or the other. Of course, it is easier to break something before I lose it, but I have been known to pull it off the other way round as well. Like I said, I'm chronic.

And, it started even before I knew I had a problem. That's because, when I was younger, it was mostly things that I was given--what else does one have before the age of ten?--that I managed to break and/or lose. So, for a long time, I didn't know that the heartbreak of loss of a thing wasn't real.

As a result, my heartaches started early. One of the first things I can remember losing was one of my Father's cufflinks when I was about eight. On Friday night as I got dressed for services, Bill lent me the set of sterling silver links with a "D" engraved on them. I managed to lose one of them before sunset. Perfect.

I can remember losing a garnet ring my parents bought me at the market in Mexico City when I was eleven. My parents were visiting some friends and I'd been forced out 'to play' in the back yard while the grownups talked in the house. I lost the ring about ten minutes after we arrived. Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon frantically crawling on my hands and knees through what seemed like acres of St. Augustine grass picking vainly at the brown roots in search of a never-to-be-seen-again flash of red. I suffered in silence on the trip home, ashamed to admit that I had lost my treasure or that I was covered, head-to-toe, in chigger bites.

My father's things were, unfortunately, a constant target of my abuse. I broke Bill's favorite light meter on a camping trip when I was thirteen. I broke at least two of his cameras sometime after that. To his credit, he continued to allow me to touch his cameras right through my college years, with the expected disastrous results. I wrote about breaking his camera in Paris in a post in this journal called (go figure)The Camera.

It wasn't just Bill's precious things that I managed to break. Other family members have been targeted as well. No one, in fact, in my family is exempt, nor have they ever been. When I traveled to stay with my brother Stephen in Kansas City in 1965, I broke the first electric potters wheel in his studio and my ankle in the bargain.

Over the years, I've broken bikes, cars, cameras, watches, saws, coffee pots, record players, records, CD's, DVD players, computers, model airplanes, plates, glasses, printers and toasters. That's a very short and very incomplete list.

Honestly, I've broken or lost almost anything and everything I've ever had. As noted, I've broken a lot of things that weren't even mine. In fact, if I've broken something of yours, dear Reader, if you were unaware of my condition, now you know why.

Indeed, now I've come to the quite reasonable conclusion that, constrained only by age and some hard-earned caution, I'm actually on pace to bat very near a thousand. That is, without resorting to metaphor, I can say frankly that given enough time, I fully expect to break or lose everything I've ever owned or will own.

The only circumstance that may save some of these things will be my untimely end.

There's a simple truth here that I've learned. No matter how careful, wealthy or wise you are, every thing you own will eventually get lost, broken or be taken from you.

Things, I have learned, carry this intrinsic and often unseen danger. Things, I have learned, are here with us but for one reason: To break the hearts of those who would willfully seek and attach themselves to them.

In this sense, it is perhaps my clumsiness and abusive relationships with things that have so far preserved me into my middle years. On looking back, I really thought that loved those things. Now I see myself as having been a false lover.

Apparently, I never loved things enough to prevent me from breaking and/or losing them.

It's not as though I haven't tried to love my things. Though I am not without my share of heartache--as my abridged list of abused things will readily testify--I sense that I have in fact actually been preserved by callousness toward the well-being of things through my innocent youth.

I admit, when I was seventeen, I didn't care if rolling the electric windows in Bill's Mercedes up and down repeatedly would break them. It did. Now that I am fifty-three, I don't much care if my repeated use of the windows in my truck will do the same. It will.

The difference is that now I find myself in a place where I not only admit to being uncaring about the life of things, but pronounce that attitude with some pride. It is precisely this attitude which will allow me to escape from what could have, would have been, an inevitable sense of guilt brought on by a lifetime of lost and broken things.

The reason for this change is simple. I've lost things I that I thought I loved and I've lost people whom I know I have loved. No matter what, the things just don't matter.

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