Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Looking back over the years

Posted by boakley59 on December 7, 2008

I’ve been going through old files lately as we’re trying to box up our stuff so that we can sell the house and move on to a more affordable life. It’s a humbling exercise, as my illness has left us with less than half the yearly income we had when we bought the house in 1999. Adjusting the raw numbers for inflation makes the picture even worse.

But it’s not money or numbers that draw my attention as I sift the piles. I’m the pack rat type, and I have at least 20 years of credit card receipts and general household records. Nope, never have done a year-end cleaning in all my adult days. So this first cleaning is a trip down memory lane.

Ah, the gas station receipt from South Dakota reminds me of the wonderful first trip to introduce Courtney to his maternal grandparents. Likewise, his yearly trips to Virginia to spend time with my parents are marked by receipts from diners and souvenir shops. In later years, airline receipts are sad reminders that Kay and I had divorced and we shipped our son back and forth across the continent in what should have been his most carefree years.

I look back at truck rental charges and remember the times we moved — for a better house or a better job. So many restaurants we loved, so much traveling we did, so many hobbies pursued, so little clue we had. Clearing out papers now, I am torn between seeing my life collapse again $30 at a time and reliving exuberant days of a young father. I was so much stronger then, when I knew everything would work out, no matter what.

The strength, of course, was an illusion, and the scope of it really hits home flipping through decades of paper trail. I didn’t know how to say no. Still don’t, but these days I no longer have the means to say yes, anyway, so there’s little danger now of overdoing.

I never was one to take pictures, so some of those moments will simply disappear when I shred those receipts. Perhaps without the paper trail, I can just move on and realize there is no score for who wasted the most love or money. Everybody gets a zero when marriage fails, and everybody pays the price of pain.

Clearing the files brings reminders of old arguments, but it also leaves only my memory to serve for so many other tiny moments of wonder.

Yes, I can see how we loved Mexican food, and oriental food, and, well, food of any kind — and good company at diners everywhere. Surely we didn’t buy so many toys! No, we also bought diapers and formula at Toys‘R’Us, and that’s why we have all those markers saying “Geoffrey” thanks us. What a joy, what a job we had taking care of Courtney. And that old customized van sure took a lot of work! Books and music and software — the energy we spent on the creativity we hoped we had!

I can track the buildup of waste and loss to a final collapse, and then the slow rebuilding of a different hope and happiness. New, small payouts at gift shops and flower shops. Big bills for travel to conferences after a promotion. A trip back to Virginia with a new family to take my parents to dinner on their 50th anniversary.

So much life, boiled down to the smallness of numbers. How does it all add up? What could have been different? What would I change? No, too late. All that travel has brought me to a different place, to a new accounting.

Checking these sparse tally sheets, I find myself hoping that i have somehow left a larger mark that will mostly be to my credit.


2 Responses to “Looking back over the years”

  1. Stacy said

    Ah! How neat to go through all of those things! Though, if it were me, I’d be thinking, “Now what the heck was I doing shopping at XXX store?! I spent $50 on what?!”

    Bruce sez: Well, I tend to the skinflint side, and separation from almost every dollar is pretty traumatic, so I have strong memories and it only takes the name of the store or a brief description on a receipt to bring it all back.

  2. Ben said

    It must be Reflective Month for the “best men.” In a day or so I will post at Brick a longish piece that may be — if the reader squints — parallel to yours. This week I’ve written about four different versions, longhand, and it may be ready.

    I have nothing like, “There is no score for who wasted the most love or money.” Wow.

    Bruce sez: Sometimes, when I take 10 years to think about things, I come agonizingly close to truth.

    I’ll be checking Brick for your thoughts.

    Best, always.

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