The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.

Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that. Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.

Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."

But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here then are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.

I knew the minute I saw her name and address that we would never get along.

After 17 years of growing up in a fairly homogeneous suburb of New York, I was hoping for a freshman college roommate who would be totally different from me. I wanted someone exotic. Instead, the card said, she was Jewish, just like me, and was from yet another suburb.

Then she called to say she would bring the iron.

I thought it couldn't be worse. Those were the days when I always wore blue jeans. What would she iron?

She moved into the dorm room first. When I arrived there were four crucifixes hanging on the wall. She had just converted to Catholicism, she said, showing me a rosary that had been blessed by the Pope.

"Ah ha," my mother said to me when she stepped out of the room. "I told you not to prejudge people."

The first question she asked after my parents left was whether I was a virgin.

It got worse.

The battle lines were etched down the center of the room. Her side was neat. Mine was a mess.

She got up every day at 6 a.m. to study. I couldn't function before 10 a.m.

She wouldn't talk to my friends, complained that they smoked and arrived at odd hours.

The she decided to buy a pet. Abiding, of course, by the regulations of Brown University, she registered the pet with the housing office. They told her it wasn't necessary to register goldfish.

Hers wasn't any goldfish. It was so big that it barely fit in the 6-inch bowl. Occasionally I turned the bowl to see the other side of the fish.

One late night when I was commiserating about the unbearable living situation, my friend Jocelyn suggested I torture the fish.

I didn't have to.

The next day she moved out.