STORY BY MARY VENDEGNA
In January of 2020, I packed almost all of my belongings into storage pods and moved into my friend’s guest room. I thought it would be for a couple weeks until I found my own place. Then we watched as the rest of the world struggled to stay alive. We watched as France and Italy were ravaged by the pandemic. Somehow, it felt like that couldn’t happen here in the U.S., or at least that it wouldn’t. Surely, we’d learn from their situation and adapt.
Of course, that wasn’t the case.
As lockdowns rolled out in the U.S., I took what little I had at my friend’s house and drove from Nashville to St. Louis to stay with my mom. I thought it would be for a couple weeks, while the U.S. got a handle on the pandemic. But I was still there when seasons changed, and I had to rebuy clothing, craft supplies, kitchen tools, office accessories, even knick-knacks—just to make myself feel any semblance of grounding. I was constantly on the internet needing to buy things it seemed.
I had started 2020 wanting to buy less and to buy more intentionally when I did make purchases, but I found myself in a world where that idealism didn’t feel possible. I was wracked with guilt and stuck indoors, while contributing to a consumeristic culture I had once been passionate about disconnecting from.
I missed having my own space, missed my friends, and missed my family. But I also missed my things. I started to resent getting dressed. I wasn’t going anywhere, so why even change out of the T-shirt I slept in, only to put on another T-shirt?
In December last year, the company storing my pods accidentally sent one of them to Ohio and wasn’t sure if they could find it. Eleven months removed from packing my belongings into those pods, I grieved the loss of whatever might be in them, since it might all be gone forever. My late grandpa’s old shirts, my signed Taylor Swift poster, my favorite records.
Luckily, they found the pod and returned it safely to Nashville. Relief.
So when I returned home this summer, I was excited to be reunited. With friends, with the town I love—but also with my things. When I finally opened up my pods, though, that excitement quickly turned to dismay.
Twenty months of Tennessee (and maybe Ohio) weather changes had caused damage. Anything leather was covered in mildew: my chair, my beloved vintage handbags, my shoes.
And in addition to these physical changes to my belongings, there were the physical changes that had occurred to my own body over the last 20 months. As I sifted through bags of clothing, I realized that the clothing I was eager to return to no longer fit.
Each time I started to make peace with a loss as I sorted through things, I was reminded of another.
I felt shallow over my grief. They’re just things, right?
But they’re not just things.
They’re not just cowboy boots, they’re the boots I bought with my high school graduation money and have spent 10 years breaking in. It’s not just a record, it’s the U.K. pressing of Meet the Beatles! that I scored for 25 cents even though it was worth a whole lot more. They are so many memories and beloved belongings that I spent my adult life working hard to buy.
The past two years have taken a lot from us. Many of us have lost homes, jobs, family, friends, and sanity. Loss is never easy, and these days we’re experiencing it constantly. I so badly want to say that this experience of loss has taught me how to let go and appreciate what I do still have.
But while I’m so grateful for my health, family, and friends, and while this year has reminded me to hold on tighter to them, I still grieve the loss of precious items that can never be replaced. It’s a grief made worse for assuming it’s a grief that’s supposed to feel small in the scheme of things.
But in my more self-compassionate moments, I wonder: Who gets to decide which of my losses are small and which are big? The scale that determines the weight of loss is not one-size-fits-all.