The Life Cycle of Junk
When you’re a freshman in college, all you really care about is what you can get for free. My undergraduate alma mater, the University of Miami, was aware of this adolescent reality, and enticed us to any number of events with the promise of free stuff. We were lured by drawstring gym bags, neon plastic cups for clandestine dorm room drinking, and of course, t-shirts. Oh, how we would clamor for them, in all of their garish green and orange screen-printed promotional glory. I returned home with god knows how many shirts after each semester, and some would invariably be relegated to the shelves of my old high school closet. It drove my mom crazy. “You need to clean out,” she would nag. I never did, claiming sentimental value. Though, really it was just laziness. Their prescribed meaning faded as quickly as their cartoonish drawings of our mascot, Sebastian the Ibis.
The night before Christmas Eve, a couple years ago, I returned home to Marietta. Miami was a distant memory. A holiday celebration was to be held at my parents’ house on Weddington Ridge. I think they ran out of residential street names in this particular corner of the South. The home was a large, rose-colored brick suburban McMansion in one of those nondescript subdivisions that you pass on a road trip, barely registering its halfway evocative name before it fades into the periphery of the rearview mirror.
On the inside, it was my mother’s wonderland. Lush fabrics of green and maroon brocade enveloped rooms of marble-topped antiques. It was the type of home you never felt truly comfortable in, knowing your feet were propped up on such lavish upholstery. On this particular night, the preparations were underway for dinner the following evening. The good china lined the table, pressed silk napkins fluffed just right, gold ornaments adorning a crystal bowl in the center of the formal dining room table.
I slept restlessly in my childhood room, the noise of my mother’s problematic drinking downstairs haunting me as it did when I was young. Yet tonight was different. My dad and I arose to the sound of her wailing. Downstairs we ran to find her doubled over and bloodied on the powder bathroom floor. She’d hit her head on the side of the tub, no doubt up late drinking, ruminating over the prime rib marinade or arranging flatware just so. My dad scrambled to call the ambulance as I held my mom in that state of eerie calm that sometimes accompanies trauma.
In the late morning we finally got home from the hospital after an agonizing night getting my mom stitched up. We began cleaning. On our hands and knees my dad and I knelt, scrubbing the blood out of the caulk between my mom’s expensive bathroom tiles. My dad pushed over a stack of rags made from old ripped t-shirts, and lo and behold: University of Miami Freshmen, Class of 2012. Go Canes! Such is the life cycle of junk. It only bears meaning when someone decides it should. It is meant for everyone and no one, good for one wear before the cracks in the design begin to show.