Odds and Ends (a short story by me)
I collect things, sometimes. Odds and ends, nothing special. Not anything valuable, like coins, or jewelry, or vintage toys from the 1900s. No collectable baseball cards, or books signed by whichever author. I just collect things. Random, everyday things that nobody else but me is interested in. Just me. The things I collect have meaning, I like to tell myself. I always think of that saying, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I believe that’s true. Maybe the treasure I collect is trash. But it isn’t trash to me.
Throw that junk out, it’s cluttering your room, my mom tells me. But it isn’t junk, I say. It’s my stuff. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t see the things I see. It isn’t junk, it’s mine. I don’t think she listens to me much.
If you keep collecting things, you’ll be a hoarder, my dad says to me. It’s not hoarding if it’s stuff I enjoy, I try to say. But he doesn’t listen. He and my mom are the same. They don’t see the value in my things the way I do. It isn’t fair. Why can’t I collect my treasures? It isn’t hurting you, I want to say, but I never dare speak a word of it. Don’t talk to your mother that way, my mom would say to me. You need to fix your attitude.
I don’t understand it. My things are special, aren’t they? They’re special to me. The stuffed dog on my bed. The blue worm that lost its string years ago. The pretty rock that sits on my desk. The grim reaper statue I keep on my dresser. The tiny canvas on my bookshelf. They aren’t junk, are they? They can’t be junk, right?
Throw away that old dog, it’s probably got fleas, my mom says to me as I sit on my bed. No, I tell her. I can’t throw him away. He’s special. I clutch him tighter in my arms. He still wears the hospital band around his ankle. If you don’t throw him out, then I will. I hide him in my closet that night.
Why do you keep that old rock on your desk, my dad asks me. Do you even know where that’s been? I don’t tell him where I found it. It’s special, I say instead. It is special to me. I take it off of my desk and shove it in the pocket of my worn jeans. I’m keeping it.
Who even uses feather pens anymore? My sister asks me. Did you kill a bird to get it? She shakes her head at me. I didn’t kill a bird to get it. I found it. It’s special, I tell her. She rolls her eyes at me. It’s just junk, why do you care, she tells me. I hide the feather pen in my drawer.
It isn’t fair. Alex and John’s mom probably doesn’t tell them what she can collect. But Alex collects model airplanes, and John collects baseball cards. Why can she collect those, but I can’t collect the things I have? I don’t understand. I never have understood. If I collected something else, would they think differently?
I started collecting vintage Star Wars figurines after that. The first figurine I ever bought was a beat up Princess Leia. When I found her at the thrift shop, I turned her over in my hands. She was ordinary in every way. Her paint was faded, and she had a dent in her left leg. I showed my mom. Oh, how cute! She told me, fawning over the figurine. Are you going to buy her? I looked back at the figurine. She was ordinary. Yes, I told her.
I collect more after that. Darth Vader, and then R2-D2. Han Solo and Chewbacca. I find an old Luke Skywalker at the yard sale down the street. I buy him, too, along with an old rifle that my dad said I should have. With each figure I collected, it felt less and less right. Why am I buying these figures? It’s because I like them. I like Star Wars, and I like the figures. I collect Star Wars figurines now, don’t I?
What hit me the hardest when I began was the fact that my parents encouraged me. Have you looked on Ebay? I’m sure you’ll find some there, my mom would say. I tell her I will, but I never do. My laptop stays closed on my desk. My friend at work says he knows a guy that has an original Lando Calrissian. Why don’t I ask him for you, my dad said to me. Sure, I say to him. I don’t tell him that I don’t really care.
The figurines mean nothing to me. I find them at a store, or at someone’s sale, and I buy them. They don’t have a story. Nothing like my other treasures. My treasures each have a story. The figurines mean nothing to me, not compared to my treasures.
The stuffed dog that I hid under my bed. He was a gift from my neighbor Belle when I was ten years old. I named him Cream, and she named hers Cookie. Cookie and Cream. After Belle moved away. Cream always slept on my bed. When I had my back surgery four years later, Cream came with me. The doctor put a hospital band with my name on his ankle. Now we know who he belongs to, she said.
The blue worm that used to have a string. He was the mascot for the pretend town that my friends and I made up when we were eleven. We named him Bob. Max, since you’re the president, you get to name him, I said to Max. We’ll name him Bob, Max said. We all laughed, and he sat right on the railing on my porch.
The pretty rock on my desk. I found out that it was actually rose quartz when I went through my geology phase in seventh grade. I found it at the lake when I was twelve while I was exploring with my friends. Nobody else thought it was pretty, not like I did. Why are you picking that up? It’s just a rock, John had told me. I pocketed the rock and shook my head. I think it’s pretty, I said.
The grim reaper figure on my dresser. I found him at Goodwill right before Halloween last year. A few of my friends and I had gone to thrift a costume for the holiday. Thrifting wasn’t cool yet. I saw him on a shelf, surrounded by other, more normal, junk. I plucked him off of the shelf and bought him. For the first time, my friends actually thought it was cool.
The tiny canvas that Richie had painted of my favorite Star Wars character. It was a late birthday present. I was born in April, and they gave it to me in September. We were coming back from the last pool party of the year, and we stopped by their house to get it. I thought it was a funny painting. I put it on top of my bookshelf when I got home.
I decide to throw the Star Wars figurines away the next day. What are you doing? Those are your things! You can’t throw them away like nothing, my mom says to me when I come out of my room with an armful of the figurines. I don’t like them anymore, I say to her, and I toss them in the trash with today’s mail.
It doesn’t matter, I decide, what my parents or my friends think. It isn’t their stuff. They don’t get to tell me what to do with it. That’s my job. I put the rock back on my desk, and I put Cream back in his place on my bed. I take the feather pen out of my drawer and put it with my other writing utensils. It doesn’t matter what they think. Alex can collect her model airplanes, and John can collect his baseball cards. I can do whatever I want with my things. That’s all they are. Things.