Forgetting to Unpack

Around the time that Elvis made his last trip to the john, my family and I took a road trip from Kansas to Virginia. My grandfather was afraid to fly, so we packed five adults and two kids into a Mustang and a kelly green Toyota Corolla my mother had named Kiddie Car. There were snacks and blankets and pillows, so my brother and I were pretty comfortable. Eventually, however, it became necessary to stop at a motel for the night.

It was a rainy evening in Indiana.

I had brought along a new pair of wedge sandals for the trip. I didn’t want to get them wet, so I donned my ratty tennis shoes for the trek from the car to the motel lobby. When we checked into the motel, I made sure to tuck those special sandals into one of the drawers in the motel room. They might still be there.

In the morning, we got up, got ready, and left. I put on my tennis shoes and forgot all about my precious white shoes. We were about 100 miles away when I realized I had left them behind. I was out of luck. We were taking a different route on the way home, so even if the people at the motel had found them, there was no way I was getting them back. My little white sandals were lost forever.

Now, some forty years later, I realize I am still paranoid when it comes to storage spaces in hotel rooms. I never put anything in them. I live out of my suitcase. I check all of the spaces (drawers, closets, under the bed, etc…), even though I know in my head I haven’t ever used them. I have an irrational fear that somehow, in a fit of sleepwalking (which I don’t do), I will put something important into one of those drawers and leave it behind. It’s funny and quirky on the scale of a hotel room, but recently I realized that I forget to unpack regardless of where I am.

I’ve lived in my current house for over eleven years. A few months ago, I decided to list it to see if it would sell. I gave my realtor sixty days. I was testing the Universe. If the house sold in that time period, like all of the other houses in my neighborhood, I would know it was time for me to move on. If it didn’t, I know I needed to stay a little longer. My children live with their father now, so it’s just me and two cats on a regular basis. The house felt huge and empty. The space felt wasted. I started thinking about downsizing. I wanted a tiny house. Some place where nothing could be underutilized or forgotten.

To prep for the strangers who would be visiting my house, I staged it. My closets were staged with an organization that I do not naturally possess. The decor was minimal; no pictures hung on walls or graced bookshelves. I wanted to pull my personality out of the house so someone else could see their own personality here. People came and went. Showing after showing after showing. The cats were mortified and learned to hide every time someone touched the doorknob. But the house didn’t sell. We did get one offer the first week I listed it, but within a few days, those people got transferred to another country for work and had to cancel the contract.

The house is still mine. At the moment, it doesn’t want another owner. It seems to want its current owner to unpack. Even after eleven years, it wasn’t difficult to hide my personality from visitors to the house. With the exception of a pretty extensive collection of Paris-themed items in my bedroom, my personality doesn’t show itself. I’m afraid to get too comfortable. Afraid to make myself at home. What if I leave something behind? What if something I love gets lost? What if my favorite picture falls off the wall and breaks? Or the hurricane lanterns with the sand I so carefully collected from my trip to Monterey?

My whole life has been like that. Ever since the shoes. Forty years of not settling in because leaving was a given, and leaving something behind was a fear.

So…I’m going to replace the shoes. Thanks to fashion cycles, white wedge sandals are back in style after all these years.

I’m going to hang the pictures. And decorate.

I have no idea how long I will be here. They don’t exactly give us a check out date. But while I’m here, I’m going to learn how to settle in. I’m going to learn how to relax and breathe. I’m going to make myself comfortable and claim this space as my own.

And most importantly, I’m going to remember to unpack.

Remembering Petronella

It’s been nearly two years since I last saw my friend. I don’t do funerals, but I went to hers. She would have laughed at me for breaking my code. But when you love someone like I loved her, the code kind of goes out the window.

I met Petronella when I was an adjunct professor at OCCC. She and I had equal disdain for the coddling nature of colleges. Once education gets turned into a business, all is lost. It becomes about overhead costs and customers. She and I felt we did our students a disservice by giving them grades they hadn’t earned. We were tough, but fair. And we started a lot of sentences with, “When I was in college…”

Our office hours were at the same time. That’s how we met. Our conversations went deep. Marianas Trench deep. No topic was taboo. Our backgrounds were different. Our races were different. Sometimes, our opinions were different. But there was a respect there that could never be overshadowed by disagreement. I’m sure the people around us were shocked at the subjects we covered, but we never really paid attention to anyone else.

One thing we shared was our love of writing. While most of my friends and I communicate via phone or text message, Petronella and I wrote epic emails to each other. On one occasion, we noticed the sidebar changing ads based on what we were writing. Seems like we needed a bail bondsman and a private detective on most days. Sometimes, we would change up the writing just to make the ads change, but mostly, we wrote from the heart. Our emails were no different than our in-person conversations. Deep. Raw. Honest. I’ve never had anyone in my life like that. I suspect I never will again.

When I started this blog, it was attached to an old one I had long abandoned. Her face popped up on the screen because she had liked something I had written before her death. I miss that face. And that heart. And that soul. I miss having someone who could see me for me and who didn’t ask for a filter. She would have smacked me had I even tried to use a filter. The truth is the truth whether someone wants to hear it or not.

