Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

“Name?” The donation attendant asked without looking up at me. His clothing told his story with the ill-fitting pants and shirt with several holes in it.  He wore a jacket that appeared to have been a donation with a ripped pocket and the letter “G” which had no apparent significance at the moment.  His rugged face was partially obscured by a poorly trimmed beard.  His nose was bent in an odd position indicating that it had been broken at least once, but my guess was that it had been broken more than once. 

“Henry.  Henry Hillman.” I answered as he misspelled my name on the receipt. 

“Two bags?” His voice sounded like sand being ground into glass. 

“Yes, yes.” I nodded as he wrote it down on the receipt.

“We thank you for your donation.” His smile seemed forced as he tore off the paper and handed it to me. 

In the bags I had brought with me was clothing that no longer fit me.  Some of the items in the bags were clothes I had since high school, but I got my diploma over fifteen years ago and I doubt I could button three buttons in my present shape.  Donnie, one of the guys I worked with at Duplix Design, was a fitness nut who was always trying to get me to go to the gym with him.

“C’mon, Henry, it will do you some good.” He would slap me on the shoulder.

Since college, I had not exercised very much.

Not at all to be exact..

Most of my focus had been on trying to climb the corporate ladder in the computer graphics design department where I had been employed for the past ten years. 

That shirt was the one I wore to the prom in my senior year. 

He dumps the first bag of donations into a cart.  I see the flannel shirt I wore when I went hiking with Bethany, my first real love.  We met in my sophomore year in college.  She was a real outdoor soul who did not shave her legs or armpits.  She had piercings and tattoos in the strangest places I had ever seen, but the more I saw them, the more I desired her.  When she found out I was afraid of heights after suggesting we go rock climbing, she dumped me for an ape-man named Derrick. The musky smell of the forest still arouses me at times, but it has been a while since I have ventured into the wilderness. 

I see my Superman t-shirt fall from the bag.  I wore that during the keggers we had when I lived in the dormitory.  Life in the dormitory sucked about ninety percent of the time, but on Saturday night we’d all chip in for a keg and chips.  Once the keg was tapped, the yard would fill with all kinds of undergraduates in various states of inebriation.  Sometime around midnight, the cops would show up and tell us to turn the music down.  We would comply, but as soon as they left, we’d turn the volume up again.


I can just about hear Streisand’s voice as I watch my donated clothes cascade into the blue bin.

“Hey there, are you Superman?” One of the girls would ask me as I held my plastic red cup sloshing my beer all over the place.

“I am.” I nodded.

“Can you fly?” She ran her finger down my chin line.

“Les’s find out.” I slurred my words.  There  was a shed on the grounds where the ground crew stored their equipment. With a boost from some of my buddies, I was on top of the roof of the shed.  Striking a superhero pose, I dove off the roof, landing in the shrubbery. I was lucky I did not break any bones,  but my entire torso was covered with scratches from the shrubbery and when I removed my shirt, I looked as though I had been attacked by a flock of cats.  The girl I was trying to impress with my super powers had moved on leaving me covered with scratches.

The shirt had been nearly ruined in the process, but sentimental value cannot be truly measured, not can it? 

“There comes a time, Henry, when you must part with the things you love, because they no longer hold the value they once did.” My mother told me when she went through my closets as I got ready to go to college. 

“Ma, I like having these things around.  They give me comfort.” I insisted.

“Seriously?” She laughed as she put some things into a bag for donations.  Once she had left the room, I seized some of the clothing that was on its way to Goodwill and stuffed them into my suitcase.

She never questioned why the donation bag was half the weight it was when she left my room.

So when I got to college, I filled my closet with the clothing I had rescued from the donation bag, but my closet size had shrunk a great deal when I unpacked my stuff in my dorm room.  I hate to admit that some of the clothing that would not fit, I stuffed in my mattress liner.  

I am a hoarder.  Admitting it is half the struggle.  The other half is actually getting rid of the stuff.  This is the part I could not seem to master.

There are those who say the reason we hold on to our possessions is because we are afraid of death.  I’ve heard a lot of doctors of psychology claim that.  Having possessions gives us comfort and assurance about our existence.  

For me, however, it’s more of a memory thing.  When I hear a song on the radio, it takes me back to the place I was when I first heard it.  When I see a shirt hanging in my closet, I have the same feeling.

Gina, my wife, tells me I have to learn to part with the clothing, but keep the memory.  I’m not sure what that means, but it’s not where I shine.  

I have been known to come back to the Goodwill and purchase some of the items I donated.  I know that this is some kind of mental disorder, but I’m not going to ask anybody who might know what the disorder is.  Gina has a few ideas, but each starts with a profane word.  

