I am packing tonight. If you count the times I moved in and out of my parents’ house (three summers in college and one 3 week stint in the fall of 2011), this will be my 14th time packing up my meager adult life since I moved to New York for college, six years ago this month. I will use the same suitcases my parents bought me then: big, black, and anonymous, just like I wanted. I will use the same packing process I did the other 13 times:
1. It is always at the last minute, and it always reveals that I have so much more crap than I knew. Why did I not immediately recycle the flyer for the graduate school picnic? Or the planner from the year before? Why do I insist on keeping that one navy dress with pockets that I didn’t like that much when I bought it 3 years ago but might be exactly what I need for some undefined-but-not-impossible future occasion?
2. It is never not at night and never unaccompanied by music. Silent packing provokes too much anxiety, like the time the night before college graduation when I was more stressed about packing than I had been about any of my final exams and almost had a panic attack. My friend Brian stayed up with me til 4 am, tightly rolling my every sweater, scarf and sock into submission. Thanks, Brian.
3. It never fails to illuminate my intentions and how wildly unrealistic they turn out to be. Every time I move I discover that I have saved notebooks full of classtime scribbling, apparently planning to return to them in my spare time -- perhaps curled in an armchair, ruminating anew on the Schlieffen Plan or Derrida. As if I wouldn’t spend that time watching the Daily Show instead. Notebooks go, almost inevitably, into the recycling pile.
The one notebook I have held on to stubbornly is battered and green. It has a lot of notes from the GRE prep class I took almost 2 years ago. But it also has one feverishly, exultantly scribbled journal entry from April 2010, which I wrote on the train from Edinburgh to London as the sun set over wild crags and placid sheep, and the green hills were so green and the blue sky so blue. My handwriting was dreadful and my rapture complete. There is nothing like being alone on a train in Scotland with “Colorblind” streaming through your earbuds. I am covered in skin. No one gets to come in. Pull me out from inside. I am folded and unfolded and unfolding
I can’t get rid of that one.
4. There are lots of other things I just must keep, in addition to the green notebook and the navy dress. I pack them in my boxy suitcase, and I unpack them somewhere new. They are my favorite symbols of the pieces of my life, and with every move there are more of them:
a. The box that Katherine made for me at the end of my senior of high school, the box whose lid showed a map of upper Manhattan and an excerpt from Oh the Places You’ll Go. I always set the lid carefully on top of the box, so the inside is visible, its walls and floor a carefully compiled collage: me with my four dear and beautiful friends, in elaborate costumes and faded leotards, in our post-Nutcracker party outfits, dancing our way through middle and high school, dancing and laughing and discussing Harry Potter.
b. I always put the doll Jessica made for me next to the box - a small white doll with yarn hair, complete with tutu and ballet slippers, that represents one favorite role in the Nutcracker we performed every Christmas. My Doll doll. The last tutu left to me.
c. The 50 or so postcards that sit on my desk, still imprisoned in rubber bands, which I fervently collected during my study abroad, the cheapest items at every gift shop we haunted from York to Cardiff. I planned of course to write on them all, documenting my impressions of each place and the funny things that happened there: when Calvin and Cameron and Kellen tried and failed to make a human Stonehenge; the time on Brighton pier when Anna was almost attacked by a vicious seagull in the middle of smiling for a picture; the magical moment at Jane Austen’s home when Kira sat down at the small upright piano and played that one song that accompanies all the best moments of the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” We walked around enchanted while she played.
I have kept them. They are blank. I love them anyway.
d. The box my sister Julia made for me in ceramics class, the one that captures all the dearest loves of my quasi-cosmopolitan, pre-Utah life. One side for our house in Albany, complete with welcoming red door; one side for the Eiffel tower, whose city I spent little time in but will always cherish for the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten and every moment spent inside Saint-Chapelle; one side for the Empire State Building; one side for Big Ben. All the places that have welcomed me onto their streets and made me happy and taught me stuff.
e. A subway map that has hung in every room I’ve paid rent for since I left New York, reminding me of the years when my dearest Leslie was an 11-minute, 8-stop ride away from me always, ready to get falafel and discuss every minute detail of our lives. And a little desk lamp I’ve had since I moved into my triple room at Fordham University six years ago. Affectionately dubbed the Lomp (the Lo-lamp) by my roommates, who endured its oddly searing light in their eyes way too late into the night, it has illuminated many many hours of lucubration – but was also witness to all the best things about college: the many finals-induced dance parties; the uncontrollable laughter at 4 in the morning; Joe’s potatoes and Brian’s birthday cakes; Bonnie’s sleeptalking; Cecilia’s raptor walk; Amanda’s astonishing ability to be photogenic and funny at the same time; Katryn’s parabola frowny face; Keely’s love for the number 18.
f. From my 22 months in Utah, I have more books, thanks to my adventures as a graduate student in English. I have all 5 seasons of “The Wire,” although I have yet to watch the last and when I think about it I worry about Omar and McNulty and Kima. I have a small white piece of paper that reads only, “Dear Laura, f*ck the haters. Love, Lydia,” from my third week of grad school during which a retired former electrician in my writing class accused me of immodesty and inappropriate behavior in a paper he turned in to me. I am keeping that advice from Lydia, because sometimes it is the best advice.
g. Oh, and I have a picture of my fiancé, Jamie, next to my bed.
And that, I suppose, is why packing this time, despite the same procedure and the same stuff and the same memories, feels —
not the same.
Because in 11 days, the guy in the picture is going to be my husband. Because when I take my big black suitcases out of this room, I will take them to our one bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City, into which we will move when we get back from our honeymoon. Because I am choosing to take all of my baggage — literal and, I suppose, figurative – and combine it with his. Because the next time I move, I will be we, and we will probably have a lot more shit.
I can’t wait for our apartment. I can’t wait to take walks in our leafy neighborhood and eat pizza in our seventies-era kitchen. I can’t wait to take naps on Sunday afternoons. I am impossibly glad that I get to love Jamie until and after all his hair falls out. I am staggered and moved and intensely grateful that he plans to love me until and after I am wrinkled, lined and flabby, especially because it would be an historic medical mystery if he were to ever join me in flabbiness. There is actually no one in the world who makes a better half of we than he. I can’t wait to pack and unpack with him, all over the world, for always.
But my map, my Lomp, my doll, my memories: I’m glad they’re coming with us.