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.