Recently I suggested to the Man I Married that we get rid of our old hamper. The wicker reeds have been snapping off and leaving our laundry room looking like a forest floor after a windstorm. It’s also difficult to stack because of its flaring shape and won’t fit under the new sink MIM installed despite having no water supply or drain. Let’s just call the sink a hamper.
“You can’t get rid of the hamper!” MIM responded, surprising me with his uncharacteristic fit of sentimentality for an everyday object, when he keeps so little (other than 2 motorcycles, 6 banjos, 1 viola, 1 clarinet, 5 guitars, 1 mandolin, countless harmonicas, and let’s not even start with the cider equipment). Even his first wedding ring is long gone.
We moved into our first apartment together over 27 years ago with that hamper, a hand-me-down from my mom. We carried it up and down two flights of stairs, with bags of quarters, to the laundry room in the basement of our Makiki apartment building, where my nylons once got wrapped around the washing machine’s agitator, and I fled in panic. Yet one more reason to never wear pantyhose. I still feel guilty about leaving the scene of the crime.
At least the hamper doesn’t get smelly, since it provides more and more ventilation over the years.
The hamper got me to thinking: What other things from our first few months together have we kept all these years, imbuing them with meaning as they were hauled from Hawaii to Seattle, then to New Orleans (where we left almost everything we owned) and back to Seattle, and then up two doors from the Shack to the Skinny? And why have these particular objects made it through almost 28 years with us? Are they diamonds? Antique furniture? Heirloom artwork?
The Man I Married purchased this blender on the day we met in June of 1987. He proceeded to make, and drink, two pitchers of margaritas. Then he went to Waikiki and on a dare spoke to the next girls he saw: me and my friend. We’ve made hundreds of pitchers of margaritas in this blender (as well as a failed carrot soup I’ll never forget) for dozens of parties over the years. The blender still works, though the lid is long gone. Early marital discord is like that: we learned the hard way that if we pulverized each other’s feelings with the lid off, we ended up with crap stuck all over the ceiling that we had to stare at for a good long while and took a lot of hard work to scrape off.
I’d gone straight from work to Waikiki with an out-of-town friend that Friday evening in 1987. I often wore my Birkenstocks, with pantyhose, to trek from the ad agency where I worked to the bus stop. This was my granola version of Cybill Shepherd’s groundbreaking sneakers-with-skirt wearing in Moonlighting, then running in primetime. “Hey, Birk!” the chain-smoking ladies from the Media Department would shout out their car windows if they passed me on their way to post-work martinis. I house-sat for one of those ladies and drank all her Kahlua and ate all her Cheetos, at the same time, which is about as wrong as pantyhose with Birkenstocks. Also as wrong as the fact that Birks are now hip again, as is the trend of young men looking Amish in a Charlie Manson sort of way. Mine were purchased in Eugene, Oregon, during my college years, so they are as authentic-hippie as you can get.
Though I still wear these, I was not wearing them the night I met MIM, but I wished I had been, because I wore off the heels of my pumps walking with him from one end of Waikiki to the other. You’d think that after all these years together we’d need a marriage re-tread, but, though we might be showing some wear, looks like we’ve got plenty of miles left. Especially if we wear orthotics.
The following day, a Saturday, I drove around the island with MIM, my friend, and the boy she met the previous night, whom she would quickly marry and almost as quickly divorce; I subsequently divorced her but kept my husband. It ain’t all roses. We drove in my parents’ tan Toyota Tercel, but most of our subsequent drives were in MIM’s 1968 automatic stick shift (yes, automatic stick shift) Lotus White ragtop Beetle, with a Visualize World Peace bumper sticker. We often played a Vitamin Z cassette tape MIM had picked up in a dollar bin in the Philippines when his nuclear submarine was on WestPac (MIM steering a nuclear sub is as wrong as Kahlua with Cheetos).
I still have that tape, along with the Mix Tape made for him by his former girlfriend (I’m the one who’s kept it; what can I say? she had good taste) and a tape made for me by my friend in 1984. I wish kids today could know the pleasure of long afternoons spent crafting Mix Tapes. Today’s high-tech versions can’t compare to that visceral feeling of using two fingers to simultaneously press Record and Play, which is so like life: We’re in the thick of it, moving forward as we simultaneously make memories.
For our first official date, the following Tuesday we went to see a foreign film at the Honolulu Art Academy. Betty Blue arrived in Hawaii over half a year after opening and played for just one night, in a classroom. The movie opened with a long, explicit tracking-shot of a couple making love. I think it lasted about 20 minutes. MIM, from Caucasian Falls, Ohio, had never seen a foreign film. After the film’s first line of dialogue, “I had known Betty for a week,” when the lovemaking concluded, MIM’s “Wow!” erupted across the silent room. “Score!” he was thinking about his date. He was sorely disappointed.