I still have the emails we wrote back and forth to each other. I read them sometimes. The last time we spoke, she was in the hospital. The expectation was that she would get better like all of the other times. And THIS time, we would start living the lives we knew we should live. THIS time, we would be true to ourselves and write. THIS time, we would grant ourselves permission to do something that we loved instead of something that paid the bills.

Three days later, after not hearing from her, I got an email. It said it was from her, but the message was from her son. He was sad to tell me that my friend, his mother, had passed away. I can’t imagine what it felt like to have written that email. It was devastating to receive it. A piece of me was gone.

I can’t help thinking that she would have done things differently had she known how short her life was going to be. That maybe she would have given herself permission to write more. But the truth is, I am just now giving myself a glimpse of that permission. We work so hard to be true to everyone else. We often forget that we also deserve to be true to ourselves.

I will always miss my friend. The hole her death left can never be filled. But I am so grateful that I got to have her for a little while. There will never be another Petronella.

Sleep well, my friend. I love you.

The Road is Long; Pack Light

There was once a time when I thought stuff could equal happiness. When I was young, I put a lot of faith in labels and image. I believed that wearing certain clothes could make me popular. It never worked. Not once. Every change I made was a wasted attempt to fit in. It would be a couple of decades before I realized that fitting in was a myth. There wasn’t a special recipe of things I could own that would make me acceptable to those who didn’t like me. How many times have you caught yourself thinking…”if only I had this…THEN I would be happy/popular/accepted/liked/loved”FullSizeRenderThose movies from the “old days”, as my kids like to call them, often showed people arriving at lavish places, or not-so-lavish places, with all of their luggage stacked up on carts in tow behind them. Typically, an overworked bell boy struggled to keep the stack from toppling over and injuring people, but sometimes, the luggage was the owner’s responsibility. All. Those. Suitcases. All. That. Stuff.

All. That. Personal. Baggage.

Once I started traveling, I realized it was important to pack light. I didn’t have a bell boy in tow. I traveled solo, so I had to carry my own luggage. And, in order to arrive at my destination with all of my belongings, I learned how to pack light enough to fit everything into my carry on. No lost luggage. I realize it isn’t always possible to travel that lightly, but, whenever it is, I do.

In our journey through life, we acquire a lot of things. There are movements now to ensure those things last a lifetime. We are a throwaway society. Waste has become our middle name. Trends. This is in; that is out. That was soooooo last week! We begin to think it is our responsibility to keep up. But in the end, we have to carry our own baggage. It’s ultimately up to us how heavy a load we can handle. It’s also up to us to choose what things to leave behind. No one else can decide for you what you need to take along on your journey. That’s up to you. But be open to the idea that your things do not define who you are as a person. Nor does your past. Be open to the idea that people are going to like you because of their own ideas. They will also dislike you for the same reason. You have absolutely no control over their feelings. Nor are you responsible for them. What matters is that YOU like you. After all, you are the only one who will always be with you on your journey.

Not all things are tangible. Things like anger, regret, doubt, disappointment, and hate take up a tremendous amount of otherwise usable space in our lives. Those things are heavy. They hold us back from our journey. I recommend tossing those negative things and making room for joy and wonder and gratitude. They are much easier to carry. And much more fun.

Remember, the lighter you pack, the easier you’ll travel. And…you’ll have room to pick up some goodies along the way. Happy journeying!

The Journey Begins With Just One Step

Starting a blog is never hard. At least not for me. But maintaining one, or finding that one thing I want to focus on, is extremely difficult. I get easily distracted. ADHD, perhaps. Or maybe it’s the fact that I want to focus on many things. Maybe it’s because my mind thinks all the things and never shuts down. Loud echoes of “you should do this” and “you should be like this” try to shout down the tiny voices that say “hey, this sounds fun” and “let’s see what this is like.”

I could say that my family never supported my dreams of being a writer. I could say that, but I’d be lying. No one, save a really hateful professor who obviously had her own issues, has said I suck as a writer. For the record, she wasn’t even my professor. She was someone who read my submission to a post-graduate program I thought I “should” apply to. The rejection didn’t hurt my feelings. I believe my exact words were, “DAAAAAMMMMNNNN, this woman is really miserable.” In the end, she saved me several thousands of dollars trying to earn a doctorate that I didn’t really need or want. Well, the idea of being called “doctor” was kind of appealing, but paying someone else to publish my novel seemed to be backward in the grand scheme of things.

That was years ago. Now, I’m almost fifty. That should be something I fear, but it’s not. It is, however, something that makes me aware I am running out of time to accomplish my goals. The pressure is on, folks. And I could say that my goal is to have a publishing house fall in love with my work and offer me the world in order to have the privilege of publishing it. I could say that, but it isn’t exactly true. Of course, making a living as a writer would certainly make some things easier. But ultimately, I just want to live my authentic life. And first, I have to complete a project to my idea of perfection before I can expect anyone to publish it.

That’s why blogs are fun. And appealing. It’s instant gratification. I hit publish and BOOM! My words hit the Internet for all the world to see. But I want to say something that matters. Beyond just entertaining. I want to push myself to stay on the path to being authentic. And, perhaps, I can encourage others to do the same. I’m on the backside of 40, but this isn’t about age. There is, after all, no guarantee I will make it to fifty. This is about making the journey count. And my journey starts today. Wish me luck.

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