Moving House

It rained last night for the first time in longer than I can remember. The splatter against my bedroom window woke me up – a sound grown alien in its rarity – then lulled me back to sleep again, no less comforting, perhaps more so, for its unexpectedness. Fires continue to burn through parts of California and other western states, as hurricanes and typhoons blow and pound across other parts of the world. Diseases claim lives at increasingly alarming rates, as do suicides and other acts of violence. Nations impose their hardline wills on unconsenting subjects, on other nations, on the world at large. Species are dying, snuffed out one by one like discarded, used up cigarettes. 

Like most people who strive for good mental health, I skim the headlines cautiously for news that I need to know, seek out as much information about those subjects as I can handle, and let the rest go. Not float away exactly, rather rest uneasily on the brink of my conscious mind, where it will either settle in or fade away as input does that doesn’t turn in to memory. I don’t know how anyone can absorb it all and truthfully I don’t think they can. There is too much disintegration and disarray, too much despair in today’s world, and it’s all in our faces, at our fingertips at all times, harassing us and weakening us. Where do we find strength?

Everyone has their own means and methods. I read books, take walks, do yoga, and cook. I do online volunteer work through the website Zooniverse, contributing to data collection in any number of scientific research projects. My favorites are the observation and classification of wildlife around the world. I practice my Spanish and French, confident I will use these skills again. I email various travel companions and together we brainstorm ideas for upcoming adventures together. But these forays, these long, slow, restorative – for me, strength giving – experiences, have been too few and far between lately, and I’m anxious to move them from the speculation stage to the planning stage to the action stage. I want to buy a ticket, and go.

Mark too has fallen victim to his wanderlust lately, and suggested we plan a trip to Cyprus. I quickly agreed. We can get there without too much fuss, and the cost of food and accommodation is relatively low. We’ll rent a scooter or small motorcycle, enabling us to see much more of the island than we could using public transportation. Our plan is to spend three weeks in the southern, self-governed part of the country, then one week in the northern, Turkish ruled half.

I’ve stayed put for so many months partly to save money and to avoid the likelihood of contracting Covid, but recently, primarily because I am in the process of moving house. Like many people I know, I’m increasingly aware of the delicate impermanence of absolutely everything in life, especially as it pertains to the people we love. Jackson’s death served as a massive launch in that direction of course, and since then every time I see or speak to someone I love my heart squeezes a little bit tighter. Every time, I feel a little bit more lonely with the thought of not knowing when I’ll see them again, of losing them altogether, and with the knowledge that the holes within us will deepen and spread if we don’t fill them while we can. 

My father is 92. He’s in better shape than most people his age, and many younger, but he’s frail, and has had a number of falls. Living on the other side of the country from him, it’s a time consuming process to see him. It takes planning, expense, and it’s inevitably all too brief. I’m tired of my visits with him being something I have to plan weeks or months in advance, of fearing that when the phone rings and it’s him or my brother, any news will be bad. So I’ve made the decision to go back to Baltimore for awhile and live there, to be a temporary resident if you will, rather than a temporary visitor. I know it isn’t where I want to live for the rest of my life, but since it’s where my father lives and is determined to stay, it’s where I want to live for the rest of his life. 

So next month I will migrate east, my car packed with only a few essential belongings and my house plants, everything else in storage for the time being. I’ll settle in, then I’ll join Mark in Cyprus for November, and in December, I’ll return for the first time in over 20 years to my “home” in Maryland. I’ll spend Christmas with my father and brother for the first time since Jackson died. (It will be the first time I’ve felt able to be with people at Christmas in over eight years.) The dread that I usually feel when contemplating the holidays is still there, but it’s softer this year when I think about being with my family. I’m scared though, of the move itself, of leaving behind the tangible connections to Jackson that have trapped and consoled me both, that once cast aside can never be recaptured. It’s all well and good to say we carry people in our hearts or that they live in our memories; the fact is, once they die they don’t live at all anymore, these are euphemisms and rhetoric that we tell ourselves, and others, in an attempt to ease the impact of their absence. They are gone, and what we hold on to, if we can, are tokens, mementos, and memories. We can take tokens and mementos, like memories, with us wherever we go if they are small enough, but what of the larger, unmoveable ones, the rooms, the walls, the ground under our feet? Places hold memories too, memories we can see, smell and touch, memories that live outside of us: fingerprints, breath, footprints, scent. When those are gone, left behind, what will remain? Will it be enough? I suppose I’m afraid to find out. And then there’s a part of me that feels a sense of relief, relief that I feel strong enough to try. And something else. Even now, a fair amount of wonder: that I am still here, that there are bits of me, bits of my life, old and new, that I am finding the strength to discover and reclaim, to call my own, and on a good day, to share with others. 

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