Shredded: A life in strips

The maws of death

The maws of death

I shredded so many old files tonight that my shredder is squeaking and smoking (for reals). It’s a weird feeling feeding the last several years’ worth of documents into the grinding jaws of destruction . . . there’s the bill for the washing machine. There’s the visa bill from our last trip to Arizona. Oh, the insurance payout from that car accident in 2007 . . . why is Taylor’s 9th grade report card in with the Pemco invoices?

I am the one who stayed behind when my wife and I divorced last August, and so I am faced with the question of what to do with the real and tangible remnants of our relationship, the mementos as well as the detritus: Christmas cards, old boarding passes, ten year old calendars, check carbons. Loan applications, car payment stubs, medical bills, insurance cards. Random hotel receipts. Our first joint income tax return.

The last time I shredded this much, I had just finished paying off a bunch of bills and I had a Dell computer box (the old kind, about three-feet cubed) full of a year’s worth of unopened mail. I spent a good twelve months not paying anything until the bill came in the red envelope. That was the summer of 1999, soon after I’d bought my house, a few months before I met Nancy.

Now, sixteen years later, I’m shredding the remains of our relationship. Then, it was just a bunch of unopened and meaningless envelopes. Now, it’s our shared history that’s going in whole and coming out as strips and dust. I worked my way back in time tonight, tripping down memory lane from last month’s electric bill (that recently increased dramatically because my mother is now living with me and she has an fondness for heat, go figure) through the invoice from Sullivan Plumbing in 2002 when our pipes backed up and we had a backhoe in the back yard on Christmas Eve.

I fed car titles into the shredder. And credit cards that I didn’t even know I had. I didn’t know I had a Sears card. It even got renewed. I think I got them when the old washing machine overflowed one morning, and we had to buy a new one. I remember calling in to work that day to tell them I wouldn’t be in. My boss understood. That was a good job.

This box was full when I started

This box was full when I started

I shredded the unread letter my renter left for me last December. I have no interest in her final words to me. That was an interesting experiment in sharing and self-awareness. I pulled out old check carbons. Reading through them, I about choked on how much of our disposable income went toward health care: co-payments, deductibles, hospital visits, lab work, therapists, marriage therapists, CPDs, physical therapists, pharmacists, specialists, allergists, dentists, and gastroenterologists. Colon cancer scares, mental health crises, mysterious illnesses, addiction, antidepressants, massage, acupuncture, skin cancer, and menopause.

There was the week I spent in the hospital in 2009. Those bills. We wrote checks once a month for three years paying for that ischemic colitis and portal vein thrombosis, even after insurance covered most of it. There was the wife’s hospital visit when her head exploded . . . it may have been a TIA. We never really found out for certain. Car payments. Child support payments. The cost of self-care. Once a month haircuts and the occasional highlights, pedicure, spa treatment. The trip to Vegas with mom, the one with the girls from work, and the time we saw Cher in Arizona. I relived it all in a few hours tonight as I stacked and sorted, shredded and saved.

A life in bags

Tonight, ten grocery bags full of shredded paper line my hallway, marching as it were, from my office to the front door, a squat paper bag brigade. The shredder waits, unplugged and cooling down.

We’re only half way done.

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