Goodbye to Old Friends
Every once in a while my wife gets sick of looking at my younger daughter's room.
"Oh my God, your room is disgusting!" she'll exclaim, as if we all didn't know that already.
This, predictably, will impel her to command my younger daughter to clean her room - immediately - and with extreme prejudice.
At which point my younger daughter will only sigh at the unreasonableness of all parents, everywhere, and then dutifully - if not willingly - begin cleaning her room.
After what seems like eons she'll finally get the job done, and then, my wife remembering the mess a second time, she'll tell our younger daughter to throw some of her stuff away.
To be fair, my daughter's room really can get filthy, and yes, she collects a lot of crap that only contributes to greater disorder in that part of the house. Aside from the clothes strewn over her floor, there are potato chip bags, unwashed cups from the previous week, and comic books, usually purchased during a trip out of town.
The comic books are always the first things to go. My daughter will tie them into bundles with twine, and they'll get put near our living room door, where we most often forget about their existence. There's a bundle of such comic books sitting by our living room door even now.
Just the sight of that bundle next to the door always makes me sad. There's something indescribably mournful to me about unloved comics, though I have admittedly personal reasons for saying so. Forsaken comic books always remind me of something that happened when I was very little, back when my mother and I were visiting my grandma in Oregon.
I couldn't have been older than six. I can remember my mom and grandma taking me to some little country store where they purchased the comics. I remember an issue of Wonder Woman - don't ask me why, but I was obsessed with Wonder Woman - and an issue of Justice League. There was maybe also a Hulk, maybe a Flash too.
This would have been in 1978, 1979, or at the latest 1980. Think Silver Age. Think comics written and drawn by people who weren't famous.
Anyway, my point being that I had these comics, right? And I was really, truly, gloriously happy in the way that only little boys with new comics can be happy. Having purchased my comics, the three of us went to a jetty near the town of Tillamook, not far from the town where my grandma lived.
We spent a lot of time climbing over the rocks. I remember it being a cloudy day - cloudy is pretty normal on the north Oregon coast - and I remember the sound of seagulls as they came to rest on the other end of the jetty. At one point I put my comics down between some of the rocks, and later came back to where I thought I'd put my comics...
But they were gone. My shiny new Wonder Woman, my Justice League, my other comics - all gone. I called my mother and grandma over, and we looked through every crevice on that jetty, all without success. My comics were gone, and there was nothing anyone could do.
I remember a great existential sadness coming over me then: a six year old's despair over the futility of human endeavor as it related to the acquisition of comic books. I was too sad even to cry. I was too sad to even throw a tantrum. I had done it to myself, I knew; there was no one else to blame, and through a fault of character or a trick of fate I had lost my precious comic books, which were perhaps even then serving as the abode of crustaceans or the nesting grounds of gulls.
Looking at my younger daughter's comic books next to the living room door brings this memory back to me every time. I can't help but wonder if one day she'll feel a similar twinge of regret - decades later - when she thinks about the comic books my wife told her to throw away.
Yes, comic books are just things, and sometimes it's best to get rid of things, but comic books can also be like old friends, with whom we share some treasured memories. Saying goodbye to those "old friends" can be hard, especially if your grandma's just introduced them to you, and you haven't had time to get fully acquainted.
I know that people in Taiwan - and kids in Taiwan - don't have the same kind of attitude towards their comic books that I did growing up. I know that people here don't collect them in the same way. I know that it's often more about the related memorabilia than the comic books themselves, and my daughter probably shares this sentiment.
But it still makes me sad to see those comic books, orphaned on our living room floor. Who will love that issue of One Piece now? Who will care for that edition of Naruto? Seeing them there, I can't help but reflect on other comic books, lost on a jetty in Oregon more than thirty years ago. Things are not people and people are not things, but things often carry the memories of the people we were, of the people who are no longer with us, and even the people we once hoped to be.
Maybe I could just get my daughter to keep her room clean. Then I wouldn't have to see those comic books destined for the recycling truck every month. Our house would smell better too, and I wouldn't have to think about her writhing around in her own debris.
Then again, this has been an ongoing thing for years now. It's not like we haven't tried any number of strategies to fix the problem. Every time it seems like she's turned the corner, and started keeping her room clean, we let our guard down, we relax, only to find out that her room is even worse than before. Soon after, another stack of comic books sits next to the living room door.
"Oh my God!" I can already hear my wife saying, "Your room is so disgusting!" Then the groans, then the dutiful (if slow) cleaning up. Painfully predictable, but maybe the sort of thing that all kids and their parents go through, some of the time. I just hope that in later years my daughter remembers the importance of a clean room, rather than those comic books she treasured, so many years before.
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