Corie Sanford

Belongings


ISSUE 50 | FURNITURE | MAR 2015


 

New Orleans

The Bucket

Hurricane Isaac caught us at the end of August with nothing in the living room but a futon that I had gotten free from my school and an orange paint bucket from the same source. Three people could fit on the couch, if they didn’t gesture much. One person – or, alternatively, a single dinner plate – could fit on top of the bucket.

The power had been out for 24 hours. We sat shoulder to shoulder across the futon, the black plastic sticking to the sweat on our thighs and the wind tearing shingles off the roof across the street. We didn’t have anywhere to set our candles, but we had a gas stove and ten pounds of ground beef to cook.

We were eating tacos while the rain whipped into the crevices under every door and window, and it turned out that when we put a pillow on the bucket and seated ourselves strategically, we could all enjoy a facsimile of a footrest. There were no decorations on the walls, and, with the power out, nothing to watch but the flickering of candles in the corners.

So we sat. We drank rum and watched the candles burn low. We waited for the trees to fall, the water to rise.


 

Portland

Yard Sale

In Portland, the easiest way to get rid of anything is to put it on a curb on a dry day with a sign that says “Free”. We sat on our porch couch, bones waiting to be picked clean, and watched them come, assess our belongings, and take what they wanted. Sometimes they asked questions: does this TV work? (it did), or, Did you paint this yourselves? (we hadn’t). That’s mine, I wanted to say, only to start some kind of conversation. That’s mine, and I needed it once.

We were left with the things a hundred other people had not wanted (a broken coffee pot, old wigs). We sat on the floor in the living room the last night, drinking wine out of coffee mugs. In the morning we took a final bag out to the sidewalk. Our apartment was bare, whitewashed.

What makes a thing yours? Is it deciding, over and over, that you want it?


 

Possessions

He had doubled his record collection, in the sense that he had two of everything: one in his mother’s house in Kentucky, and the ones he’d purchased since coming to Portland. The ‘originals’ in Kentucky were truly precious to him. He’d never sell them, despite often being hard up for money and having boxes of vinyl worth thousands. The replacements in Portland were precious because they stood in for the missing originals, and as a result, they were also unsalable. Each album was an experience: a show he had been to, a night in the woods back in high school, a job he’d been offered and always regretted turning down.

He fell in love with me, and told me so once. I fell in love with him, but was wary: every person was, in their turn, a thing to him.

He lost things; I found out who he was. We were sitting around a small fire in a remote corner of a state park along the Oregon Coast. Some friends had come to visit; I wanted them to get to know the man I was with, so we went camping. Through the dark, the fire glinted off our cars’ headlights, only 100 yards away or so. He had misplaced a small thing, a cigarette lighter – insignificant and replaceable as a bottle opener or a pocket knife. It devastated him. He stalked the grounds between the fire and the cars one, three, a dozen times, pulling at his hair and yelling in anxiety and agony. He couldn’t sit, he couldn’t eat; we helped him search for a while. I sat open-mouthed and mortified as I watched the object absorb him, absorb the conversation and tenuous camaraderie. One by one, the rest of us returned to the fire to open one last beer, defeated by the darkness and exasperated by the search. He never found it. The next day I woke in the tent to the thought, I do not understand this person.

A mutual friend tried once to explain him to me, saying: “It’s almost as if you feel that losing a thing means you will lose the memory also. These are not signifiers. They are the experiences themselves. What you experience as memories, we experience as things.”

Over the course of our two-year relationship, I divested myself of my own things secretly. I did not want him to take anything for himself: I did not want him to build me a memorial; I wanted to be a person to him, not a person signified.

I moved from Portland to New Orleans. His cluttered apartment absorbed boxes of things that had nowhere else to go, but didn’t fit into my two-door Civic. He wanted to be with me, but was unable to conceive of uprooting either himself or his things and crossing the country. He didn’t fit in my car, in my life. He belongs in Portland, with his belongings.

He loved me. I am things to him: the pots and pans I left behind when I moved away. I am the Gerry Rafferty album someone passed out as a joke one Christmas Eve, the two-person recliner couch where we ate dinner every night. I still live with him. I am always there.


Illustration by Rebecca Rau

There, in Portland, are Goodwills overflowing with furs and 1950’s dresses; the city is suffused with second-hand boutiques and ARC donation bins. I bought and gave away four couches in the six years I lived there, none for more than $50, all in perfect condition. Then there’s “The Bins,” a warehouse where the dingy and unwanted sells for fifty cents a pound. It’s a city replete with castoffs and second chances – a paradise for anyone who wants.

In New Orleans, the thrift stores are sparse and uncluttered. All the extra, invisible furniture tucked away in attics, basements or garages has been molded, trashed, flooded, swept down the street toward the bayou. Table sets at the Salvation Army sell for $100; it’s cheaper to buy a new bookshelf at Target than to buy the same shelf secondhand. There are, however, junk shops tucked into houses in the gentrified Bywater neighborhood where you can find sequined mannequins tossed onto dusty brown heaps of window shutters. There are lumber yards abutting the railroad tracks where repurposed lumber from houses destroyed in Katrina dwindles away. What used to be debris is now semi-precious, with the faint aroma of future worth. In the grassy neutral ground under the live oak trees, old men sit on peeling stools, or armchairs still damp from rain. I got a place to sit and the sun is shining, one of them hollered to me the other day. I’m just fine.


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