A self-confessed pack rat, I'm not an outright slob. I straighten up my room every now and then, frequently clean it with Windex and vacuum. I even throw things out sometimes — admittedly, a rare occasion for a collector like me.
Over the past five years, I have cleaned up my room numerous times, even rearranging the furniture once, which made my discovery even more shocking.
After moving a giant plastic box of Atomic Fireball red-hot candies, I caught a glimpse of some gold. GOLD!
Shining back at me in the afternoon sunlight that day were a gold necklace, bracelet and earrings — buried treasure. The only hitch, they were not mine.
There was something familiar about these pieces, though. They were familiar because I had given them to an ex-girlfriend years earlier as birthday and Valentines Day gifts. By the time I discovered the buried treasure, "Lea" had been out of my life for almost five years.
I had given them to her between six to eight years earlier, and it had been almost five years since she had last stayed over at the house.
Apparently, Lea had secretly placed the jewelry under the box on my desk as part of her exit strategy. During our three-plus-year relationship, she told me that she cherished the gifts I'd given her. It was doubtful that she would have forgotten them. She had an elephant-like memory, too.
The discovery threw me for a loop. I had a mild recollection of Lea's last visit, which preceded the demise of our relationship by more than a month. (We spent more time at her place than mine.)
Recalculating the timeline of the last months of our relationship, I realized that Lea must have been planning its end for weeks, maybe longer, before we eventually faded out.
I could certainly understand her desire to return such personal gifts. I doubt she would want to wear jewelry from an ex-boyfriend. And, by secreting it under a box on my desk, she avoided an awkward and emotional confrontation. I certainly would not have accepted the jewelry back, if she had attempted a return. I'm not the customer-service department at Nordstrom.
Uncovering the buried treasure raised an interesting question about what to do with the detritus of a failed relationship. Some cut people out of their photo albums; others make voodoo dolls or hold garage sales. I simply throw things in desk drawers.
But some gifts from a special someone are extremely personal items. They evoke fond memories. With many people, gifts are even a token of love. This is not only with big-ticket items like jewelry; sometimes, the little gifts and tchotkes show more thought and care than the big things.
When we first started dating, Lea frequently complained that her hands were always cold. She was moved by a pair of gloves I gave her on her birthday. I know, how romantic are gloves? Gloves are something a grandmother gives you.
But they were only part of the gift package. (Plus, birthdays a month into a relationship are difficult.) And she didn't happen to hide the gloves in my underwear drawer on the way out of the relationship.
Gifts remind us of that person — even years down the road — like a little piece of that person is with you. Every time I look at an old orange hockey puck I have sitting on one of my bookshelves, I remember the day my grandma came home from jury duty in New York with the puck and a hockey stick. I was about 3 years old, and I still remember that day some 30 years later.
The polished azurite bookends remind me of my college girlfriend who gave them to me for my birthday, just like the warped wooden back brush evokes memories of my most recent ex-girlfriend.
And then there are a couple of other highly personal gifts girlfriends gave me over the years that I refuse to use because they stir up memories I work hard to ignore, if not erase. That's why the engraved business cardholder that one girlfriend gave me sits in my desk drawer. Right next to it rests a similarly engraved card-holder that Lea gave me one birthday in law school. I never had the heart to tell her that the girl before her had given me the exact same thing.
One is engraved with my initials and one with my name, so there's little resale potential. Sending them back to the respective women would have been idiotic. Instead, the two cardholders — part of the remnants of failed relationships — share space in a dark drawer, right next to the memories.
At least they have each other.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, New York-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.