My mom has been talking about moving back to Seoul for years. My brother lives there, and Korea has only gotten more exciting in the 31 years she’s been gone. Now, she’s finally doing it. I’ve spent the last weeks and months in denial, but at night, in the moments after I’ve closed my eyes and am awaiting sleep, I see it—my life without her. And I am unmoored.
But I can’t dwell on the emotional stuff yet, because we’re just getting through the logistics of her move. Last weekend I was forced to confront the reality of her departure by helping her sell her belongings at a garage sale. Tom, Tate, Finn, Cuz, and I packed into our cars and drove over to my Mom’s at 8:00 AM.
Garage sales are absurd. As I am scared of old things, and am even more scared of other people’s old things, I had not fully realized this fact until I was forced to participate in one. Garage sales are also tragi-comedies in miniature. A mountain of STUFF, representing fragments of a life, being sold for pennies on the dollar.
My mom is purging. She’s excited about her future, and her main priority is to clear out her house so she won’t have to put her things in storage. But a lot of those things, which represent to her the life she wants to leave in her rearview mirror, are, for me, anchors to memories that are getting fuzzier by the year. She wants to move forward, but I cannot hold onto the past, or her, tightly enough. And so, on the day of the garage sale, she kept putting things out on the tables, and I kept moving those things to my car.
I hate clutter. I don’t want more stuff. But still I stole her red mug, from which she drank her tea every day when I was growing up. I slipped my dad’s favorite blazer off the sale rack and buried my face inside it, irrationally hoping to smell his smell even though he’s been gone 14 years, and felt the tears rise when I couldn’t. No matter–into the car it went. Art books my mom bought at the Met after our trips there, where she instilled in me a love of art so deep that I majored in art history in college; furniture that had stood for years in my childhood home; party clothes I remember my mom wearing, in the unreal and untouchable beauty of her 30s and 40s. All of it, being sold, for nothing.
The past—the tragic part of the tragi-comedy.
But in my kids—the future—there was comedy. Watching kids at a garage sale is great fun, because they fixate on the weirdest, most valueless things amongst the detritus. Like dinky little calculators and ten-year old cell phones. Finn called his new (old) calculator his “Super Duper Computer” and punched numbers into it for a good two hours. Tate talked into his new (old) cell phone. Possibly, to order pants, because he had an accident as soon as we got to the sale, and had to spend the rest of the day in a pair of my mom’s underwear, tied off with a scrunchy.
Liberated of pants, Tate ignored everyone else and curated his own pop-up within the sale. Only the finest Tate-approved items, laid out in a deconstructionist arrangement that reduced the experience of being a 3-year old boy, down to its essence. On the left, the Stick. In the middle, some negative space, an assortment of balls, and the aforementioned Nokia. On the right, the Wooden Rackets, which, depending on how they are wielded, offer the full spectrum of destructive force required by a toddler. The only thing missing from the installation is a Lego boat filled with three Lego figures missing their hats, but my mom wasn’t selling any Legos. Otherwise, Tate could have glued it all down, titled the installation “Objects: and then i was thrEe,” and sold it at auction.
How can she leave Tate? He’s so cute. How can she leave me? How can she leave me.
I dread the day my Mom gets on that plane. But I welcome it too, just so I can experience again what it’s like to live life without swallowing past a lump in my throat.