Thursday, July 01, 2010

DARE YOU TO MOVE (PART 1): of leaving and loss

A journey of almost 1000 miles begins with a single roll of packaging tape…

I know that I have joked about this with a few people, but the move from Miami to South Carolina was probably one of the first real stress tests of my marriage. While moving in and of itself can be stressful (and believe me, IT IS), Ashley and I also had the added factors of (a) Ash being off work for a month (meaning we saw each all day, every day, seven days a week for a month), (b) trying to pack with a 15-month-old, and (c) the start/stop issue we encountered because our move was delayed by about two weeks – we started to pack the apartment up, had to stop about a fourth of the way through it, and then spend two weeks surrounded by a cardboard city of half-empty boxes. When we moved from Georgia to Miami, it was not NEARLY as taxing on us emotionally or physically: we had just gotten married, we still had two separate apartments (Ash had moved in with me but all her furnishings were still in her on-campus apartment at UGA), and UM paid for professional movers to come pack all our junk up from our respective places and cart it away. Ah, the halcyon days of Pre-Recession Spending…

While the pre-moving time did get intense at times, there were only a couple of times this past month when Ashley and I came close to baring our teeth to one another in a gesture of territorial and packaging rights. The hardest part of leaving Miami was simply in the leaving. It was definitely harder on Ash to leave UM itself than it was for me; I had said my farewell to and made my peace with the institution over a year ago when I quit my job, and so leaving the physical property in Coral Gables – to say nothing of leaving my employment history there – was comparatively much less emotionally taxing on me.

And honestly, for me, there wasn’t that much emotional duress in saying goodbye to the people we were leaving behind. Maybe it’s because of the transitory nature of the field. Maybe it’s because of the fact that technology keeps people more closely connected these days than at any other time in history. Maybe it’s because of the fact that (in my case) after you suffer the loss of family members, you don’t want to or feel comfortable with saying “goodbye” anymore. The friends we left in Miami, we will see again. That is a given. It’s not conjecture, nor is it wishful thinking. It is a fact, plain and simple. It was not a goodbye, so much as it was a “see you soon,” although “soon” could be a relative term.

Yes – we wish we had had more time with some people. Yes – we regret not being able to say farewell to all the people we wanted to. Yes – there were words left unsaid…although in some instances, it’s perhaps better they were left unsaid. But to be fair, even if we had been able to manipulate time and space to the point of where we got to spend all the time we wanted to with everyone, we still would have wanted more. It’s the nature of love.

My emotional breaking point came just about 48 hours before we left Miami. And the two contributing factors to me almost losing it were a plant and a car.

Before we fled “north,” I sold my Jetta (Serenity) to one of Ash’s RAs. Ash & I had debated for some time the logic in having two cars, especially since my unemployed self was not contributing anything to the financial upkeep of said vehicles (gas, insurance, etc.). I finally relented to the fact that she was (like most times) correct in her argument. That two cars – while nice – wasn’t a necessity. Since we both knew that this RA would need transportation, didn’t have a plethora of cash to throw about, and was someone who we both felt a vested emotional interest in, I sold her Serenity for a song and a dance. I felt…okay…in selling her, because I knew she was getting a good home, with someone who needed her. It wasn’t as if I was selling the car for scrap, and that some cold, uncaring mechanic was going to plunder her for her parts. I was simply paying (driving?) her forward.

Now, as anyone who has ever driven a Jetta before can attest to, these things have mad trunk space. Seriously. It’s like a TARDIS. You can just keep stuffing crap in there and never feel like you’re going to fill it up. Ash’s trunk space in the RAV4, on the other hand, has good vertical clearance, but lacks the depth associated with the Jetta. This is good if you’re trying to transport a basketball goal, but not so much if you’re trying to pack the belongings of a family of 2.75 (two adults, one kid and a pooch). There were a number of things we simply could not put onto the moving van (the laptop, personal papers, and the 83 metric tons of stuff needed for a toddler) that had to be force-stuffed into the RAV4. This meant that we had to start looking to edit down what we going with us.

