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The Unique Pain of Letting Go of Old DVDs

It’s like the bloody drover told Lady Sarah Ashley, “Most people like to own things. You know, land, luggage, other people. Makes them feel secure. But all that can be taken away. And in the end, the only thing you really own is your story.”
The Unique Pain of Letting Go of Old DVDs
The writer's soon-to-be discarded DVDs, none of which are embarrassing.

I met my husband a dozen years ago, when I was 20 years old.

This is a graceless way of avoiding the starkness of my current age, which I actually like. I’m having a good time. My age is not disappointing to me, but I fear I may be disappointing to it. I am not the thirty-something self-assured, impeccably-styled novelist my 20-year-old self would have imagined. Karen Russell aside, who is?

When my husband and I were younger, back when we were boyfriend and girlfriend and maybe even before we’d be bold enough to use those words out loud, we daydreamed lazily about the future. It was lazy because it was limitless. We didn’t worry about school loans, the toll it would take on our wandering spirits to move house every year, that our parents would call begging for grandchildren, that our parents would call, perhaps paradoxically, to chide us for not spending enough time with them, reminding us that they would die soon, and so reminding us that we, too, would one day die. No, we talked about what jobs we might have or the vacations we’d take. We disagreed on a lot but not this: that in our dream house, which was only a few years out of reach, we would have a room with a projector and a movie screen that would descend from the ceiling and a whole wall of DVDs.

It wasn’t too long after we dared dream this dream that Blu-ray arrived. It was a modest, evolutionary technological advance and our daydream could accommodate it: a whole wall full of Blu-rays. Should we get rid of the DVDs? No, not necessary. A wall full of Blu-rays and DVDs. It beckoned us into the future like so many Shangri-Las.

When we moved from his native England to my native America, we didn’t lose sight of the wall. We brought the DVDs with us. We bought a player at Best Buy and used a hack we found online to unlock it so it would play discs from his native Region 2 and my native Region 1. It had never occurred to me in all my childhood DVD-watching days that there were people in the world who actually came from Region 2, which I imagined to be a cold, damp hole where they probably didn’t even have movies, never mind box-sets. But Region 2 is real and I fell in love with a man who came from it and that love is real, 2.

It’s DVDs that are no longer real. They are something that 20-year-old hipsters buy from the $3 bin when the public library holds a sell-off. They take them home, watch them once or maybe not at all, and slot them onto their shelves, because it is only now that they are nearly worthless that a wall full of DVDs is truly possible for the young. I wonder if these kids think about how someone once paid $17.99 for that, which was fine, because it was roughly the price of two movie tickets, and I would probably watch the DVD way more than that anyway. Plus, the special features are worth something, too, and the commentary.

But I doubt they do think about it: The earnest shelves their kitsch once called home.

My husband and I moved from California to DC last year. Our DVDs have spent time in New Haven and New York City and Honolulu. They have spent very little time in an actual player and no time at all on a wall. Even still, we trekked them another 3,000 miles eastward. We probably both knew it was over. Out of love for each other, we refused to say when.

Another thing you talk about when you’re very young (and when you’re thirty-something, honestly) is how the next thing is going to be bigger and better. This is our for-now car. We’re still on my mom’s Verizon family plan, but we’re going to pay her back so soon. The apartment’s small, but a roomier space is something to look forward to, for later. You don’t ask the hard questions, like, how big would an apartment have to be to justify using an entire wall to hold hundreds of environmentally-hostile plastic boxes?

This weekend we decided there was no such apartment size. We moved the DVDs and Blu-rays from the bin under the bed into garbage bags to be brought to the Fort Totten E-Cycling Center on the first Saturday morning we both feel ready to say goodbye.

Goodbye to 50 First Dates. I gave this to him as a gift years ago, after he told me he’d seen it once and it made him cry, but before I realized that every film where the characters were in love made him cry. Ten years later, when we moved to Hawai’i, it felt somehow fated.

Goodbye to Fawlty Towers. My husband would watch this during law school when he was feeling homesick and I would laugh, out of Anglophilic instinct more than genuine understanding. I still don’t really get all of it.

Goodbye to The Complete Dawson’s Creek. This isn’t a show we watched together, but we talked about it, and how my husband believed that Joey should have ended up with Dawson and what was I doing? About to end up with a guy who believed in such stupid things.

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Goodbye to Adventureland. It’s still in its shrink-wrap, which makes me feel like a failure, but it’s probably on Netflix or Hulu or something and, if I wanted to watch it, wouldn’t that be easier?

Goodbye to Bande à part. And goodbye to the dream that the DVD wall would one day have a Criterion Collection section.

Goodbye to the New York Giants 10 Greatest Games. It gave my dad something easy to talk about with my British boyfriend, whose accent he never quite figured out. And it gave my boyfriend the sports foundation essential to making American male friends, the kind he really wanted because he’d seen them in the movies, and they made beer pong look so fun.

Goodbye to Australia. My dad told us this was his favorite movie, which I thought was a strange choice but later decided was a great choice, especially for a dad. Though we didn’t own it when he was alive, we would watch it after, each year, on his birthday. I’m sure I will watch it again, DVD or not.

I am the most nostalgic person I know. I miss things that I hated at the time: how it felt to be waiting to be called into the orthodontist’s office, how long the Metro-North train takes to make it to Grand Central, how the second disc in my Pride and Prejudice box-set skipped at all the good parts. I will miss this Sterilite of DVDs, which took up too much storage space under the bed and served no purpose except to every now and then remind me about the versions of myself that used to exist.

I believe, and believe that you should believe, that things are more than things. They are portals into ourselves. They are repositories for events. They don’t remind us of memories; they are the memories. When my dad was sick in the hospital, my sister and I saw the film Dear John at least three times because of a complicated free ticket scheme she worked out. (It involved stealing coupons off DVDs in Target, which was on the way to JFK Medical Center. On second thought, it wasn’t that complicated.) I hadn’t thought of that in 6 years, but I thought about it yesterday as the Dear John case moved from the bin to the trash bag. Now that I don’t own that movie, I’m not sure when I’ll think about it next. Maybe I won’t think of it at all.

And I know it’s ridiculous, but I’m a little sad that I’ll never get that wall. It was one of the first things I dreamed up with my husband and I believe, and believe that you should believe, that firsts are important. We have others, of course. But that was the first first.

I gave it up, for a bit more space to store spare sheets. It makes perfect and little sense to me. But it’s what my 20-year-old self would have wanted my thirty-something self to do. It’s decisive, remorseless and recklessly in the present.

Then again, what did she know.

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Staff writer

Amanda joined Washingtonian in January 2016. She has written about Maryland brewery Flying Dog’s First Amendment fight, pored over Hillary Clinton’s emails, and come clean about owning too much stuff. She lives on H Street.