You are not your stuff

I’m back.

The tourists are gone; the locals and eccentrics are out in force once again.

Phew. I’d begun to think the world was made up solely of People From Away slathered with sunblock and lugging beach chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, coolers, boogie boards, corn hole games, plastic shovels, radios, cheese curls, small children and high expectations to the beach, too intent on having a fun vacation to talk with anyone around them.

So it was a relief to meet Diane on the beach a couple of days ago. Diane’s from around here, but she’s lived in a lot of different places in her sixty-one years. We were talking about the McMansions built right smack on the shoreline that bite the dust – or sand – during a hurricane when she launched into this story.

Diane talked a lot, and I tried to capture the essence of what she said while leaving out extraneous details. I did make a couple of edits, especially after The Man said, “She didn’t say ‘condom,’ she said ‘rubber’ and when you said ‘What?’ I thought to myself, ‘Oh, God, do we have to spell it out for you?’”


Anyway, here’s Diane’s story:

“You are not your stuff – I was lucky enough to learn that more than 20 years ago. I was a single mom, my kids were grown and so I sold my house, sold everything I couldn’t fit in my car. I packed it to the gills and headed for Los Angeles.

“Somewhere in New Mexico, I was driving along and listening to music, loud, singing along with the radio and not really paying any attention to the noises the car was making. Then the car started shaking and smoke started coming out of the engine. I pulled off the road just as the car died.

“It was a Friday afternoon – it’s always a Friday afternoon when these things happen – and there I was, alone by the side of the road with a dead car in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. And I had to be in Los Angeles to start my new job first thing Monday morning.

“Eventually some guys stopped and offered to drive me to the closest town. I looked at my car – every damn thing I owned in this world was in it. My mom’s jewelry, my diamonds, everything. I couldn’t even remember where in the car I’d hidden that stuff and didn’t have time to look for it anyway.

“I looked at my car and thought, it’s okay. It’s just stuff. So I got into this pick-up truck with a couple of strangers and left everything I owned by the side of the road in nowhere New Mexico. They dropped me off at a service station and I walked in and the place was full of – men.”

She said ‘men’ in a way that made me know Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp were not among those present.

“I gave them the keys to everything I owned in my life. Then I got a ride to Albuquerque and managed to get a flight to L.A. in time for my first day of work.

“A week later, I flew back to Albuquerque so I could pick up the car. I’d arranged to get a ride back to the service station with this guy – I had this weird feeling about getting in his car with him but I did…

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this stuff – once we got on the road I looked down and saw there was a rubber on the floor of the front seat. He’d just gone on about how he’d cleaned up the car special for me. And I’m thinking, you cleaned up the car and left that thing there? I had no idea what would happen next and I was really uncomfortable when he pulled off at a rest stop. I didn’t know if I should jump out or what.

“‘Do you want something to drink? Eat?’ he asked me when he stopped the car.

“‘I just want to pick up my car – that’s it!’ I practically screamed it at him. I insisted that was all I wanted to do and he pulled back onto the road.

“He never touched me, never tried anything beyond stopping. I guess he thought it was worth a try though. Still, I was mighty glad when I could get out of his car back at the service station.

“And there was my car, all fixed up and ready to go. As far as I could tell, all my stuff was there, too, right where I’d packed it.

“Later I called my brother and told him my tale. He said to me, ‘Didn’t you get the car serviced right before you left?’

“I hadn’t thought of that, but he was right – I’d gotten it checked, gotten an oil change a week before I’d left for L.A. And then there wasn’t any oil in the engine – that’s why it died.

“So I called Toyota, told them what happened, told them I had all my receipts. And they ended up paying for the whole thing – the car repair, the plane ticket – all of it.

“But I got a whole lot more out of it. When I first drove away from my car and watched everything I owned grow smaller and smaller in the distance, I realized it was okay, that I didn’t really need any of that stuff, that I could get by with practically nothing. I still can.

“You are not your stuff.

“And knowing that is worth way more than all of it – my jewelry, my clothes, all my things – put together.”

11 comments to You are not your stuff

  • I missed you…
    Glad to ‘hear your voice again’.
    I like Diane, she sounds like my kid gal. Of course, having moved across the country as many times as I have without my stuff, I can relate to her.
    I hope when I’m sixty-one I have great stories to tell of lessons learned.

    • Diane had a ton of stories. Picking just one was hard. What I really liked about her was that she honed right in on the essence of writing fiction: it’s a puzzle and knowing where and how to get the pieces to fit is the challenge.


  • I’m amazed Diane’s story ended as well as it did! Mercy!!! She took a whole bunch of risks and came out smelling like a beauty queen. I’m glad she did but I hope her life goes more smoothly in the future.

    Thanks for sharing the story. I’m not my stuff. Now, that’s tough. We get so entangled with material things that it’s rather difficult to separate ourselves from our stuff. Diane has a priceless lesson to share.

    Take care, my friend.

    • It was a great lesson, especially right after we were preparing for a direct hurricane hit and trying to decide, if we did have to evacuate, what essentials (beyond pet food, insurance documents and comfortable shoes) we’d try to cram into the car.

  • Yeah! You are back writing! What an amazing story. It could have ended so very differently. We moved every three years for the first 18 years of our marriage, so any stuff in boxes that hadn’t been used during each stay was given away. Made us evaluate the importance of our stuff!
    Love to see you back on the beach, too. Will you be writing any more of Diane’s stories?

    • I thought we had gotten rid of everything but ‘essentials’ before we moved south, but when I bump into boxes in the garage or the back of closets I wonder what I was thinking when I PAID A MOVER to move this crap more than a thousand miles…

  • I’m a “stuffer”, so I have to say reading this story made me quite anxious. I was just thinking the other day about Christmas and how I may never get over the loss of my sentimental ornaments. I am not my stuff, but some of my stuff is/was part of me. Then again, that doesn’t apply to everything. I’ve endured the loss of “everything on my hard drive” twice before, so I can appreciate the feeling of a clean start. I’m pretty sure that would not apply to losing my writing now, which is why I store that on Dropbox. Akkk, I’m rambling. Over and out.

  • I remember your sense of loss about the ornaments when you blogged about it.

    I’m getting better about detaching from my “stuff” but I can’t imagine being quite as stuff-less as Diane. She certainly made me think about possessions and what they mean – which is why I wrote down her story and shared it here.

  • Your title says it all! Great shot of the beach, it makes me yearn for my upcoming trip to the Oregon coast. 🙂

    • It’s true – but detaching from stuff can be difficult while you’re doing it. After you’ve dumped the ballast, the relief and freedom are palpable. (I say that but the garage is still half full of – stuff.) Have fun in Oregon! Coast there is breathtaking!

  • Well that’s true, the detaching itself is painful.

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