In the past year, I’ve mastered the art of of packing an entire life into two suitcases. The first, a practical black carry-on that has long since pledged its loyalty me. The second, a large soft-shell Samsonite sturdy enough to sustain the weight of any pillar. I’ve learned to do without a good deal of worldly luxuries. And yes, I’ve learned that you can survive without two dozen iterations of the same black shirt.
Now I’m getting ready to make the trip back across the Atlantic for good – or, at least, for now. I’m starting learn that there are some things, both material and immaterial, that will never fit into my two trusty suitcases. The things that have shaped me the most: these are the things I am forced to leave behind.
From my childhood home:
- My piano. I remember, I was seven when the movers heaved it up the steps. An upright from Kranich & Bach, made of warm mahogany and with a sostenuto pedal that never quite worked. I lovingly, sometimes loathingly, worked my way through Hanon finger exercises, through Fur Elise and Sonatina in C. Then on to the Romantics, Chopin and Schumann and Mendelssohn and Listz (all of which, I still struggle through from time to time). Between the classics, I mixed in movie scores and showtunes and all the Beatles’ greatest hits. A song for every mood and every occasion. When I played, the music would fill the house and my mother would say it made her feel rich.
- My library. Treasured books with worn creases, read over and over until the stories knitted themselves into my brain. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Ella Enchanted and The Book Thief, all still near and dear to my heart. My annual summer reread of the Harry Potter series became my marathon training. Eventually, I trimmed down my completion time to just over a week. My thirst for magical plots and magical people fed my growing imagination but ruined me for the real world. It inspired me to write the stories that I wanted to read. From my messy scrawl emerged a voice of my own. From the bookshelves, the books chanted: Write! Write! Write! And so I did. And so I became a writer.
From Boston (where I did the rest of my growing up):
- The euphoria. That feeling of being young and invincible on a crowded dance floor, when you realize that everything is going to be alright when just hours ago life seemed so shitty. The feeling that no mountain is insurmountable. The naive resilience. The bombastic bounce-back. I can’t take it with me.
- The connections. I can’t pack those 3am conversations, full of empathy and understanding and awe. Lovers and friends I have since lost. On my twin bed. On the docks of the Esplanade. On the ninth floor study lounge overlooking Fenway. The first time I’d felt that elusive spark. Chemistry: I finally understood what it meant. Both platonic, and, well, something more. Two intellects meeting, it’s a kind of electricity that you’ll never replicate. This person. This person! You get me. You get me!
- The heartbreak. It had been my first. Just a few short months, I hadn’t known it would hurt this much. A fire that burned out too quickly, suffocated by all the things we didn’t know about ourselves and about each other. The words that we didn’t communicate. The feelings that we couldn’t convey. We colored in the spaces with the absolute worst. One minute, it was Thanksgiving and I had engorged myself on your story, my heart swelling with the wonderfulness of you. The next, it was Christmas and you slammed the door in my face. If you’d opened it, if I’d insisted… What if? Tearfully, we asked each other this question one year later. Already, the divide was far too big.
- The “we” that never was. The boat we both missed. Call it chronic heartbreak, for lack of a better word. There were so many things I wanted to blame you for. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. Not blaming you, that is. You were the first spark, long before any of the others. School hadn’t even started and I already decided that I liked you. You were a puzzle to be solved, so I let myself become the mystery. You were wrapped up in your own Personal Legend, while I was convinced that you would somehow be a part of mine. Cursed with my childhood imagination, I didn’t know if any of it was real, the way you searched my eyes when you said you wanted her (i.e. not me). If you’d wounded my pride, I wouldn’t have let you see. I know I never made it easy. Only let you guess at how I felt. Kept half of myself hidden and called that victory. Perhaps I should have never placed you on that pillar. Perhaps the boat was only ever sinking. I’m flying away now to a place where I know who I am, to where timing has never stopped someone from loving me.