In addition to a vehicle, we left SEVERAL items behind in Miami – 99% of which was given to a friend to help her decorate her apartment. Everything from glassware to a coffee table to a huge friggin’ entertainment center as well as multiple runs to Goodwill to donate clothes and other items they could use – we decreased our carbon footprint by about six feet of moving van space (which in real language means about a room and a half of crap).

There was one item that became THE questionable item. The “stay or go” item. The “is it worth it to take everything out of the back of the car, rearrange it all, and hope that it fits” item.

A plant. A peace lily. A peace lily that had been with me since my grandfather died.

In a moment of utter frustration, I decided to just give the bloody thing away. I felt as if trying to make it fit wasn’t going to be worth it. Ashley, bless her heart, kept trying to tell me that it was going to be okay, that we would find a way to make it fit. I on the other hand kept telling her to stop saying this to me; that if I was going to be able to actually give the plant away, I needed to stop holding on to hope and be able to let it go.

And that was when it hit me.

All the inner monologues I’d been holding in. All the discussions in my head I’d been having. All the debates, the justifications, and the questions.

Maybe it’s what Ashley calls a “guy” thing. Maybe it’s something that only collectors can understand. Maybe it’s something that is uniquely me. But whatever it may be, or wherever it stems from, when the reality of getting rid of this plant became a very distinct probability, I was just hit with this overwhelming sense of loss. Not from the standpoint of I was losing a physical item; the fact that before we moved I sold a ton of books, CDs, DVDs and other collectibles on eBay as well as that we gave away so much..stuff…attested to the fact that to wasn’t the “thing” I was interested in holding on to.

I began to feel a loss of identity. Of my own history. Of my storyline.

Using a somewhat inappropriate choice of words – I don’t want to beat a dead horse by talking at length about the losses, both personal and professional, that I experienced while living in Miami. To me, it became more of the idea that I was losing yet another touchstone to my own past. It felt as if I was losing the markers that I could look back and see as I remembered my life.

The Jetta? Please; cars are a dime a dozen, and I know we’re going to get rid of the RAV4 soon-ish and get another vehicle. But the memories of seeing Cricket sleeping on the floorboard as we went on roadtrips? The coffee stains on the driver’s seat (sorry, Marie) that came when I drove to summer camp? The pings, the idiosyncrasies of Serenity that gave her the feeling we had a connection? That was what I was mourning the loss of, even though I wasn’t even aware that was what I was doing.

The plant? Okay – the thing almost died when we moved to Miami, and I know it won’t live forever. But the smell of the soil and how it reminds me of my grandmother and my grandfather on their back patio as they planted flowers? The way I talked to it after Jay died, thinking in some weird way I was talking to him? That was what I was mourning the loss of, even though I wasn’t even aware that was what I was doing.

And although I know that there’s a very real probability that had I been able to hold on to them both I would not even have the Jetta or the plant when Kai gets old enough to actually care to hear my stories, the fact that they’re part of my tapestry, a part of my history, and they both hold good and bad stories, positive and negative aspects of my life, and symbolize in some ways pieces of who I am.

Ashley, God love her, managed to refinagle the trunk area so that the plant could come with us. I am happy to say that not only did it survive the trip, but the freaking thing has almost doubled in size (seriously!) since we got here. Yeah, the backseat was a little…snug…what with a carseat, a squirmy baby and all the other stuff jammed in the car – but from my perspective, the discomfort in the ride was well worth it. And her tenacity in finding a way for the plant to make it is just one more thing I owe my wife.

Just as Ashley and I carried from Miami the love of friends who became family, I was able to carry that big friggin’ plant with me.

The Jetta? She has a good home. Her story will continue in another chapter with someone new who will care for her.

And this story of the move will continue later…

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