Two months before we met, MIM drove his motorcycle into a chain link fence. He wore no helmet. His Traumatic Brain Injury was finally diagnosed two months after we met, when he again exercised poor judgment (I like to think coming on to me doesn’t fall under this category) and was persuaded to revise his thinking by three kind gentlemen who smashed his head into the concrete sidewalk. MIM emerged from a coma and the doctor predicted he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Great Marriage Material, I thought. Now there’s a guy who won’t leave his dirty socks on the bedroom floor. Back to kindergarten for him, he was given paints and clay during his rehabilitation, which lasted about 25 years.
His paintings had a surreal, blurry style, with his colors not quite meshing with the lines. Institutional memory in a long-term relationship is similar, with my version of the past not quite meshing with his. He still insists that in those early days I gave him a blowjob in a public park, while I insist that’s a wild exaggeration of actual events.
I often say that the pot he made me during Occupational Therapy at Tripler Army Medical Center, inscribed with my name on the bottom at the insistence of his perky blonde therapist, is the first thing I’ll grab in an earthquake. When things get rocky, I know what’s worth hanging onto.
What better plan than to move in with a guy who could barely walk or talk? I earned $12,000 a year at the ad agency, a pay rate that held firm through several promotions, so quarters for the dryer were tight. I collected Royal Trading Stamps, pasted them into books, and redeemed them for a free clothes rack, on which I recently dried a dress I wore the year I met MIM, which I also wore to my bridal shower. I remembered that it was a Laura Ashley, but it’s a Lanz. It would go nicely with the hipster Amish look if I could fit into it like I still do my Birks (let’s hope I don’t start working on a beard now that menopause is knocking).
I also redeemed stamps for these utensils, which we still use. Sometimes, as with all things in long-term marriage, we can really stir things up by bringing up issues from our past, like the mythical exhibitionist blowjob that he now claims was false advertising.
I already had these mixing bowls, my grandmother’s, from my first apartment in college. The second-to-largest size broke when it was shipped back from Eugene to Honolulu. Not everything lasts.
My Grandma’s baking trays still have her baked-on Crisco intact. Some unwanted residues do last. MIM will never quite get over the potato I once threw at his head within months of our wedding, and I’ll never quite forgive him for what he said first to provoke me (he apologized two decades later).
One of our ad agency clients was Liberty Bank. I got an umbrella instead of a raise. The bank is now gone. The umbrella is in perfect condition, other than the color fading in streaks, a lot like our hair. You just can’t predict what will last and what won’t.
We did need a new comforter for the queen mattress in our furnished Makiki apartment. My twin, reversible lavender/purple college comforter would no longer cut the mustard. The reality is that today two king comforters sewn together would still not be big enough.
Mom gifted me with a complete set of glass pots and pans, almost all of which have broken. What remains is the double boiler with no lid, which is a fairly apt metaphor for our early years together. Now we mostly use the slow cooker.
Corelle-ware is supposedly indestructible, but during marital discord, when you throw one to the floor? It breaks. Like venerable banking institutions, what’s built to last crumbles or shatters, while chance meetings on street corners plod on.
MIM still harbors a grudge that I didn’t let him wear his tiki bolo tie to my office party. He bought the two rings from a dollar bin in Hong Kong on that same WestPac submarine tour. He gave me the apple ring almost immediately, which he regretted when Christmas rolled around and he realized he now had to buy me something else (the hammered silver earrings; I didn’t get anything from him for my birthday, because he still couldn’t even remember his own birthday at that point). I still wear the ring, but he no longer wears his peace sign earrings. Maybe I’ll steal them. The bolo tie, however, he can keep.
Most of these things were free, or close to it. So what does all this mean? We’re cheap? Practical? Unsentimental? They don’t make things the way they used to? I hate shopping?
Put together, these humble objects might explain why we’re still together, though I’ve perhaps made it sound like there was a lot of wreckage in our early days and it’s amazing there’s even a dish remaining, much less a trusting, supportive relationship. An early marriage between two passionate, stubborn, and very young people who barely knew each other was not always easy, but we were always able to laugh, and we never threw things at each other–um, other than the potato (he ducked, which is a good thing, because I have good aim).
These mundane relics are archaeological evidence of our recipe for success: Despite all other differences, we’ve never cared much for status symbols or wealth. We appreciate comfort but don’t crave excess (which requires extra cleaning). As long as it still works, why buy another? Though recently, I finally caved in and bought a new shower curtain, and even MIM noticed how much nicer the bathroom looked.
Sure, I’ve got the box of sentimental stuff: photos, cards, one of our handmade wedding invitations, my wedding garter, my Girl Scout sash, a stuffed animal made by my grandmother, the novel I wrote in junior high. But I rarely, if ever, look at these things. I do not fondle them daily, like I do the hamper and the spatula. I do not snuggle with them as I do the comforters on cold nights when we need extra blankets.
They serve as a reminder: Like automatic stick shifts, pantyhose with Birkenstocks, Kahlua with Cheetos, and a boy who liked the Violent Femmes and the Butthole Surfers and a girl who liked bagpipes and John Denver, the most unlikely pairings sometimes–inexplicably–work.
Royal Hawaiian Trading Stamps: http://www.ilind.net/2013/09/09/liliha-profit-sharing-stamp/