Every Monday night, I carry two big black plastic bags to the curb in front of the house. By morning they will be gone, having vanished into the back of an unseen garbage truck before dawn.
The street is usually dark and quiet when I take out the bags. Sometimes, as I set them down, I think about the fate of their contents. Their disappearance overnight is merely an illusion. In reality, the bags go to a landfill, where they will join thousands of truckloads of similar deposits to enlarge what everybody around here calls Mount Rumpke.
Most of my contribution, I like to think, will decompose harmlessly into the soil. I hope none of it will degenerate into a toxic mess that my children’s children will have to help pay to clean up. Then again, maybe nothing will happen.
Perhaps these very same bags will lie buried for centuries, only to resurface well preserved in the distant future. Perhaps archeologists of the next millennium will unearth the bags, looking for remnants of a lost civilization. What will the contents reveal to their probing analysis? What judgments will they make about this era, this society or one family’s personal lifestyle?
They’ll have plenty of unrecyclable food wrappers, discarded leftovers, soggy facial tissues and broken items of all sorts to figure out the shortcomings of daily living in the early 21st century. Of course, there might be a name on crumbled envelope inside to give away our identity. Goodness knows what intimate details about the Albert household will come to light. Maybe an oozy Band-Aid from a scraped knuckle will yield enough DNA to reconstruct an entire genetic profile, or even engender a clone.
Will these bags of trash become my legacy to the ages? Yikes! These bags are all full of the hidden stuff meant to be completely cast off, disowned and forgotten about. Nobody is supposed to know that people trying to stay clean, healthy and attractive could ever generate so much that is messy, unsafe and ugly.
Once in while, when the night sky is particularly deep and starry, I imagine another pile of mine accumulating in the darkness—an immaterial repository of all the wasted opportunities, shattered dreams, broken promises, and moldering regrets that gather in any imperfect human lifetime. The thought occurs to me that these too may have to be uncovered, probed and judged in the end.
Those are the nights I shudder a bit and walk swiftly back to the house.