62: Tabula Rasa

62: Tabula Rasa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Tabula Rasa

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

~Albert Einstein

Ever since I was a child, my parents fed my precocious reading ability. The real treat was every Thursday afternoon. My father and I would drive into town to make deliveries for his watch repair business and we would stop at Clay’s News Agency. There, I would always choose the same thing: a coveted copy of The Wall Street Journal.

And ever since that childhood, I have been a newspaper hoarder.

As a child, each of those newspapers was a precious gift. The articles were written for and about important people — people who’d made something of themselves; people who made decisions and ran the world. I had to savor every succulent morsel of that paper. Even if it would take me the rest of the week, I’d read every article, sometimes three or four times. I’d internalize the business leaders and politicians and all the important decisions they made. I imagined what I would do in each situation, what decisions I would make in each case. As I devoured the contents, I dreamed that one day I would be among the decision-makers of the world. I would leave my parents’ one-horse town and make my mark on society.

Each Thursday, when I brought home the latest edition, I couldn’t bear to part with its predecessor. Not all the articles, the people, the friends I’d made in my mind as I travelled their lives with them! And so instead of discarding the previous week’s edition, I stowed it under my bed.

Every week.

There they remained until my parents cleaned out my bedroom when I went away to college.

Fast forward some fifteen years, and I’m married.

In the apartment my wife and I shared, I could justify the stacks of newspapers: the apartment complex did not offer recycling, so we stacked the newspapers behind the door of our spare bedroom. When we had a trunkful, we drove to the recycling center with my precious cargo.

My wife never knew how much it pained me to recycle them. In fact, I’m sure she attributed my hesitancy to the physical labor involved in moving the stacks from our third-floor apartment to the parking lot below. Not wanting to scare my new bride, I never told her the truth.

But the truth came out nonetheless. When we moved into our first house, the recycling truck came by once a week. And it accepted newspapers.

Attending graduate school and working, I had little time to spare. The newspapers delivered each morning started to pile up near the front door. At first, with moving and packing, my wife was lenient. She understood that I wanted to catch up on reading before recycling the papers. She was content, at first, with the slow trickle of newspapers leaving the house. But with two papers delivered each day, they were coming in faster than I could read them.

“Just recycle them,” she told me. “By the time you read them, it’ll be old news. Start fresh with tomorrow’s paper.”

How could I explain to her that childhood feeling of solidarity I’d had with each news story and its participants? My engagement with the goings-on in the world had lifted me, inspired me to be the first in my family with a college degree, the first in my family with a job in the city. It was the stories of those business leaders and politicians, their successes and failures, which served as the foundation for my own decisions. They had given me so much. How could I simply abandon them without a second thought? I wondered as I gazed at the growing stack that had now intruded into the corner of our dining room.

It didn’t take long for my wife to guess at my hoarding tendencies. Relieved that it was limited to newspapers, she allowed me to use our home’s spare bedroom as my office, which she told me I could use for “newspaper storage.” She promised it would be my own room and that, as long as the newspapers stayed there, she wouldn’t bother me about them.

A few years later, a layer of newspapers lined the floor. Precarious stacks stood like unwieldy skyscrapers. There was a narrow and dangerous path from the door (which could no longer close) to the desk. But still, my wife kept her promise: she never bothered me about the papers.

That is… until the mice.

One autumn day, I heard a skittering about in the newspapers. Peering behind one of the piles, I saw that a family of mice had nested in the soft shredding of our paper shredder’s basket. Peering back there, I saw that mice had invaded my office and found comfort in the stacks of warm newspapers and all the cozy nooks they offered.

It was when we covered the paper shredder, my wife and I, and drove out to the reservoir to release the mice back into the wild, that it dawned on me that hoarding newspapers might not be the best idea. We didn’t tell my wife’s parents about the mice, but we borrowed their SUV and cleared out the papers nonetheless.

I’ll admit — it was difficult. As I watched those stacks disappear from my office, I felt like I was murdering a friend. Every now and then I’d read a headline of an ancient edition and say to my wife, “Maybe just…”

But she’d shake her head, pick up the stack, and continue out the door. “There’s always the Internet,” she said.

When the shock of it wore off, it dawned on me that I liked having a clean office, a room in which I could move about. Every now and again, a small stack would grow in the corner, but a certain look would come across my wife’s face — for she now used the office along with me — and I knew it was time to recycle.

It is still a challenge for me, and I think it always will be. Each day when the newspaper arrives, I can’t help but feel a tinge of that childhood adrenaline, the wonder at the possibility of the world. But then I think of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned of the world since leaving home, all the decisions I’ve made and people I’ve impacted. When I think of these things, it isn’t so hard to make that trip to the recycling bin.

Besides, there’s always the Internet.

 

~Eric Allen

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