This time I promised not to go shopping and buy my stuff back.  The donation attendant just throws the clothing into a heap.  There is no rhyme or reason as to what goes where.  

I see my gym shorts somewhere in the random stack.  

That was my bodybuilding phase.  I saw some documentary on bodybuilding and I decided this was for me.  That’s where I met Gina.  She was an aerobics instructor and still is.  Something about seeing her in tights, but my interest in actual physical exercise did not last as long as my trial membership at the gym.  

I was wearing those shorts when I met Gina after I had done a few reps and felt quite pumped at the time. I doubt I will ever see the inside of another gym so, I guess this is for the best.

“Whadda you still doin’ here?” The attendant walks over to my car. 

“Just taking a stroll through memory lane.” I shrug.

“If you don’t vacate these premises, I’m gonna call the cops.” His voice is so low, it sounds like a growl of some carnivorous animal. 

“I’m leaving, I’m leaving.” I snarl as I put the car in gear.

“All you guys who come here to drop off the stuff you don’t want any longer and think that there is a special place in Heaven for you, well I got new for you.  There ain’t.” His whole body language is hostile, so I know it best if I move along. His words are like arrows, piercing my heart in several places.  He has no idea what that stuff means to me.  

He’s right though.  Most of the people who drop off stuff are getting rid of junk they no longer need so they can go shopping and get more stuff that will end up here one day. 

I drive to the strip mall nearby where they have stores that sell cheap crap.  Stuff my son Marvin goes crazy over.  Stuff I always step on in the middle of the night when I have to go to the bathroom. 

Despite all of our good intentions and all of who we profess to be, we still have become a throw-away nation.  Boxes with big smiles come to our doorstep.  Stuff we have to assemble ourselves that never quite goes together the way the directions say.  

Thank goodness for the Goodwill so we have a place to discard all of our unwanted crap.  

I walk by a store with a very eye-catching lamp.  It would look good in my home office.  It is a ceramic figure of one of those Disney characters.  I look at the price tag.  It is reasonably priced, so I pull out my debit card and buy it.  Just like that.

When I get home, Gina eyes this masterpiece and says, “What did you buy this for, Henry?”

“My office.” I answer.

“Lovely.” She scrunches her face. “Keep the door closed. Marvin will think it’s a new toy.”  

Marvin just looks up at me and smiles.  His grasp of language is still pretty rudimentary, but the expression on his face leaves no doubt that this item interests him.  

“Don’t you feel better, hon?” She asks me after whisking two-year old Marvin off his feet and into her arms. “A good cleansing does your heart good, right.” 

“Right.” I nod as she leaves with Marvin in her arms to feed him his lunch. 

I do not feel any better.

I do not feel cleansed.

It was like when I used to go to church with my parents and the priest would talk about absolution, but then after that I would go out and commit the same sins I had just been given absolution.  I began to wonder if maybe Heaven was really just a Goodwill in the sky.  My dad would put money into the basket they passed around.  A five dollar bill here, maybe an occasional ten, but it always made my mother smile.  

When I confessed that I no longer went to church, my mother threw a fit.  She begged me to reconsider my decision, but I never did.  My father’s reaction was not as emotional, but I could tell he was not happy with my lack of religious conviction.  

Three years later, Royce Bannock Hillman passed away from a major heart attack he had while at work.  He was only sixty years old. 

I spent the week with my mother going through his things.  It was not a pleasurable experience, but I wound up with his Hawaiian shirt from his vacation the year before.  He and my mother went to Honolulu when he turned sixty.  All they talked about was the food they ate.  Nothing about the sun and the fun of Diamond Head.

It seems to me, we sometimes miss the best part of our lives focusing on things that don’t really matter.

I told him I loved him when he left.  He just smiled and waved as the driver took their bags to the shuttle.

When mom called me a few months later to tell me what had happened, I sat there stunned.

“I love you, dad.” I whispered when I hung up the phone, but all I could see was him wearing that silly Hawaiian shirt waving as he left.  Love was not a word that crossed his lips that often.

I put that Hawaiian shirt in the bag.  I put it there, because I knew that I would never have the chance to wear it.  I put it in the bag, because all he did was wave to me.  How was I to know it would be the last time I’d see him in this life?  We talked on the phone when he came home.

“Hey Henry, how about coming over next Sunday for dinner?” He asked.

“Sorry dad, I’m in the middle of a big project.” I answered.

“Project?  Son, we are going to have a feast.  Father McGinty will be there.  He gave you first communion.” He sounded hurt at my refusal.

