I am an excellent packer. When I moved from a two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans to share a one bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen with my boyfriend fourteen years ago, my roommate found me laid out on the hardwood floor, 72 hours into packing, exhausted and overwhelmed. He took pity on me that day. Nursed me back to sanity. Enlightened me on how to properly place books, clothes, dishes in boxes, wisdom which had somehow eluded me until then. Ever since, I have armed myself for moving with the knowledge that it is a campaign capable of being won. I pack thoughtfully, efficiently, considering what will first be necessary when I get to my destination. I buy supplies in advance. I’ve never lost a plate.
I use this same mindfulness when packing for a trip. I pick the color palette for my wardrobe, choose two pairs of shoes, and build my outfits from there. I have often traveled with nothing more than my large purse. A useful talent when storing your entire life away but for two suitcases, meant to take you from 110-degree dessert hikes to date night in December. And after helping J make the exact same decisions a month earlier I felt ready for the task.
People use all kinds of barometers to discern when a person becomes an adult. At 27 in Manhattan, I remember being horrified reading an article about a 26-year-old woman’s death, and thinking I’d be wrongly referred to as a woman, should something happen to me. I have good credit, I have been responsible for people’s livelihoods, but I wasn’t to taste adulthood until the first time I hired movers.
That same move to New York, my boyfriend and I arrived in our 26 foot Uhaul to find the renovations to our apartment incomplete. Nobody had bothered to call to let us know. We spent 22 days on the floor of my father’s already cramped townhouse in Princeton, NJ before begging my family to help us move in while we double-parked the trailer on West 49th. It was a humbling experience. Insert uplifting learning from your mistakes quote here.
The true lesson about moving is that it’s always terrible. You will fight with people you love, skin your elbows, stub your toes, lose your keys, and realize what a disgusting person you are as you borrow a vacuum with the desperate hope of reclaiming some of your security deposit. That time in New York was just the first time I tried to move into an apartment that wasn’t ready for me. Once, I arrived while the tenants were still living there.
The first time you hire movers, they will be late, or early, or lose all the screws to a piece of furniture you inherited, and still it will prevent 90% of the drama you would have experienced had you bullied your friends into helping you with the pathetic bribe of pizza and beer. You will pay them what seems like an exorbitant amount of money. It will not be enough. You will put sheets on your bed, wash your face, have a drink, and realize had you not hired them you would still be dragging crap you didn’t even want your partner to keep upstairs right now, and you will never miss that money.
My apartment in Pittsburgh was a converted basement, accessible through an outdoor corridor and down a flight of stairs. J and Moose had been living with me since his lease had ended a month earlier, and the walls were already lined high with the unleavable from his apartment. And so, I hired movers.
All this experience, foresight, shrewdness, all of it was to crumble under the weight of simple math. I had calculated how long it should take to pack, added four hours for optimism, and another two for tantrums and food. However, I had forgotten to add the packing for the next 6 months of your life. If packing for a week of vacation takes me 45 min, well, it’s probably better you do the math.
We had done our best to ruthlessly get rid of things we no longer needed and were taking the rest to a storage facility in Canfield, which was about halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. J’s family lives there, and so we had decided to make it our new home base in the states. The movers got there at 9am, had the truck packed by noon, and J and I kept finding one more thing to clean, pack, throw out for the next five hours. Moose was inconsolable and hid in the closet. We tried to convince him to take one last trip to the bathroom, as he can be fussy about where he goes but figured we had to leave or risk missing the storage place closing before we could unpack it all.
The first steps began in fits and starts, even after the fits and starts fit comfortably and ended, respectively. The three of us, hunkered down in a two-vehicle caravan and armed with a pair of walkie-talkies I had from my teenage years, were ready for the day. Unfortunately, the day got away from us, and our timetable slipped into impossibility like a Dali clock. We rolled up onto the storage site well after they had closed, leaving us to find recourse in a hotel – an amazing call on Y’s part. Said amazing call turned into an incredibly scenic drive around the especially nowhere parts of PA when the trust in GPS apps rerouted us onto the turnpike. The fifteen-minute trip became a fifty-minute trip, and the sunset, while normally free, became a $30 dollar sunset, after all the fees and gas had been settled.
