The Post-Breakup Property Exchange

You had to give it all back at some point, I guess. I didn’t know, really. It felt corny and clichéd when our friend came over with a box of my things and tripped over the words “he wanted to make sure you got this.” I didn’t think that actually happened, the brown boxed give back. I assumed it was a gesture reserved for Norah Ephron films and scripted scenes of broken-hearted closure.

When she left, I sat on the living room floor and went through it all. Judging by the weight of the box, it seemed as if you had cleaned out every article of me until your place had less to say about us and surely more to say about your newfound independence. Writing that word out now, I can hear you citing it as the reason you wanted to break up and it still stings just the same. “We’re not independent enough,” you said, “I miss doing things on my own.”

This isn’t something I want to do on my own, I thought to myself as I wondered who helped you pack all of this up.

On top was the tie of my father’s I lent you for that interview. I was half hoping you’d just keep it because now, when I get around to returning it to him, he’ll know he was right about you. “Don’t trust a man with a tattoo,” he’s always said. He has one himself, so he knows.

After digging past a few more items [a pair of black cable knit tights, an Iron & Wine shirt, a computer charger, a comb, the ring you bought me, my copy of Never Let Me Go and two disposable cameras I know better than to develop before the year’s end], the only thing left at the bottom of the box was a photo from the night you got that job offer. I wore that dress you [said you] loved and you wore that same damn tie as we sat at a white-clothed table in a restaurant we couldn’t afford. We held our champagne up for the camera to see as the waiter reluctantly took our picture.

“We should submit this to the editors of privileged life magazine,” I joked at the time. “We could buy the whole damn publication now,” you said as you touched your glass to mine. “We’re going to be so happy,” you promised. You took a sip and said, “You know that right?”

The dust of the day settled on my heart as I rested my head on the carpet. You were too familiar with the bed, there was too much of you there. Here was a place you had never laid claim to, never stained with a memory or a feeling, so I felt it safe to stay. It was the safest I had felt in weeks.

I thought of moving my sheets down to the floor for the night, or longer, but it felt in that moment as if I had turned to stone; ice collected in my joints, stiffened and settled in the locked position. There would be no moving tonight, it was decided, only the stirring of nostalgia, regret and endless why’s as I turned my head once again to meet your eyes in the photograph at the bottom of the box.

It’s an odd thing being cleared out of a life you planned on merging with your own someday. I don’t know how to erase you. I thought I’d start by filling that same brown box you gave me but, as I look around the room, it turns out that brown box is all I’ve got left of you. TC mark

image – Christiano Betta


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  • Annie Highley-Smith

    I put my ex’s stuff in a garbage bag and gave it to his friend.  No nostalgia necessary.

    • eleanor

      well good for you.

  • Guest

    This is amazingly beautiful…it’s easy to remember these feelings and relate to them when they are so well written.

  • becky

    A little too close to home right now but so beautifully written.

    I’m not sure I’ll ever wish to watch my copy of Never Let Me Go.

  • Elevenelevenxo

    This is amazing writing. I just went through this….a 5 year long relationship ended and, as a matter of fact, two days ago, learned he has a new girlfriend. 5 *months* later.

    “I don’t know how to erase you” is an understatement.

    • Zaina Awad

      3 years together and he had a new girlfriend one week later. Not sure how some people do it.

  • Guest

    really grateful someone else put this into words

  • Guest

    loved this

  • SympatheticReader

    This describes an absolutely horrible feeling.  I wonder if I’ll ever get past it and hope you do…

  • Meg

    painfully real.  

  • Ghopeforever

    I’m sorry. I know the feeling.

    • neens

      Me too.  Things really do get better… 

  • Nat

    i just read your other thoughtcatalog article and loved it… please keep contributing

  • future gopher

    This is what I learned in all these years on this earth – if somebody wants to walk out of your life, LET THEM GO.  Especially if you know you’ve done everything you can do.  You didn’t sit around and [were] the best man or the best woman you can be and they still want to go, LET THEM GO.  Whatever they’re running after, they’ll see what they’re headed for in a minute but by then it’s going to be too late.  -Tyler Perry’s “Madea”

  • Lost

    6 months along the line, not a single day where the thoughts don’t come in.

  • Luna

    My ex thought it was harsh of me to return stuff to him (I couldn’t throw them away). Because you know, he was allowed to leave and break my heart, but to give him stuff that “depresses” him is just so harsh. 

  • CA

    Our box fell out of my closet when I was looking for a sweater. I idiotically looked through it. Four months later & looking through five years of memories is just as depressing as the day I lugged it home. I should probably burn it.

  • .....!

    Just saw my ex last night for the first time since we broke up. We dated for 4 years and have been broken up for two.. needless to say I cried until I physically had no tears left the second he was out of eyesight. It never goes away.

  • Alicedanslalune

    I’m gonna do the whole box-exchange-thing today with my ex. It already hurts so much, and I have quite a few boxes of his stuff to give back. I haven’t seen him since the break up, a month ago, and he’s the one who dumped me anyway. 
    Ugh, can we just fast forward through all this and be happy in the future, please?

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