The objects we won’t put down

Casio Guts.

Yesterday I read Anna McCarthy’s (very short) essay in the current issue of Social Text (subscription required). It’s called “Casio” and it’s a personal essay about a Casio calculator she bought at a garage sale when she was twenty-three. McCarthy doesn’t use the calculator but can’t bear to part with it and the essay is a really beautiful reflection on the objects we attach to and what they mean to us across a great span of time. It’s also about moving, and the all the reckoning with objects and our attachments that this upheaval brings. This is the aspect of the essay that I attached to.

McCarthy describes an argument with her husband over the calculator during “what was a particularly grueling apartment move”:

“It was three in the morning, and he walked into my study with a look of desperation and a trash bag. I was sitting amid piles of books, assembling boxes. Can I pitch this, he asked, gesturing to the Casio on the desk. No, I said, growing shrill. No way. Absolutely not. He looked at me and suggested I take an Ativan.

But a talisman is better than an Ativan, especially when it works through the preemptive properties of forethought. By letting me fantasize about a disaster, the Casio reduced the probability that a real one would actually happen. The coincidence would be too great. Over the years, this fetish value has proven far greater than the thing’s value as a calculator.”

There are those who hold on to objects when they move in case they want to feel something for those objects again one day. This holding on happens under the guise of “I might need this later.” Then there are those who use a move to purge, often with abandon for future attachments, wanting to lighten their life in whatever way they can.

The weight of attachment is a bit different when it comes to the objects we share. When you end a relationship and divide your things in preparation to move, practically, and symbolically, away from the other, there are all kinds of half-truths you tell each other through objects. “You can have it, I never liked it anyway” can be a way of refusing to continue to share the same attachments to a thing; a gesture that wards off more hurt. “I have nice memories of that and I’d really like to keep it” marks a shared history that you won’t begin to deny. And then once you move and you’re still sorting through the detritus, the choices made about what to keep and what to throw away are always loaded with dead or far-too-present thoughts about what your attachment to an object meant in the past, and what it means right now, balanced with the suspicion that you might feel differently about it in the future.