It really was a striking sunset, so much so that when we finally arrived in Cleveland the next day, my sister (Fourth) commiserated and shared the joy with us, as she had also been in an optimal location, not far from where we should have been to view the solar wonder. When we arrived at the hotel (Red Roof Inn allows pets, which we had in hefty, brown and fuzzy supply), I realized we didn’t have a lock for all of our worldly bullshit in the truck and our soon-to-be-occupied storage locker, so it was off to Target for a lock, then off to Taco Bell for dinner. Because we classy.
A month ago, I had offered to drive the 20 foot Uhaul that would be transporting all of our worldly belongings to their new home in Ohio. Mostly because I try to conquer irrational fears I have head on, but also, because I knew I’d hate it less than J. As moving day approached so did an uneasiness in my stomach, but I reasoned it was just an hour or so to the unit and bought insurance. That night, with 36 hours under my belt and the sun setting in my face I tried to keep it together.
J and his cat-pilot, Moose, led in my massive SUV. I followed in the imposing truck behind. The vehicle was cumbersome and unwieldy, its hulking mass reluctantly lurching up hills, refusing to graduate gears, and careening wide on right turns. I struggled to keep up, cruised over a few curbs. J had suggested using walkie-talkies he had acquired during his days in the Boy Scouts to keep in touch on the drive. While initially, I had agreed merely to humor him, they proved a lot of fun. Like a teenager after a growth spurt, my lumbering awkwardness gave way, eventually finding sureness in my mammoth frame.
We arrived at the storage facility, our exhaustion making us that much more eager to complete the unpacking and fast forward to a certain collapse into bed at J’s family home. It was not to be. Though the units were still accessible, the office had closed for the day, making renting one impossible. Driving the Uhaul to Cleveland, then back the next day, seemed an onerous proposition, and the gas and extra mileage would be expensive. I found a cheap motel nearby that allowed pets, booked it, and we drove off, renewed by the prospect of sleep dangling before us.
I am not one of those people who begrudge technology. When I moved to New York, I spent a good portion of time studying maps and subway routes before leaving the house to ensure I knew where I was going. The only thing worse than being lost in New York is looking like a tourist. The government may be tracking our movements through our space phones, but I’ll accept that dystopian premise in order to regularly circumvent traffic.
GPS is a wonder of modern technology, a fact I tried to recall as mine steered us increasingly further from our destination and the promise of sleep. Rerouted down toll roads in the wrong direction (the walkies, less enjoyable now), we frantically tried to reconfigure our convoy in alignment with our desired location. One spectacular sunset, fifty miles, and an hour later, we had made it to plan b. We made Moose comfortable, had some tequila, and I was cadaverous.
We watched Mad Max on the television over dinner, with Moose skulking around the twin Queen beds of the hotel room. The Taco Bell paired magnificently with the tequila we had stashed in a water bottle. Y had been feverishly packing and working like a champ for near 40 hours, and finally hit the mat after we ate. Moose and I communed while attempting to watch Rambo. A few more sips of tequila and I followed Y to bed.
The next morning I put Moose in his harness and took him for a walk. As with most cats, he’s not particularly fond of change, travel, or loud noises, and the combination had made him especially edgy. He hadn’t gone for hours and I was starting to worry about his health. He was still tense and agitated after a half hour, and we decided our best move was to commence with unpacking the truck so as to get him to J’s parents’ house, where he could be comfortable.
We relieved ourselves of our possessions, the Uhaul, and the irritable intensity that had been looming over us as we pushed through the last particulars of the move, excited to be finally headed towards Cleveland. There would be a pizza party celebrating the birth of J’s sister, Justine, already in progress by the time we arrived. Ravenous, I confided that J was going to have to cover for my appetite because I had no intention of politely declining food at any point throughout the evening. With Moose set up to conclude the cliffhanger of his gastro-intestinal episode, a set of showers for each of us, and a few more swigs of tequila, we were ready to join in the festivities.
