Time for everything to go. Time to end the sentimental masquerade of old cards, old bills, old suitcases, and old books, poking out from wobbly boxes as if they really were relatives. I've thought it over, and now I say: enough. I don't need you anymore.
For weeks now you've been stashed in odd corners of my apartment, living with me since my father sold the family house. There's a trend afoot, it's said, of children moving back in with their parents; if that's so, I guess I started out thinking of you as my children.
I sorted you all in the old family garage: photographs, Christmas, and Easter , and birthday cards from Mom and Dad, books I used to read by flashlight under the covers late at night, a guitar, an amplifier, and some old paintings. You charted the course of my life for a good 20 years: How could I leave you behind? How could I turn you over to a thrift shop, a local charity, or - worst of all - the garbage man?
I thought I needed you to prove to me who I was. You confirmed my own private history. I could pull out pictures of me in a mouse suit for the fifth-grade play, or a seat cushion from the 8-foot dinghy in which I won the Avalon boat parade, and say to myself, ''Yes, that's me all right; that's how I used to be.''
These constant reminders created a tangible past, making my life somehow more real. At least that's what I thought. When I brought you all home - boxes and boxes of you - to my small, uncluttered apartment, I thought you'd fit right in.
But you didn't. Like old acquaintances I find I hardly know, you've distracted me with a kind of intellectual backslapping while you've taken over the place. Here you are under my desk as I write. I look down to see pictures of a town that doesn't interest me anymore. When I'm cooking - a skill I never learned at home - you're popping out of a corner of the kitchen, trying to lull me into nostalgia with a picture of a home that I could never now call home. When I hang up my coat, I see you silently urging me to play you, the guitar I left behind years ago.
I've let you back, and now my apartment has become a kind of museum. You've taken on a life of your own - no, that's wrong - I've let you take on this life, by believing that I needed you to complete my history, my being. I've thought that rescuing you from the present diaspora of the family would enrich my life, giving me something tangible to pass on to my children and grandchildren. But all I've got is clutter, of a special kind - the kind that impinges on the present I've created, the life that's genuinely mine.
Oh, I'll keep some of you - a very few. I'll put together a photo album and save some letters from Mom and Dad. But that's it. Old cards, old bills, old suitcases, old books, old paintings, old instruments - I may remember you, from time to time, but I won't keep you.
I need to get on with life. It may be, too, that you'll find new lives - as a child's first guitar, a painting someone falls in love with in a thrift shop, a book some bibliophile has been searching for for years. I wish you well. Already a day's work takes me far from you, and fills me with delight.