Some time ago, when I started thinking about taking on the project of redoing our office, I stumbled upon a box of old letters to my husband, which he received while he was serving a mission for our church.
The letters were equal parts from his mother and his girlfriends.
As in plural.
No, he didn’t have two girlfriends simultaneously…he had one when he left who wrote him pretty faithfully until she got engaged, and another one who went on to become his girlfriend after he returned.
It didn’t matter in what order his girlfriends happened—I detested them all the same.
My hands shook as I lifted the lid on the dusty cardboard box.
Why does he still have these? Does he read through them when I’m asleep at night, and regret not staying together with those girls? What kind of guy hangs on to this stuff even after he’s married?
Visions of my own similar stash of letters from my own missionary flashed through my head—I had ceremoniously trashed them during my packing frenzy when I moved from Arizona to Canada three years ago. Right around the time when I got married. Right around the time when I made the biggest commitment of my young life.
So why hadn’t my husband?
I shuffled through the Doc Martins™ shoe box. The letters had been systematically organized by date.
He must have cared about them a lot, I thought. He doesn’t even keep his computer desktop this neat.
I brought it up that night at dinner.
“Why do you still have letters from your old girlfriends?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I just haven’t thrown them away. I haven’t thought about them in years.”
“What about when you moved from your parents’ house to this house? You could have thrown them away then.”
“I didn’t think about it.”
He might as well have been confessing to keeping a mistress in a cottage by the beach for as betrayed as I felt.
He didn’t think about it? He made a conscious decision to pick up that box, move it into the back of his truck, drive it to his new house, unload it from the truck, and haul it into the closet shelf of the office in this house.
He still loved them, I was sure of it.
“I never loved them, dear.”
I was not convinced.
“What do you want? You want me to throw them away? Fine, I’ll throw them away. I don’t care—we can burn them in the backyard if you want! It doesn’t matter to me.”
It mattered to me, though. What I wanted was for him not to need my prodding. What I wanted was for him to have thrown them away the day he met me.
What I wanted was for those girls never to have existed.
I told him so, which was a bad idea in retrospect.
“Why don’t you trust me? I don’t care about your ex-boyfriends. I never have, because I am the one who got you in the end.”
A paltry concession, I thought, from a guy who refuses to entertain even the slightest hint of jealous feelings for me. He’s so mellow, I could get engaged to a Greek god in front of my husband and he’d probably congratulate me. Throw us a party, buy us a housewarming gift.
I read the letters. Of course I did.
Even as I did so, I knew it was a bad idea. Self-destructive. I shakily opened one after another, telling myself with each one that it would be the last. I had to stop. It wasn’t healthy. Nothing good could come from it.
I was a crack addict, unable to resist the pull of my husband’s past life.
I needed help.
I concocted wonderful schemes for the letters’ fate. I would buy a paper shredder, shred each letter with a vengeance, throw them in our compost pit (first dig the compost pit), let them rot, and use them to fertilize our snow peas next summer.
No. That wouldn’t do. I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating food that had been helped along by those hussies.
Our house became a chill zone. We weren’t speaking. I wanted him to want to get rid of the letters.
He wanted me to stop being a psycho.
I didn’t know how.
Weeks passed. The box sat on our kitchen c0unter, nanny nanny boo booing me while I cooked his dinner. Folded his laundry. Packed his lunches, which generally went uneaten. (He hates leftovers.)
When my parents came to visit, the box got demoted to a place in the garage, on top of the deep freeze that has been so piled high with crap it hasn’t been opened in fourteen months. Who knows what’s buried in there, never again to see the light of day. I wished the letters could be buried so deeply as the box of unfortunate frozen burritos we bought from Costco back when shopping at Costco was our favourite grown up, newlywed activity.
Months passed. Semesters. We had different arguments, bigger problems. The letters were the least of my worries.
At last, a challenge came from my professor: throw something away this weekend, and write about it.
I knew immediately what to discard.
I got home, did some work, tidied up the house, and completely forgot about the challenge until suddenly, I remembered. All casual-like, no big deal.
I walked into the garage, hefted the box from its throne of supremacy, and dropped it into our big black barrel—the brand new one we just received as part of our town’s effort to simplify its waste removal system, the barrels the retired citizens resisted in Town Council for years because they couldn’t handle the idea of change, of progress. They didn’t want to give up their entrenched habits, even if giving up meant getting better.
They liked their lives exactly as they were—difficult, tedious, and exhausting.
So silly of them, really.