We got a slow start to the next day and drove over to our storage site. Despite varying opinions on how Tetris was to be won, the day went by largely without incident, and after the load-in, we rejoined Moose in the car, dropped off the Uhaul and were finally off to Cleveland. We arrived just in time to see a community theater production of How I Saved Pizza Night starring my oldest sister as lead martyr. It was a packed house, missing only my Father, a day out on a camping trip on the French River. We still had ten people, three dogs, five cats and way too many large personalities for one house. After a quick shower and some triage, I rattled off some pizza-aid and a massive pitcher of margaritas, which made the comedy of errors just a little more hilarious. After a shower, Y was back from the dead, and pizza, beer and tequila were on hand.
There were definitely private nips of water-bottle tequila, as the homefront was not nearly as serene as we had hoped, and moving, if you’ve never done it, sucks cocks in librarian hell, which is a special sort of hell where everything has to be organized just so then completely re-organized ad nauseum and it is absolutely the worst type of sweaty and musty boredom. Meanwhile, in the domestic animal kingdom, Moose was mostly just happy to take a shit, as he had been holding it (despite our efforts and encouragement to the contrary) for something like 27 hours. Y applauded his efforts, and I almost wish I could have been there. That’ll do, cat. That’ll do.
Part of the evening’s ensemble left early in the evening to prepare for the early AM flight to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, where none of the Spanish I practiced on them would ever be needed. En realidad, era necesario. Para mi. Lo siento.
The remainder played a homebrew game my brother-in-law had brought into the household lexicon a few years back called Marbles, a sort of cross between Parcheesi and Sorry! with movement rules akin to the fine drinking game of Kings. My middle sister, a cocky little shit, soundly trounced us all again, even after Y had ground her ax into some whiskey. The two of us stayed up until 2 with my youngest sister and her boyfriend, rapping about the journey. Bespoke boyfriend and I reveled in the gift of gab together. Our respective partners’ eye rolls eventually muffled the conversation, and we slowly ventured to the quiet and heavy sleep of the gods. After a nip or two of tequila. The bedroom tequila came in handy over the next few days.
J’s family is a close-knit crew, with sizable temperments and laughs to match. Gatherings can get rowdy and games are played with an impassioned competitiveness. After somehow being decimated in Marbles (J’s middle sister has a preternatural ability for the game) yet again, and the departure of the guest of honor for a trip to Mexico, things began to wind down a bit. The last of us stayed up drinking and softly chatting into the night until exhaustion consumed us once more.
Home was more than the standard hectic, and beggars can’t be choosers. We spent the next few days planning, hiding, visiting parks and eating and drinking. There was a bomb-ass Dai cucumber salad and Rainbow Trout dinner we threw together, but we were mostly doing slug impressions. We dodged hangouts with my childhood Cleveland friends because we simply weren’t up for it. It was all we could do to take deep metaphorical breaths and prepare for liftoff. The nasty flash cold I got didn’t help, either.
The pill of this adventure is something most people balk at to begin with let alone swallow, and my family, being more or less forced into the position of accomplices, have been as understanding and empathetic as they ever have been. Which is sometimes, seemingly, not at all. The magnitude of happenings in my parents’ household (my sister and her family are there temporarily while she and her husband lock down a house after a move from the south) helped us keep perspective. Neither of us really appreciate or even trust cheerleaders, and the genuine farewell embraces and well-wishes were icing on not overstaying a welcome.
We were infinitely happy to be on our way. It was a long series of struggle cuddles and tears saying goodbye to Moose, but as a family, we’re making the right call. The little furry bastard will be pleased as punch to live somewhere we can keep the windows open 365, maybe even as much as we will.
The next week was a swirling daze of solidifying plans and tying loose ends. We tried to soak up family time with large communal dinners and a trip to the Holden Arboretum. It would be Christmas before we saw everyone again, and with each visit, we seemed to be watching J’s nephew evolving into an articulate little trouble-maker through time-lapse photography. We tried to encourage Moose’s exploratory instincts and by the end of the week, he was confidently throwing the full 18 pounds of his weight around. We accepted advice, well-wishes, and said our emotional goodbyes. Fortes fortuna adiuvat.