When I was 25 and moving from one state to another to start a new job, my dad offered (this is how I remember it) to help. It was a long haul, six to seven hours trailing a full U-Haul, though I can’t imagine with what, since I didn’t own much.
After carrying the last load up two floors, we grabbed some food before my dad headed home. As we hugged and said goodbye, he looked at me. I still remember it. “Babe, next time you move, you’re on your own. This is it for me.”
I recall being a little taken aback, wondering – had this not gone that well, had it been worse than he expected? It kind of scared me. Could I do this alone? Was I a grown-up now?
As luck or fate would have it, the next time I moved, I wasn’t alone. I moved north with my boyfriend (now husband) to start another job while he returned to school. That move is a story unto itself, best left for another time.
In any case, my dad was fried and I get it now. I feel him in that moment. So to my mostly grown kids out there: take note. The end is near. A good deal of my time – since mid-August – has been a test of what I could load and unload.
In August, my older daughter moved out of her third-floor NY apartment and came home temporarily. For anyone who’s ever moved into or out of New York, it’s no small task, no matter how much is moved. And it was hot, with no elevator. Then, our younger daughter moved back to college to start her second year. Also hot, but thankfully with an elevator. And finally, in September my older daughter moved out to take a one-year position in suburban DC. This time she was moving into another third floor, again no elevator. Not to belabor the point, but it was hot (and my husband wasn’t able to help this time or the time before).
By the time we wrapped up this last move, my daughter and I scrambled to grab an early dinner so I could catch my train home. She dropped me at the subway for the ride to the Amtrak train station. But we’d cut it too close. I quickly got on the subway and several stops later, realized I’d unbelievably missed my stop. I scampered off to backtrack.
Leaving my purse on the subway seat on a crowded car during rush hour.
How could this happen? Long story short, I ran to the subway police booth and waited while they contacted the train. I spent an eternity in a nightmarish state of panic, cataloging in my head all I’d just lost, and would probably never see again. About 20 minutes later, my cell phone rang (mercifully, I had my phone). An officer three stops away said a passenger had turned in my purse when she got off. He must have found my cell number inside. I didn’t ask, didn’t care. I raced to claim the purse, made my way finally to the Amtrak station and got a later train home ($11 cheaper!). Phew.
Happy ending. Right? It was, mostly. But in the time since, I’ve thought a lot about what happened. Yes, I was fried. Yes, I was thrilled that things turned out. But was my unconscious trying to tell me something more? Did I want to unload my life? Give up many of the things that tie me down, and wind me up? Was this simply a symptom of my scattered, overloaded (aging) brain, or a sign that things needed to change more fundamentally?
I do want my kids more settled (our oldest is living at home until January when he moves. Another move ahead…), I do want things to slow down, I do want to have fewer things – and people – to worry about.
I want to slim down my life and my surroundings. Right now. To that end, I have been moved, so to speak, to sort and unload a lot at home lately. And it continues. Every day I am chipping away at stuff, and encouraging my older two to do the same. I take inspiration from a passage in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Storage.”
….So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing – the reason they can fly.
Beth Burrell is a writer and editor who began her career as a daily newspaper reporter before earning a graduate degree in education and raising a family. Most recently, she has worked and volunteered in school and nonprofit communications, and tutored children in Philadelphia schools and adults working to earn their GEDs. Beth is the co-editor for The First Day. She lives in suburban Philadelphia with her family. Find her on Facebook and on Twitter @sebburrell.
Image: Subway by mgaloseau via Flickr.