Lest you have any illusions about my social life, here’s how I spent Sunday night: Sitting in an unpainted room on our one piece of furniture (a love seat) surfing through one online auction after another.
Hours flew by as Dani and I sifted through nick-knacks, vintage items, and bargains. We laughed, bid, schemed, and somewhere along the line we realized that the auctions weren’t just buying-and-selling. They told a story.
A lady had just died, or maybe is about to and is now spending her last days in a retirement home. She didn’t throw away much, and preferred the way things used to be. She bought a washing machine in 1933, $80, and used it for the next seventy years. An old RCA TV and decades-old chairs and tables still filled her home with remnants of a time long past.
Her husband was a machinist. She still had his tools, shelves, work benches, books and manuals. Maybe he just passed away and she didn’t have time to sell them. Or maybe she couldn’t bring herself to part with these objects that were so important to the man she loved.
And now all of those things are here. On a website perused by bargain hunters. Myriads of tiny items that hold mountains of memories meticulously and coldly appraised by total strangers. Hundreds of her Rosebud, up for sale or else thrown away into the fire.
And that’s what this auction is: Objects that tell a story. The idea isn’t new, Citizen Kane revolves around this conceit. The final scene pans over a mansion full of objects–jigsaw pieces, maybe–that tell the story of Charles Foster Kane. But not the complete story, no object or interview could ever tell that. They could never answer the question of who the enigmatic man really was. And those charged with appraising the items or investigating Kane’s final whisper could never know the stories and memories behind each and every item.
So I find myself also a nameless, faceless investigator. Piecing together a life with the objects left behind. Knowing that any story I put together is hardly Her story at all.
How could I ever know the memories that come flooding back to her when she looks at her wedding dress? A time machine to the most beautiful day in her life, now one item among hundreds, strewn on a soiled, carpeted floor. And up for sale to the highest bidder.