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Love Declutters All

How a later-in-life lover inspired a lifelong pack rat to clean up his act.

broken wine glass, rejected pieces I'd written about my cat, a hammer missing its handle. Then there were the photographs: myself as a child, my father a few years before his death, my ex-wife. I plunged on, shoving stuff into plastic bags and cardboard boxes, struggling to remember which were to keep, which to jettison—occasionally tearful, alternating between hope and dread.

When Libby returned that evening from teaching a class, I led her upstairs and threw open the door to my freshly organized closet.

She stood there, not moving a muscle, as one stands before an astonishing painting or a fabulous sunset. Her breathing grew shallow at the sight of half a dozen pairs of shoes and beat-up sneakers arranged in a row. Libby reached out a tremulous hand, stroking the sleeve of the one suit I own. She turned towards me, lifted her face with eyes slightly unfocused. Hesitantly, I bent to kiss her, aware of her breath, sweet with what I imagined to be wood chips.

Ben McLaughlin lives in Washington State.

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