On What We Choose To Keep

Something struck me as I moved to a new home with the new year. Entering a new year, like moving to a new home, often inspires me to evaluate what does and does not go with me. I think of myself as relentlessly practical about that. Anything not used in the last year becomes fair game for donating or discarding. I’d already marked quite a few things to send on their way this time around when I stopped at a shoulder-high, black metal CD rack beside my bookshelf. Not only was I not considering giving it away this time; I realized that I’d never in all these years considered giving it away. I felt surprised.

“Is it for storing toilet paper?” my mother once asked when the rack stood empty in a jumble of things I’d set aside for decorating a room.

“No,” I said. “It’s a CD rack.” Laughing, I pointed out the design of a cat’s head that formed the top of the rack – ears, whiskers, nose, and mouth. “Remember the black cat?”

She studied it, dubious. “I have a vague memory.”

My own memory felt clear. A boyfriend had given it to me during college. Watching through a window as he arrived to pick me up one afternoon, I found myself wondering about the black metal thing he took out of his vehicle. He had to explain it to me, too. 

He explained it, and I loved it. I loved that he’d observed how crazy my family was about our black cat. I loved that he’d noticed my sparse CD collection had been growing. I loved that he’d seen these parts of my life and responded with a playful gift that honored them.  

He’d seen me. Romance provides one of many situations where that can happen, but whatever the situation or the reason, it amazes me each time it happens. A person will see another with an attention that outstrips normal, everyday human interaction, and it’s amazing. Sometimes, that seeing is mutual. Ours was mutual. I’d seen him, too. In fact, I adored noticing every little thing about him: how his hazel eyes could soften into a smile, how he could relish both arcane history books and (this puzzled me) Mike Myers movies. I felt enthusiastic about even the puzzling things. Intense attention felt wonderful. 

It felt wonderful, and yet, it didn’t last. Dating relationships may mature into different kinds of attention. Dating relationships may also end. In this case, the relationship ended. The attention ended. Like moving to a new home or to a new calendar year, this ending left me evaluating what to do with things. I could have given away what reminded me of him as a way of forgetting. I’ve certainly handled my share of relationship endings that way. However, in this case, I didn’t. I kept that CD rack. 

A very practical item, the rack stored things. It stored my CDs, but in retrospect, it seems to have also stored memories and meanings: we’d seen one another. That doesn’t happen in all relationships, not even all dating ones, but it does happen. Truth be told, we human beings are, in fact, quite capable of paying loving attention to people we once considered strangers. I do relish things that remind me of that. Such experiences can strike me deeply.

“Things don’t have to last to be good or true,” a wise friend once told me. 

I’ve kept that idea with me, too. Sometimes, I’ve pondered the variation of “things don’t have to be perfect to be good or true.” The idea proves useful for explaining all sorts of experiences that appear incongruous at first, like taking good things with us even from situations that we thought turned out badly when they didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. 

For various reasons, it seems, the black metal rack goes me.

I admit that I’ve been slow to move away from CDs. I take so much pleasure in holding jewel cases and flipping through glossy of pages of booklet inserts that I do still buy myself a new one occasionally. Recently, I ordered a collection titled Hope Amid Tears: Beethoven Cello Sonatas*, which Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma recorded during the pandemic. That CD case now sits at the top of the black cat rack, where I keep music to which I still want to give more attention in the days ahead. The more I think of it, the less surprised I feel that I’ve held onto this CD rack. It reminds me so much of what – and how – I want to see.

What have you held onto over the years? Has anything surprised you?