The Things I’ve Shredded

I’m moving to Texas next week, and I’m not bringing the contents of my filing cabinet with me. Nor am I leaving them in the ALDI bag that’s been sitting in the corner of the bedroom of me and my husband’s Chicago apartment, waiting for me to decide whether to take them to a Kinko’s and shred them myself or have a shredding service pick them up. No, I made a bold move: I bought a paper shredder.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve shredded my first marriage certificate, my divorce papers, and the receipt from the courthouse for the filing fee; I’ve shredded student loan documents that trace my debt through an arcane series of loan servicers; I’ve shredded my health screening results that earned me a 30 percent discount when I was a Whole Foods employee. I’ve shredded my tax returns since 2006, I’ve shredded my letters from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, I’ve shredded my application to Medicaid.

I’ve shredded the medical records from a fall I took in early 2014, when I was moving a chair out of the studio apartment I used to live in, a half mile away from this apartment, because I was planning on taking a year-long road trip and my then-boyfriend-now-husband was taking over my apartment lease. It was February, I slipped and fell backward, and I separated my shoulder joint and got a concussion. I was making room for Michael’s desk in a larger effort to make the apartment more comfortable for both of us.

I shredded, too, the medical records from my adolescent therapy and psychiatry sessions. Looking back on them from my adulthood, it felt and still feels like my personality was being needlessly pathologized. Maybe I wasn’t depressed, maybe I was being bullied. Maybe I didn’t have ADHD, or maybe I did. Who knows? It’s just felt, lately, like it’s time to move on from feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with my brain that’s prohibitive to my happiness or to my normal functioning.

Still to shred: More documents from the three colleges I went to. Standardized test scores that placed me consistently in the 99th percentile of students my age but has nothing to do with my comprehension as a 28-year-old, which is fine, because after two decades, I think I’ve finally accepted that I know basically nothing. More and more student loan documents. Documentation of a beef I had with my current landlord over a weird smell coming from the utility closet. Documentation of a lawsuit and settlement. Records from my last psychiatric hospitalization, which happened two weeks before I graduated from college. Meticulous records my mom kept of my grade school report cards, tracking my declining academic performance as the bullying got worse and I became unhappy and reclusive. An IQ test, professionally administered, to determine whether or not I had a learning disability; it turns out I was just a weird kid with strong opinions about things other than school. Excellent SAT and ACT results, just-OK GRE results. Report cards from grade school, middle school, high school. College transcripts. More student loan documents. College applications, resumes. Why am I living this way, swimming in an ocean of my experiences from 10, 20, almost 30 years ago?

Of course I’m not taking this with me to Texas. For right now, it’s just me moving, and the spouse will come later. The swiftness with which I made this decision necessitates that I only bring the things I need: I have to keep the possessions I’m bringing within the bounds of a carry-on suitcase and two medium-sized moving boxes, under seventy-five pounds each. And I don’t need the papers. I need the memories that cling to them even less.

Four months from now, I’ll have an apartment or a condo or a house – a home – in Austin or a suburb, and it’ll be full of things that reflect well on me to myself. The papers I’m keeping are: A letter from an alumnus of my high school, thanking me for doing good work with my school’s QSA; my birth and baptismal records; pictures of my family; a drawing of the outline of my hand and my mother’s hand from my first day of preschool; the sheet music for a song I absolutely slayed as a year-end project for my French class in middle school; the first A+ I ever got on a history paper; a newspaper article about a poetry contest I won when I was 13; my tag from the marathon I ran last year. One day I hope my kids will look at them and know the things that are worth knowing about me, and until then, I will float in a cool, still pond of good memories.

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