I’ve got this fork, spoon, and matching knife in my silverware drawer that don’t belong. They’re nice, sort of baroque formal with scrolling flourishes to the base of the handles, like old fashioned twirly-pattern wallpaper. Conservative and substantial. Just the three. Most of my other, matched stuff is your basic Crate and Barrel middle-of-the-road modern minimalism.
That stately trio is leftover from my longest relationship, with a girl I’ll call Mary. We got the forks and shit as a gift from her mom, who’d ordered a very large set for us on our first Christmas living together. Mary was her only daughter out of 5 children, and the only kid not married. Her mom’d picked some god-awful pattern out and sent us the catalog with the page marked to let us know what we were getting. I want to say it was those twig-handled designs you can usually find if you’re looking at silverware choices, but it probably was something even less obvious. In any case, we were both horrified and disappointed, until we got a letter from the company apologizing, they were out of stock, but we could replace it with something else. We went for it and got these equally ridiculous old-fashioned things instead. Ridiculous, but our kind of ridiculous.
Five years later, when she’d given me until the end of the month to move out and I had, she gave me the fork knife and spoon to get me started, to tide me over so I could eat meals like a person while I got my shit back together and built a new life. Five more years and I’ve still got them. I keep them mostly out of practical considerations, or so I tell myself, even though I think some new thought about her, or us, every time I pick up the oddly gothic spoon to eat my cereal or grab that hefty knife to spread some peanut butter.
Of mismatching flatware, I have another fork and spoon that don’t fit in either. They have a cheaper feel, less solid, less material. Thinner, smaller, temporary. Left here, this time simply forgotten or at worst abandoned, by my last ex. We met on the subway and lived together for nearly two years (!!) with her three cats and her severe emotional baggage. She also left me a hutch for my kitchen, which hides my cereal boxes and which might have been just too much for her and her aging father to jam into the tiny box truck they rented to cart her life off to Boston.
Relationship artifacts, crumbs left behind, some are constant triggers of memory and emotional states while others have become completely and wholly mine. That is to say neutral. The moments conjured by those significant/signifying artifacts are precious to me now, because more often than not they recall a time when I felt strongly and passionately about something that these days I’d shrug off or roll with numbly. I envy my youthful angst. It’s like jalapenos and sweettarts to today’s fat-free yogurt and pretzel chips. Exciting and spiky, while these days I’m at a steady, rational, wisdom-soaked plateau. Or more like a flood plain. Flat and low.
Sometimes it’s simply a class of object that triggers a flashback to some early relationship. Take the ice cube tray.
So this girl, who ended things messily with me, was over at my apartment in Siberia the other day watching me get her a glass of water with ice.
She watched me crack a tray of ice into the bucket, fish some ice into her glass, then refill the tray with water and put it back in silence. As I closed the freezer door, she had a question.
“How come you don’t just take the ice you need out of the tray and refill it when it’s done?” Moreover, “That seems like a lot of trouble.”
I couldn’t even begin to answer. Those had been my exact words at 22. They were coming out of her mouth (she’s 26, I know I need to date my age more, i KNOW), pointed at ME. I was temporarily locked in a processing jam, memories of my first live-with girlfriend flooding to the front of my brain while I struggled to formulate a response that would both tell her the advantages of my way while making sure she knew that I knew it wasn’t cool at all.
The ice cube tray issue was one of the first serious fights over nothing I’d ever had. You know those right? I mean everyone whose been in any kind of durable relationship for longer than a few months has had them. Channeling deeper issues through the insignificant ones. In this case my ex, Fiona and I were fighting over the best way to handle the ice cube trays when really we were fighting over the death of our sex life, the drudgery of cohabitation when our lives were so obviously pointed in different directions. I would end up in grad school, while she stayed behind to wait the night shift at the Blind Tiger Bar and Grill.
This other girl has poetry posted online about the time she convinced a couple who’d convinced her to be their third to get violent with her. She describes the deep bruises on her face and blood spurting from her nose and I could feel the damage she’d caused that kinky pair. For herself she got an itch scratched, maybe even a longing fulfilled. The man who worked up the nerve to ball up his fist in front of his “primary” and crack her a good one square in the eye and another on her nose got something new. He opened a place he’d rather not have access to, a place many of us guys worry you can’t ever shut out again. Which is why I didn’t indulge when she asked me, after she finished her icewater. I’m not sure I can suppress the monster once he’s seen sunlight. Although every now and then when I empty a full tray I think about what it would have been like to really whale on her face while I pumped her ass full of dick (at her request, it was her fantasy and one reason she dumped me). It’s rare you get to push your boundaries in the sack once you get to my age and that chance is gone.
She also left a few things behind. You wouldn’t believe me, but I kept a card she made for my birthday. It’s on blue paper she found around her house, folded in half with a cute, hand-drawn kitten on the front, it’s rump and tail and silhouetted ears on the back. Clever and adorable. Girls I bring home who see it assume a young relative drew it, maybe a niece or some neighbor kid, because the art is so primitive and childlike. I don’t tell them it’s that way because she drew it with a sharpie clenched in her asshole. I’ll post a pic of it later.
This morning I lifted the lid to the toilet (I keep the seat down, and I live alone, I’m whipped) and saw something black at the bottom of the bowl, where it tubes off into nowhere. Something skinny and black peeking out from back there, the road to the sewers, the entrance for drowning rats escaping floods. I rubbed my eyes into focus and squinted at it. A bobby pin. A guy like me finds bobby pins all the time in his apartment. They are cast off by one-night stands who leave that night and life partners with whom I’ve split rent payments, mortgage payments. I’m dating a blonde girl right now who occasionally sheds golden bobby pins, something you don’t see every day. It’s got to be hers because how the hell else would it turn up in my toilet? I hope she leaves something a little more unique, but maybe that one toilet-pin has successfully imprinted her stamp on all bobby pins of the future.
Who fucking knows, my wine buzz is wearing off.