Return to Sender*

November 06, 2015 Barbara Ballinger

Return to sender 
Return to sender 

I gave a letter to the postman, 
He put it his sack. 
Bright in early next morning, 
He brought my letter back. 

She wrote upon it: 
Return to sender, address unknown. 
No such number, no such zone. 

We had a quarrel, a lovers’ spat 
I write I’m sorry but my letter keeps coming back. 

So then I dropped it in the mailbox 
And sent it special D. 
Bright in early next morning 
It came right back to me. 

She wrote upon it: 
Return to sender, address unknown. 
No such person, no such zone. 

This time I’m gonna take it myself 
And put it right in her hand. 
And if it comes back the very next day 
Then I’ll understand the writing on it 

Return to sender, address unknown. 
No such number, no such zone. 

Return to sender 
Return to sender 
Return to sender 
Return to sender 

Recorded by Elvis Presley in 1962 and written by Winifield Scott and Otis Blackwell, the song might tug at anyone’s heart strings who has tried to reverse the end of a relationship. Forget the letter. “Take me back; take me back,” it implies. Fast-forward several decades, and what’s the best advice? Leave a relationship that’s ended as a clear sign that it should be over, or beg to restart it? And what about the tangible belongings that belong to a former boyfriend or girlfriend? Should they be kept as mementoes, trashed, or returned, too?

Does it matter who initiated the breakup? What about all the little items? Do you put them in a box and send them back or store them in a basement or attic? Do you keep one thing that’s valuable as a reminder and throw the rest away? Cut your losses, move on, and forget the guy ever meant anything to you?

I had never given the idea much thought until I went through a dating marathon after my divorce and some romantic liaisons. I saw no point in returning the garden clogs and bicycle helmet one former “beau” had given me. They wouldn’t fit him, and they certainly could be put to good use by me now. However, he had also meant little to me in the scheme of my life, so the ending didn’t deserve much thought. Hard-hearted? Yes, but true.

When one short-lived but more intense “relationship” was over, which never really took flight in reality but more in emails and long phone calls, I wondered more what to do with the gifts he had given. At the time, I wanted all traces of him out of my life. Among the gifts: a hydrangea plant, a fluffy white bath sheet for our first Valentine’s Day, some expensive cocoa for hot chocolate with a cute little metal whisk, one expensive chocolate bar (go figure!), and a snappy red popcorn maker from Crate and Barrel. Except for the hydrangea which was thriving in my garden, I didn’t want the other possessions “renting” space in my house and bringing back uncomfortable memories of his Narcissistic personality. It was an easy decision–dump them all, especially the never used chocolate bar, cocoa, and popcorn maker.

Most recently, I was blindsided by this issue. One day I came home to a large UPS package at my front door. I didn’t remember ordering something but was delighted that someone might have sent me a gift. Wishful thinking. My smile quickly turned to a scowl when I spied the address of another former beau, whom I hadn’t seen in at least five years. The relationship which was the longest I had post-divorce and was the clichéd transitional romance had ended on a sour note. Misunderstandings, opposite political views, little romantic glue between us as time went on, and a very different value system were my explanations why we hadn’t worked. He never told me his version, and I didn’t ask. It was time to move forward, and we each did with others.

When I opened up the box, it reminded me of the classic horror flick, “The Exorcist,” when Regan McNeil’s mother wanted to banish the devil from inside her daughter. Was this the ex-boyfriend’s exorcism of me through my stuff? Tangible proof that our former connection was severed irrevocably?

My current beau of almost three years and a keeper was standing in the room as I opened the contents. I think I said, “I can’t believe what’s inside and who it’s from!” and went on to display them–two of the many magazines I had edited through the years and given him as souvenirs, along with two copies of books I had co-authored and inscribed to him, a small painting I had done on a trip and framed for his desk or dresser, and an old towel with my former monogram since I had gone back to my maiden name after my divorce. The note enclosed said that he was condensing the contents of his house and thought I would want these possessions back. I wondered why he would waste good, and expensive, postage.

The magazines were old, and I had numerous copies, the towel was thin and frayed, and the books had personal inscriptions to him that wouldn’t make for good gifts to my current beau or anybody. I wondered if they could be donated to my local library especially since both were out of print or could be put up for sale on eBay. Was this some attempt to make him regret our decision to split or to dredge up some unresolved old feelings?

Then, the really hard work began. My mind went whizzing back to the relationship–all the emails written, cards sent, and the gifts such as calendars with cute photos, colorful patterned socks and ties purchased, and brownies baked (from scratch). What about those? And then, of course, what about the more expensive gifts I had carefully selected for very special occasions through the years—a silver belt buckle, monogrammed cufflinks, and needlepointed belt and cummerbund? Where were those? He hadn’t felt it necessary to return them. Should he have? Did I even want them or expect to get them back? “No,” I knew.

I think the real reason for the “return to sender” had nothing to do with downsizing given his nice-size house or his alluding to being considerate about what he deemed “my” possessions. He much more easily could have dumped them, and I would never have known or given it a thought. To me the action represented bitterness and a childish need to have the last word that implied: “You mean absolutely nothing to me now!” Since our break-up, when his name comes up or I see a dateline on an article with his city, I like to focus on the many good times we had together–and we did. In taking this quick trip down memory lane, I decided to ponder a bit more the value of saving or discarding all traces of loves lost. I concluded that any relationship had its happy moments, so why not savor some of the old and goldies with a happier tune in my head. After all, whatever I went through before has taught me so much and enabled me to value my current relationship.

However, before I discarded the box the contents came in and while deciding what to do with them, my beau showed his kindness by saying in his gentle tone: “Is there anything you want or need to talk about and share?” I looked at him, smiled, and simply said, “Not now, but thank you for being such an important part of my life.” I knew I had come a long way. Much farther than this box had traveled.

* ( Copy and Play while reading!

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