“Sorry, gotta do this.” I closed my eyes and the image of him waving to me as he left filled my head.

“Mr. Hillman.” A voice sounded over my cell phone.

“Ah Ms. Rockenby.” I rubbed my forehead with my hand.

“I have a buyer for the house.” She sounded pleased.

“Great, great. "I did my best to match her mood.

“We are going to need you to do a few minor modifications.” Her voice grew serious.

“Alright, could you fax me a list?” I requested.

“Yes, that will be fine.” Her voice lightened.

“Good.” I sighed.

“You will really appreciate the closing costs.” 

“I’m sure I will.” I pressed the “stop” button and slid my phone into my pants pocket.

As it turned out the list was a bit more extensive than I had planned on, but I had hired some help and I figured we could do what was required.

“Are you alright?” Gina asked me as she returned with Marvin still in tow.

“I’m fine.” I bowed my head so she would not see I had shed some tears.

“I’m putting him down for a nap.” Gina replied as she put her hand to my face, “Do you need to talk?”

“No, I want to drive over there and have a look.  Ms Rockenby gave me a list of things.” I held up the list she had faxed over. 

“Alright. If you need anything…” 

“I’ll text.” I finished her sentence as she kissed me on the cheek.

I drove by the Goodwill on my way over. There were all sorts of customers walking out with treasures someone else had once owned.  I stopped in the parking lot to catch my breath.  I saw someone hold up the Hawaiian shirt that I had brought over just a few hours ago.  It was silly and sure to draw attention, but upon seeing the happy customer, I felt empty inside.  I wanted to run over and grab it from him, saying, “You can’t have this.  This is mine!” 

But I restrained myself as I drove out of the parking lot and onto my destination. 

In less than an hour, I was at the destination.

This was the house I grew up in, but now it was empty of people and filled with memories.

Cancer is a word I wish never to hear again.

Marcy Eckerley Hillman had passed away peacefully in her sleep according to what her Oncologist told me, but I knew in her final hours the agony of her cancer was unbearable.  I was in Tokyo when the doctor called to tell me she only had a few hours left.  I did not make it in time.  She was already gone when I was able to fly home.  I was there for the funeral. It was a wonderful service conducted by Father McGinty who spoke of her as a true friend.  She was more than that to me.  She was my mother.  She was never afraid to tell me that she loved me.

I walked in the door and looked around at the familiar furnishings and decor that I recalled so vividly.  The feel of the carpet as I walked across it, the smell of the kitchen, the checkerboard floor tiling, the fluorescent light that always flickered when you turned it on, the marks on the wall that marked my growth with the year written on each line, the photographs that hung from the wall as reminders of happier times, the creak of the third step on the stairs to the upstairs rooms.  My room was the second on the right.  Dad had turned it into an office, but for the most part my old Star Wars Posters were hanging where I placed them years ago. 

We would do whatever was on that list, so the new owners could have things the way they wanted them without regards to how things once were in this house that once was my home.  

In the morning I would have my paid helpers show up and put things where they belonged, but for the time being, I would spend one final night in the place that was so familiar to me before turning it into another good will gesture. 

March 25, 2022 22:50

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Kate Winchester
18:17 Apr 06, 2022

Your story resonated with me because I attach memories with clothes/things in general too. I like your theme of good will throughout and I think it’s sad but true that we are a wasteful nation. I think there are some people who genuinely donate to help others but I think you’re right about donating crap. Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed it.


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L.M. Lydon
22:28 Apr 04, 2022

I like the vivid invocation of memories that accompany each seemingly surplus garment in the middle. Threads of the subjectivity of value run throughout the story.


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Michał Przywara
18:33 Apr 03, 2022

This is an interesting story. There's lots of themes here, and I like tying memories to articles of clothing. The friction this creates, when one person assigns meaning to something and another doesn't -- very frustrating. Thank you for sharing.


20:36 Apr 03, 2022

Thank you for commenting.


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Tricia Shulist
03:31 Apr 03, 2022

What a nice story, George. Very insightful, thoughtful, and honest. Thanks for this.


20:37 Apr 03, 2022

Thank you


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00:24 Mar 26, 2022

Very cool story. I liked how the overall story made me stop and think. I love how you portrayed the difference between the father's love and the mother's love, which is so often true. The story is very relatable, thought-provoking, and very great! A couple of things: First of all... "It seems to me, we sometimes miss the best part of our lives focusing on things that don’t really matter." That's a really true, striking sentence. Love it. Next... "“All you guys who come here to drop off the stuff you don’t want any longer and think that th...


20:37 Apr 03, 2022

Happy you enjoyed it.


00:03 Apr 04, 2022



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