Up before the sun, dragging boxes to the driveway. Staking signs in yards at intersections. Folding clothes and stacking them in piles. Lining up the souvenirs of Christmases and birthdays and coupons past: Matchbox cars, stuffed animals, action figures, coasters.
“What we doing?” he asks.
How do I explain the great American tradition of the garage sale to a five year-old with a tenuous grasp on the English language and, until recently, only possessions enough to fill a small cardboard box.
“We’re selling our stuff.”
“All the stuff?” he asks.
“No, no.” I pat him on the head trying to convey we’re not selling all your things without actually saying those words out loud and planting that fearful thought in his mind – if it’s not already there behind that stunned expression. (Who knows what’s there?)
“We’re selling some stuff we don’t want anymore.”
And then comes the question always asked.
And this time I think he actually wondered.
“We just don’t need it anymore so we’re selling it.”
“What is snail it?”
“Seeeelllllliiiing it,” I say loudly, because everyone knows this awakens parts of the mind to the definitions of words it has never heard before. “Selling,” I explain, “is when we give people things and they give us money.”
We talk about giving dollars to Chick-fil-A in exchange for nuggets and french fries and all is clear. He has a firm grasp on this transaction foundational to capitalism.
What he doesn’t understand was where all this stuff came from and why we were selling it.
The first question is easy. The stuff came from inside the house. Some of it was bought and some of it was given. Some is old and we don’t like it anymore. Some of it we never liked. I don’t recall drug use in my testimony but some of it is proof that I, at one time in my life, made purchases under the influence.
Some of it we like but not as much as other stuff we want. Which leads to the second question: “Why you selling stuff?”
He crouches next to me, his face contorted by the insanity of the situation.
“Why you selling stuff?”
“To get money…to buy more stuff,” I say.
“Huh,” he grunts and stands to watch a woman haggle the price of a fifty cent t-shirt down to a quarter.