object permanence

by Andrea Elizabeth

I don’t have it. If I don’t see it, it no longer exists. Visiting my old neighborhood Monday and cleaning out closets yesterday brought this home to me in that I was surprised that things I haven’t seen in a long time were still where I left them. Shopping centers, houses, pictures, and my children’s baby clothes were still intact. Not even much deteriorated, and in some cases, improved. They should have been tattered fragments if they were going to keep themselves being anything at all. I think I have a narcissistic/anxiety mode that thinks I am responsible to tend everything, and if I don’t they will die or just disappear.

If things perpetually exist, at least relative to one person’s lifetime, then that means there are a lot of things still intact in landfills. I’m not going to get all political about that, but I wonder if other people have the tendency to think as I do that if you throw something away, it is gone, as in it ceases to exist.

If death is unnatural, then maybe things aren’t meant to be thrown away. Not that we have to keep everything, but selling things or giving them to Goodwill seems more in keeping with the idea that objects seek permanence and usefulness. I don’t think the Indians or other more natural cultures have the same ideas about trash as we do. They don’t leave things behind.

Along with this, I have been thinking about how we also have in our minds the idea that we can make sure bad things don’t happen to us anymore. We have pretty dramatic restraining and killing measures such as dams, incarceration, electric fences, and the death penalty to make sure we don’t have to deal with stuff anymore. We throw people away and pretend they stop existing.

Orson Scott Thomas in the author’s note at the end of Speaker for the Dead related a story about how an abused wife told a lie at her husband’s funeral. She said he was a loving husband and a good man. Thomas came to the conclusion that instead of being a kindness, she actually got revenge by erasing him and his life and inventing a new person she wished she’d had.

I’m not saying we should never get distance from bad things, but I think we should become stronger to handle more without feeling so panickly traumatized. If a narcissist is in our lives we shouldn’t let ourselves get sucked into their vacuum, but neither should we completely forget about them nor pretend nor even wish(?) they’re something they’re not.