I piled everything into a boxy folding cart, the kind only New Yorkers use because we don’t have cars to haul junk in, and pushed it to Goodwill, around the corner on Second Avenue. It was my seventh trip that week. The guy at the entrance, sorting through heaps of clothing and furniture and books, told me someone had bought nearly all my novels, which I had dropped earlier that morning.
I felt proud that someone wanted my things. I had given up a hundred books, maybe more, before breakfast. Earlier in the week I’d surrendered other possessions: navy wedge espadrilles, magenta flats, a curling iron and a flat iron, flip-flops, more than half my wardrobe, a TV that no longer worked, a glass corner table, my piggybank collection (some still noisy with coins), high school yearbooks, my dishes and cups (except a mug from my late father, purchased on a business trip), unopened perfume, a lamp, one scanner/printer combo and picture frames that had disobediently slanted on the walls.
That night, on the phone with my Floridian mother, I said I’d been caught in a downpour, my dress and hair soaked as I walked from the subway after work.
“What happened to that umbrella I sent you?” she asked.
She had given me that umbrella a few years ago, and it was kind of a nice brand, the one you always see pretty suburban girls with. It cost a great deal more than an umbrella should.
“Goodwill. I told you I was donating everything.”
“I didn’t think you’d get rid of something you might actually need.”
She was right. I felt sorry for my carelessness.
Sometime after my father died, after we cleaned out and sold the white ranch on Northcote, I had, for the first time since childhood, all my possessions in one place. I had long kept kindergarten paintings or matted stuffed animals in my parents’ basement, but I threw them all away after he passed. I saved only certain clothes and books and knickknacks, and the lot grew smaller each time I moved: Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan. Now in a tiny Upper East Side studio, my smallest home yet, I had over the years thinned out my possessions, but they were still too heavy to move.
Even dainty gold necklaces: I found them on bookshelves or at the bottoms of purses, loose metallic chains that had once been childhood confirmation presents or hand-me-downs from distant aunts. I swooped them into a shopping bag, atop books and T-shirts, and swung my cart onto Second Avenue. It felt good to know I would be rid of these things.
I could have taken the gold necklaces to a jewelry store and sold them for cash, as I was desperate for money, struggling to afford even groceries. I didn’t. Better to let some lucky someone find them, maybe the Goodwill guy as he sifted through my things, placing items into categories: linens, plates, clothing. Maybe he pocketed lucky treasures, surreptitiously.
In ninth grade one of the prettiest girls in our class—a brunette who always wore black tights—gave me a braided sterling-silver bracelet she’d bought while visiting family in Istanbul. She wore it all the time, and I complimented it incessantly. Then one day she cupped my thin wrist and slipped it on and said, “It’s yours.”
It felt cool and heavy against my skin.
“I can’t take this.” But she wouldn’t hear it. She had the grace of someone much older.
Maybe she was wiser than me, purging things before her time. It’s been two decades and I know I will never see her again (and perhaps never see Turkey either), but I gave away that lovely bracelet, too. It fell from my fingers, into the shopping bag, landing softly on sweaters.
What hurt most was leaving the thick antique bookshelf I’d taken from my family’s basement before the new owners moved in. It was my only item of furniture that was real; it wasn’t from Ikea, it wasn’t thrift shop, it was my only piece of adulthood. I have a black-and-white photograph of my father when he was a teenager, looking smart and cocky, and the bookshelf is in the background. It had been in the family for decades.
When I left the apartment for good, finally, after everything was safe at Goodwill, and after the few pieces of clothing and books I thought I might actually need were packed fresh into my canvas suitcase, I stood staring at the bare bookshelf. I wanted to take it, even though its novels were gone, but I could not lift it—100 pounds or more!—and, more importantly, I could not take it on the plane. So I left it there, maybe to be discovered and taken home by the super or someone hired to clean, someone whom I hoped could use it and care for it in a way that I wasn’t ready to.