Change is not something I handle gracefully. Graduating college was particularly awkward. I couldn’t seem to communicate my fear; that ache I felt at the thought of leaving everything familiar, the paralyzing pressure of not knowing what came next. I couldn’t find the language. For me, moving means a lot of quiet brooding and fitful moods. It means late nights with junk television and milk chocolate. It means that I start mapping out long-term plans in obsessive and impractical detail. It also means paring down.
In the spring of 2010 I arrived at the Goodwill, my car jam-packed with extra hangers, misshapen clothing, dingy furniture, and old knick-knacks: a hodge-podge of the unnecessary. I pulled behind the concrete building to find myself facing not one, but many dumpsters. As if on command the back door swung open, a hunched figure shuffling through it. Moving quickly, his hands reached ahead of his sturdy little body. His skin was stained a leathery brown with ruddy cheeks. Dressed in work boots, rough discolored jeans and a soft flannel shirt, his hands were hardened by work and his face covered in a steely stubble. I decided his hugs would be quite scratchy.
“Hello!” I said.
“Mrrgh,” he grunted.
“I have a donation?”
“Should I….? Put them…?”
Silence. I stood there, feet glued, waiting for him to say something. Waiting for him to explain his purpose, or direct me somehow. Nothing. I couldn’t figure out what came next. Finally he pointed to his ear, “Mrrgh” then to his throat, “Mrrgh.”
He was deaf. And mute. How? How was this supposed to work? Cocking my head to the side, I smiled uncertainly. He stood about ten feet from my car, unmoving, directly between me and the dumpsters. After a long and uneasy silence, I picked up a box of cheap vases. Immediately he sprang into action, took the box from my arms and placed it in the, apparently appropriate, dumpster. Then he returned to his spot, ten feet from my car, waiting patiently for my next move. This time I selected a box of clothing. Again: the spring into action, a different dumpster, return to the spot. Same with the box of picture frames. Same with the box of hangers. Slowly we sorted through old costumes, my first coffee pot, the only box of books I have ever given away. Step by step, item by item; I displayed, he designated. We couldn’t speak but by the end of the hour, my car was empty. And the pressure was lighter. We had communicated in spite of ourselves.