I'm moving. Again. I'm packing the same boxes I unpacked just over a year ago; each time I reassemble one I congratulate myself for saving it. I try to match up the labels: “kitchen” with kitchen stuff, “office” with office stuff. Funny how hard that can be, even though it's all the same stuff. There's a growing pile of filled-up boxes in the corner, nicely balanced, neatly labeled. I'm good at this, and it's nice to be good at something. I have a plan in place and a timeline laid out, although I know it never goes that smoothly. But my plans are my anchors now. These lists take on weight as the rooms give it up; the things that hold me to my life tucked away, taped shut. I have gravity packed in boxes. (Never mind the laws of physics; it's in there. I can feel it.) I drift from room to room like a day-old helium balloon. What plans? I can go anywhere. This is where I live.
I suppose I could give you coordinates to my apartment, here in this old house with its old floors and glass doorknobs in a tree-shaded neighborhood on the edge of a part of the city that many choose to avoid. Or should I send you to the house I am preparing to move into? You'll know it when you see it. It's the 1925 bungalow on the street that bears my family's name, built by my grandfather and his brothers from a kit they ordered from Sears. Part of me is here; part of me is already there, with the painting and remodeling already done. Part of me is nine miles away at my mother's, the sprawling ranch house now swallowed by a suburb, the place where I grew up. Squint hard: do you see that sturdy little girl in the stars-and-stripes swimsuit? I know she's there, sunburned and barefoot, still exploring woods and fields that have long since yielded to houses. I wrap her carefully in tissue and tuck her in among the rest of my things; I'll be bringing her along. She'll like it in the new place. This is where she lives.
This box is for glassware. (And this box, and this one, and this one too. I have a thing about glassware.) Wipe each piece with a damp paper towel, swaddle it in newsprint, pack it away, but not before remembering its story, its life in my hands. This vase from that non-air-conditioned junk shop on a hot, hot summer day. Remember? I stood on a high stool to reach it and the stool gave a loud crack, so I jumped down just as you threw up your arms to catch me and you hit me in the face. I almost dropped the vase. We choked on our laughter, hoping no one would notice (I think everyone noticed). This cut crystal tumbler was my grandmother's and her grandmother's. My brother and I drank milk from them on holidays when the grownups had wine. Look how it catches and flashes and changes the light. Yellow of lamplight, blue of the tv. I put it in a painting and it took me three days just to suggest that starburst design. Salt cellar, serving bowl, decanter, carafe. I wrap and pack, and let my memory fill the spaces left behind.
These are some of the prettier pieces of my life. I'll take them with me when I go. But even if I didn't, or couldn't, or they were lost along the way, they'd still be with me. Cool glass, a hot day, dusty-sour junk shop smell, a flash of yellow, of blue. The taste of milk. This is where I live.
I saved all this packing paper, too. I know, I know, incredible efficiency. I'm a marvel, even to myself. Hidden among the plain newsprint are newspapers from the last place I lived (about to become the next-to-last place I lived). I shake out the folds of a sporting goods ad and find myself back in the Deep South. Guns for sale, pages of guns and camouflage. Unless it's football season, “sports” in Louisiana means fishing rods and rifles. I was glad to be there, and glad to come home. This is home. No, not this apartment I am emptying out, and not the house I am going to either. Here. All these things I remember, the places I've lived, the people I've forgotten. All the state parks, restaurants, driveways, gardens, petting zoos, little trails through the woods behind the house. Houses and apartments, cottages and trailers. By a lake, near an ocean, on a mountainside; alongside at least two rivers, a pond, and more than one muddy ditch. One ex-husband, two ex-partners, a few ex-lovers, a host of neighbors, acquaintances, friends. My steadfast parents. My son, who for eighteen years has been the only one to visit every place I've lived. And don't forget the new guy. I fold the Louisiana sporting goods ad and put it back on the pile. All this blank newsprint like pages of a book, written in invisible ink. I'm the only one who can read it. This is where I live.