08/30/2013 01:45 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Clutter, Memory and the Junk in My Car

Yesterday I sold the car I've had -- and hated -- for the last 15 years. Instead of feeling relieved and happy, like I would have expected, I just feel numb, weird and a little empty. It's not that I miss that hunk of metal with its fading paint, steering wheel the size of a small Hula-Hoop and top-of-the-line single CD player. On the contrary, I'm happy to be free of those things. It's just that after 15 years, I formed a relationship with the car -- an unhealthy and annoying one; the kind your friends tell you to get out of -- and apparently it got under my skin.

I wish I were one of those people who embraced change. If I were, I would be sipping tea in Jakarta and running my fingers through my freshly cropped hair while waiting for Ernesto -- the man who's helping me get my pilot's license and with whom I'm having a torrid affair -- to arrive and whisk me away for an afternoon of flight lessons and romance. "Don't get attached, Ernesto," I'd murmur at 20,000 feet. At that height he probably wouldn't hear me though, so I'd have to yell it.


"Don't touch the latch?" he'd ask. If we didn't meet an untimely demise in a fiery crash, all because I tried to warn him I'm no good, then I'd likely break his heart when I later picked up and moved to another exotic locale and changed my hair again, as is my way.

I wish I were like that -- capricious and whimsical. Instead, I'm a flightless creature of habit with the same hairstyle since high school and a penchant for clutter.

You know those people who can't make attachments? Those people who can love and leave, pick up and go, cut and run? Rambling men, mostly? I'm the opposite. It's as if my heart is made of suction cups and my hands are lint rollers and the rest of my body is made of something else very sticky. Velcro? Balloons? Dog noses? And so anything I come in contact with, I become a little attached to. It's for this reason I have trouble throwing things away. I'm an emotional hoarder. And possibly a regular hoarder.

Part of the emotional wallop of saying goodbye to the car I'd longed to be rid of was cleaning it out before the buyer came.

It was very similar to that feeling you always have when moving -- looking around at a place that is so imbued with you and thinking, "In just 24 hours, this will no longer look like this and it will no longer be mine." And your mind reels at how this can be, not to mention the fact that you should have started packing weeks ago. And then the moving in and getting comfortable process is experienced in reverse as you begin taking things off the walls and putting all your belongings in boxes. By the time the moving men come the next day, the apartment no longer looks like the place you knew -- the place where you experienced all the memories that came flooding back to you as you were packing. It looks the same as when you moved in, cold and impersonal, as if you'd never been there. It's all kind of jarring.

I bought the car in 1998, shortly after a friend died. I was deeply in mourning and that sadness always clung to the car. As I was cleaning it out recently, I found all sorts of stuff from that time of my life: a birth announcement for my friend's daughter who's now a teenager, a laminate for the 5th anniversary party of the magazine where I worked, stickers and flyers for the band I played in. At the time, I didn't know what to do with myself, or my stuff, so I stashed it in my car and tried not to feel anything.

As the family was driving away in my old car, I stood at the window watching, thinking it would be the last time I saw the car so I ought to commit it to memory. After about ten minutes, the car came back to return the sunglasses I'd left. They were sunglasses I didn't want -- sunglasses I bought in the depths of mourning when I was having trouble not bursting into tears.

I think there's a lesson in here about clutter and memory and the passage of time -- and maybe about what happens when you don't finish processing everything.

The truth is, I'm still trying to figure it out.