One of the worst things about the end of a relationship is the Returns. The CDs, the clothing, the things you left behind -- leaving them behind with someone is such a warm act of faith; giving them back is such a cold, bitter acknowledgement of failure. (cf. Ben Folds, "Song for the Dumped")
I have never been especially good at sharing. I'd like to blame it on having my younger siblings touching my stuff all the time without my permission, but the fact is I was selfish before then. I remember my mom, in an unfortunate early effort to teach me about sharing, took one of my Little Golden Books and tried to get me to give it to the housekeeper's daughter. She wanted me to help her write "Yolanda" on the "This Book Belongs To..." page and I freaked out. Why should I have to give this random girl one of MY books, I remember thinking. Why is this happening?
Some people are just born with certain defects in character.
Today, I retain a bank teller's awareness of what holdings lie where in the transaction of lives that is a relationship. Back in June, I was in a relationship that I knew was ending. I had occasion to be at his place when he wasn't there and I pulled out my Radiohead CD and my Secretary DVD like I was saving Private Ryan, not that he would have cared or noticed. Casualties over the last three years include two pairs of earrings and two books (a short story collection by Nathaniel Hawthorne and a hardcover copy of after the quake by Haruki Murakami). The fact that the Murakami is probably now sitting on the shelf of someone who wasn't worthy of it irks me to this day.
The Returns phase is an opportunity for some serious P/A (passive-aggression). The most jaw-dropping instance of this I have witnessed was with guy I dated for a few weeks. He invited me to see an opera for one of our dates; I was going to have to be a little late because of work, so he cutely sent me my ticket with a little penlight so I could find him when I got there.
Not long after I ended things, he called. "Hey, I was wondering if I could get that flashlight back," he said. "I'm going camping with someone this weekend and SHE doesn't have one."
Dear readers, this "flashlight" could not have illuminated more than a twig in the wilderness and our P/A hero damn well knew it. Nonetheless, he insisted that I messenger the flashlight back to him since he HAD to have it for that weekend and I was too busy at work to mail or deliver it myself.
Too stunned to react otherwise, I complied and he was thereafter known in conversation among my friends as "Flashlight Guy."
Another time, I inadvertently tried to break up with someone (see drama queen J.C. below) after we attended a party. He forced the conversation by pressing me on my doubts, I ended it by affirming them. One undesirable detail: He was driving. Riding in the silent car, I noticed that we weren't headed for my place. "Aren't you taking me home?" I asked. "I just have to make a stop first," he said stoicly.
A stop? Like, at the gun dealer? It turned out we landed back at his place. He went inside and came back out, carrying the material evidence of our relationship in his hands: cards, ticket stubs, photos. "I just can't put it in a box with the other ones," he said, breaking down into sobs as he referred to the heartbreaks behind him. Now, it's one thing to have your own shit returned to you. It's a whole other level when you get back the stuff you happily gave away.
If I think about it, the only way I could have stood to get my Radiohead CD and Secretary DVD back in June was to have "stolen" them. Nobody wants to be given their shit back when it was given, or left, in warm spirits. I did a Return this past weekend: a kitchen bowl and concert tickets in exchange for a pair of earrings (must be psychological) and some money I forgot I owed. This time I didn't care about the stuff -- I was just glad I'd never lived with anyone and broken up with them, and felt both glad and sad that my relationships thus far were no bigger than a bread basket.