My body ached, covered in sweat, and I sat, alone in my front yard, the late afternoon sun making a last surge before dusk. "This is my life," I thought. "My life is on my lawn."
It was my first yard sale, and I hadn't slept the night before, as I had no idea how much work it takes putting one of these things together, especially by yourself. I had made signs and staked them out at dawn, hoping to lure in more people with my offer of "FREE COOKIES," and learned too late that duct tape does not stick to wooden telephone poles. I'd dragged out tables and a garment rack, and when those were filled, set my things on sheets on the ground. I priced my memories between 25 cents and a few dollars
At first, the idea was liberating, ridding myself of my junk, my past, to start anew with who I am now. But it was strange, too, looking out at who I was.
There were the piles of self-help books. The Art of Getting Well, from when I was desperately ill. Are You the One for Me?, which my dad got me after meeting one of my jerky boyfriends. I bought Gardening for Dummies when I moved to the country and imagined a front yard of wildflowers and a back yard of organic vegetables. It didn't happen.
My skinny clothes, my fat clothes, the racy things from my cleavage-baring days, the khaki ones from my good girl-Ann Taylor time. My hiking boots from college. The vintage aprons I got on eBay, as well as the top hat and gold shoes I bid on when I thought I would dress as the girl from Little Miss Sunshine for Halloween and never did. Stuffed animals from past suitors. Jewelry and purses, priced well below their worth, because I finally realized: I'm not that girl.
The sale started at 9 a.m., and though the signs were out, I was still frantically hauling stuff outside. I was drenched and past deadline.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I said to the few people who showed up. "Have a free cookie!"
"One of your signs fell down," one craggy man said to me reproachfully.
And so I wrestled with a second garment rack I bought at Big Lots, and finally got it together and put clothes on it. A few minutes later, I heard a crash.
"That did NOT just happen," I said to myself. But it did. The whole thing teetered to the dirt, and as I was picking up clothes and furiously jamming the faulty rack back into its box and then sweeping crickets off the sheets and dealing with customers haggling over a quarter, people drove slowly by, surveying my lawn. I would smile and wave and they would look away, as if I were a drifter holding a cardboard sign at a red light, and hit the accelerator.
About 20 people did this. One red truck actually pulled into my driveway and then pulled right back out. I wanted to cry. I'd had visions of a lovely day, of people eating cookies and chatting and buying things. Of me not crazed and smelling like a locker room, but calm. Put together.
It's hard not to take it personally when strangers view your life and reject it piece by piece. About a dozen people bought stuff. I think I broke even, after returning the garment rack the next week. As the day wore on and people stopped coming, I sat and thought of when I lived in Memphis and had the short-lived and strange hobby of cruising neighborhoods on trash nights to see what was thrown out.
One evening, when it was still light, I saw a house with the whole curb loaded with stuff — furniture, lamps, boxes, dozens of black trash bags. I stopped and rooted through them, and then came other looters, ants to candy. A neighbor told me that the old lady who lived in the house had died and her son had cleared everything out. He'd had a yard sale and tossed what didn't sell.
At the time, I was angry at that son. This woman cared so much for her belongings; things a half-century old still had their original boxes and warranties. There were hand-knitted afghans and clothes and Christmas cards. Books. Trinkets. Paintings. How could this son not at least donate these to charity? The others ripping through the bags had ideas of selling them online or at vintage shops, these cool retro finds. I just wanted to save them from the dump, to somehow give this woman some dignity back.
But as I sat at the ending of my own yard sale, knowing it would take nearly two hours to bring in everything I already had said goodbye to, I realized I had gotten that son wrong. Maybe it took all he had to go through his mother's house and price her things, and maybe his heart was pierced every time a person rifled through them, scoffing, haggling.
Maybe by the time it was over, he didn't care anymore, as he threw out what was left for the garbage because that's what it was: trash, junk, things once loved by a woman who knew all of their secret stories, a woman who would never care for them, or him, again.
A version of this story was previously published in some regional editions of the Times. Erin Sullivan can be reached at (813) 909-4609 or firstname.lastname@example.org.