Nothing feels quite as lonely as packing up, taking things off walls, organizing and cramming odds and ends of your life into portable storage containers with plastic lids and faulty zippers. Nothing confirms the reality of impermanence as much as that experience.
I was just five the first time I remember moving. My parents packed late in the night and told me I couldn’t take my big stuffed bear, the one with plush golden brown fur and a checkered bow-tie. I was bitter for a while about that, but that’s about the only thing I remember of the big haul from Europe to DC. The next big move was from DC out to the ‘burbs of Maryland. I didn’t have to participate in much of the packing–who would trust a second grader? Certainly not my mother! Right before we left, I walked through the different rooms, from my own, which overlooked a screened deck, to the small dining area, to the narrow hallway cluttered with a stove and fridge, to the open living room and lastly to the smaller room tucked away in the corner that my parents slept in. The painted wood window sills seemed older when there was no furnishings to distract from them. The golden door knobs were speckled with coarse rust and the floor creaked louder in place of the lack of living. I remember thinking this would be the last time I would walk through those rooms and I made my way down the stairs.
The second time I moved I left a lot more behind. We weren’t relocating far, just from one suburb to another, to move from a townhouse to a single family home. My dad had done a spectacular job at decorating my room and bathroom exactly the way I had pictured it and I was mad at having to leave that behind, having to start all over again. I left behind my plastic shower curtain with scenes of dolphins jumping out of crystal blue waters, a plastic toothbrush holder made of two dolphin figurines riding the edge of a foamy wave and a matching soap dispenser. Walking through that house for the last time, I thought the same thing, focusing on the finality of it all. And I remembered just how much the house changed over the course of the five or six years we lived there. We started by putting wooden flooring in everywhere. The living room first had a pale brown couch in the material of a tacky terry cloth robe and a pair of white linen and wood couches to supplement. Light, airy curtains in a creamy white framed the tall windows. Later when the room was re-done deep green walls accented a buttery leather couch and heavy wooden coffee table. The kitchen also changed a lot while we were there–tiles replaced linoleum floors and pale wood cabinets accentuated the light yellow of the walls. The basement changed the most since it was unfinished when we first moved in. My dad put in flooring, fixed up the walls and build an all-wood bar. The worst part about moving from that house was having to destroy that bar per request of the new and excessively religious owners. I don’t think I’ve even seen anything more heartbreaking than a man, a talented man, my father, taking a sledgehammer to his own creation.
Leaving for college was my next big move. And it involved a lot of cleaning. But very little had to be taken down. I guess I don’t really consider that moving because I still get to come back. My walls are still sunny yellow and sky blue, just the way I imagined them when I first moved in. I still have the blue and white and yellow striped curtains with the hole in them that the previous owners left behind which served as my design inspiration. My bed is still made with my Tommy Hilfigur sheets, just waiting for me to come back and crash into it. Heck, there’s probably still a few worn shirts slung over the Ikea chair propped by my window, waiting for me to throw them down the laundry shoot.
The moves that have been the hardest have been the ones that require me to clean everything out from my dorm room. It’s these tiny, poorly ventilated rooms in which I’ve done some of my deadliest soul-searching–college is ideally where you find yourself, right? My first room was laughably small, but had the most brilliant view of the Boston Common. I hung out with people that would become some of my closest friends in that room, gushed about dates and roses, made instant coffee and wrote things I could turn into chapters or short stories. And now someone else lives there. A fresh coat of paint covers the pieces of wall I tore off when removing my over-sized cork board. There’s a good chance that my faulty drawer is fixed too.
My second room was much bigger–and naturally home to bigger things. It’s where I cried myself to sleep when I thought I wasn’t going to survive pledging for the amazing sisterhood I’m so happy to be a part of. It’s where I crashed after many nights of having too much fun, not caring how much I’d regret it in the morning. It’s where I had my first kiss of my first serious college relationship. It’s where I wrote the piece of non-fiction that won me an award and where I got the news that I had gotten my first incredible internship. The night I packed it all up was the night that I really took in the details, noticed the yellow hue of light from my hanging lamp, the annoying and obscure shape of the wall with windows, the missing cork on my cork board from where that boyfriend’s sticker once was, the light outline of photos pinned to the board where the sun had hit. Little bits and pieces of memories I’ll carry forever are etched into that room, but I’d be foolish to believe that they’ll remain there forever. The new room that I’m moving out of tomorrow, that I only stayed in for a summer, also has a lot of stories to tell. You know what they say, if walls could speak… Some of these memories, I’ve already done away with, like the torn bit of a green wrapper caught under a shoe or the discarded lip gloss collecting dust under the bed or the receipts from library books used as bookmarks. The rest will be cleaned away or painted over as a reminder that the world won’t remember anything that I do. Whoever lives here next won’t know of a thing that happened in this room, no matter how much weight it has in my own life. It’s escaped from existence everywhere except for my memory and the memories of those I may have shared it with.