There is no trick to holding on to something from your childhood – you simply have to refuse to give it up. The one possession I’ve owned for close to fifty years is my pillow. When I was young I called it my ‘pill-ee-ooh’. Now it no longer has a name, it is simply the last thing that goes into my suitcase when I travel and the first thing that comes out. Once, when I was staying in a hotel in South Carolina, the maid threw it in the laundry bag. When I got back to my room I couldn’t find it anywhere. Eventually they found my pillow crumpled underneath a pile of sheets in the laundry room. It took two days.
The pillow is made of duck down. From years of use the down has turned into powder and seeps out of the seams leaving a trail of white dust. It has two pillowcases – the first which attempts to contain the leakage and the second which is a polyester imitation of a satin. The fabric is cool and smooth against my cheek.
I no longer have the original pillow which disintegrated in my mid-twenties. It would seem childhood relics only have a life of around twenty-five years. I came upon my pillow’s twin at my ex-husband’s grandmother’s house. We were engaged at the time and visiting his family. The pillow sat on the single bed in the spare room where I slept. When my fiancé said I could take the pillow home with me, I imagined it was a sign of his suitability as a husband. It turns out I was wrong.
If the house ever burnt down, my pillow is on my mental list of things to save, alongside my laptop, camera and leather jacket. I’m surprised at how small that list of possessions is. I don’t have anything anymore that can’t be replaced. All the photos, trinkets and souvenirs of my life have long since gone – thrown into the back of a garbage truck a few days after I became a widow. Although I am part of a strange minority of people who don’t possess a photographic record of their past, I feel better without any reminders of my old life weighing me down.
As this second pillow comes close to the end of its life, I wonder if I should give it up and throw it away. It has become so thin that it folds itself in half in the middle of the night and slips off the normal pillow underneath it. It seems foolish to hold on to something for so long. I could probably buy a replacement which is equally soft and comforting in any bedding shop. But I don’t want to let it go. Not yet.