Sometimes, the desire to burn everything I own strikes me. But I quickly dismiss the idea because: 1. using my communal garden as a bonfire will have the neighbours suspect I’ve killed the latest missing person, which will leave me either homeless or sharing a cell with an inmate, and 2. I’m a hoarder. Not of food or clothes but of memories. Those beignets I ate — after standing in a queue for hours — from the famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans? I’ve still got the paper bag they came in. Ditto napkin. That time I jumped about so much at a You Me At Six gig at Fat Sams that my skirt slipped off (thank God I was wearing tights)? That faded ticket isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Those plastic shutter shades I was dying to get hold of after Kanye West wore them in his Stronger music video? My broken yellow pair are, like everything else, stored inside their designated annual box, stashed under my bed, which is filling up with frightening rapidity.
The worst objects in these boxes are the Jane Doe wristbands. I frown at them, hoping my fixed glare will make them squeal out what on Earth they were for. They never do, naturally. I make a mental note to start writing on them what event they were for immediately afterward. But when I triumphantly rip off — with many tugs and pulls — the red bracelet, my high-on-adrenaline stubbornness kicks in. 'Like Hell I’ll ever forget what this marvellous piece of sticky paper represents!' And into the box it goes.
Why did I start curating the Museum of Moi? I often wonder this myself...I’ve collected memories since I was ten (I’m now 25). Is it coincidental or worthy of universal psychologist nods that also, when I was ten, my aunt died? And my first token is the last thing she ever gave me? Not the Horrible Science magazine, I’ve no idea what happened to that, but the free gift attached: a gooey, purple brain. It’s still in the plastic cup she put it in; I relive that memory of her doing so, me sitting at the computer desk, my aunt coming in with it inside the little cup (no doubt to contain the messy slime) so I could take it home with me. I don’t know if the memory’s real or if I’ve given context to the plastic cup. It’s moved with me from flat to flat, inside a decade-old newspaper, tiny parts of the plastic cup breaking off in miniature mountains at a touch — the way you’d never expect plastic to behave. Gooeyness way long gone. I’ll never throw it out, let alone burn it with my own hands. Have I become a hoarder because of what happened? Would aforementioned psychologists say the continuing collection is because I fear losing something that will one day be of much importance? Or would I have become a hoarder regardless because the act is simply another manifestation of my OCD?
Whatever was the trigger, I know what motivates my bizarre emporium now. It stems from the same dread that fills me when I flick through an old diary and see days, weeks, months filled in blank. Of the nightmares I have that one day my laptop will crash, on the same day my external hard drive helpfully decides to wipe itself, and all my photos will disappear forever. Because without the words, the snapshots, the objects I feel as though I’ve lost part of my life. I have a notoriously bad memory. Having these accounts, in whatever form they take, is what helps trigger memories in my mind, which I’d likely have forgotten about without. And, as everyone knows, the sequel to Aerosmith’s ballad is meant to go: I Don’t Want to Forget a Thing.
Fortunately, most triggering at present does work, but the older I become the more I can’t recall earlier memories. I don’t remember much of my aunt. I watch home videos of us and I try picturing them in my mind, making myself believe I remember that laugh, that smile, but I’m being dishonest and I know it. There’s only one I’m positive is true: having nightmares and running into her bed. However, there are none of my faithful recordings on it and I see it from a bird’s eye view — so how real does that make it?
I’m waiting for the day my actual brain dries up and all the textless objects I possess will become like the wristbands: there to hold like Yorick’s skull, but with no clue whatsoever as to what connection I have to them. (Some things — like a little pink rubber duck from 2014 — are already lost to me.) While those I can read what they represent, like exhibition tickets, I won’t remember a moment of. My desire to burn everything I own comes from the wish to be free of material goods, to have the freedom to travel, to build more memories. But perhaps I should actually smash every glass container, steal everything inside and gift it to Vulcan, because why bother hauling around a collection when one day the mind’s eye won’t be able to see any of it?
I won’t, though. I’ll keep moving these boxes from home to nursing home because even if there’s a slight chance that by having them around something, something could come back to me, then it’s worth it. And there is hope it will. I can go through my bookcase and recount how every book came into my possession, after all. And if not, if no object triggers any memory inside, at least I will be able to know what I filled my years with, and say, 'Oh, what a life I led!' Sorry, Piper, looks like I won’t be your new cellmate just yet.