“Toast girl.” That was the label I had for her, the labels we had for each other (hers for me was “Toast guy”), before we learned the other’s name. It was the first thing we talked about when we met, something brought up in later conversations, and the subject became so pervasive in our interactions that we even developed a possible future scenario around it:
10 years from now, when I’m making breakfast, I’ll watch as the toaster ejects the pieces of cooked break and a faded memory suddenly comes to mind. It’ll cause me to point at the bread shouting “Toast!”, and then immediately make me confused as I wonder where the reaction to play Captain Obvious came from.
Where she is in this scenario, neither of us know (we joke that she’s disappeared), and why the memory is distant and faded, I’m not sure (we joke that I’m fighting through dementia).
Although my dementia and her sudden disappearance is yet to happen (or, more hopefully, to never happen!), the idea of my reaction to a mundane and inanimate object doesn’t feel that far-fetched. We place so much sentiment in inanimate objects that, when one person just sees me in my room surrounded by my things, what I feel instead is that I’m in a safe haven surrounded by my memories.
Amongst other things, my last apartment had a rangehood that I refused to clean because of the reminders in its dust, I have a souvenir box filled with ticket stubs from shows and concerts that filled me with such euphoria, and I keep this ridiculous-looking scalp massage device on my bedside table because it was a gift and now reminder of a good (but now geographically distant) friend.
The rooms, houses, and personal spaces I’ve seen of so many others are very similar: a cocoon of emotions and memories of times gone by that, to anyone else, looks like just another clock, just another cuddly toy, or just another stack of DVDs.
Dust doesn’t seem to be the only thing that personal items collect over time.
I’m sitting on the city’s waterfront, looking across a small lagoon of kayakers, eating an ice cream as a reward to myself for surviving my last parkour class. The class started-off rainy and wet, but in the 2 hours to its completion the sun had come out and so have all the city’s inhabitants to soak-in whatever sunshine they could get.
I hear a child’s laugh very close behind me, so I look over my left shoulder to find where the sound came from, and instead I focus on the penguin keyring attached to my backpack. It was a Christmas present from Toast Girl - her response to my plea for an actual penguin for Christmas - and suddenly I’m hit with a wave of memories: of conversations consisting of terrible bread-related puns, of sitting together in a playground reciting lyrics from songs on her iPod, of shopping for a picnic blanket together for our sunny outings only to have the rain come down on us hours later, of the smile and raised eyebrow she gives me when she catches me staring at her for too long…
I find myself smiling at the penguin keyring as I involuntarily say, “Toast.”
I freeze, remembering the 10-years-from-now scenario. Huh, so that’s what it’s going to feel like.