I moved 21 times before I turned 12. That makes 22 different homes and no, my parents weren’t in the military. 22 apartments but only two school systems. So actually, all that moving wasn’t as disruptive as you might think.
I mean, sure, it was draining. And we did reach a point where we stopped unpacking the essentials and lived out of boxes.
Boxes. Most of us live in them already: big boxes with doors and windows, divided into smaller boxes with doors and archways. And we live out of them too: cabinets, closets, drawers and shelves. And we create them: boxes in our minds and walls in our hearts. When I was a kid, some of our boxes just happened to be made out of cardboard.
With each move, we had fewer and fewer boxes because when you’re serially schlepping, your “I need this” list shrinks faster than a wet sponge in the desert. And there’s not enough time to determine if an item belongs on your “I want this” list or your “what was I thinking” list. Which means just about everything goes.
Eventually, you realize that your “I need this” list is a lot shorter than you thought. Which is why all the packing and schlepping and sharing bedrooms with my brother or my mother or my mother’s friend’s daughter didn’t hurt all that badly. I had what I needed: food, water, shelter, clothing and above all, family. Wherever we went, I was loved. Wherever we lived, I was home.
But the truth is, I had more than I needed: a good education, Pinwheels for dessert, a Cabbage Patch doll, two cats, friends, books, Little House on the Prairie, sunshine, grass beneath my feet, autumn in New England, white Christmases, day trips to the ocean…
At the age of 12, I lived with my mother and two-year old brother in a two-bedroom apartment. My grandparents lived in the apartment next door. The previous year, we had lived with them, in their two-bedroom apartment. And before that, we lived in the apartment above them.
It was your standard, late 70’s/early 80’s apartment complex – kind of contemporary on the outside with natural wood siding and sliding windows. Inside, the floors were lined with plush carpet, the walls painted white and the rooms, small. Boxes inside of boxes.
Kenny died that year, at his mother’s apartment. Kenny, my little brother’s biological father, my stepfather, the closest thing I’d had to a father. He was 29. Twenty. Nine. After several years of suffering from rapidly progressing Multiple Sclerosis and its complications, that funny, kind, gentle man was gone.
Living in the wake of a loved ones’ sickness and death is turbulent and disorienting and sometimes the waves overtake you and you don’t know which way is up and you can’t breathe and you can’t swim because you’re just so, so tired.
I don’t remember much about that summer. A few things maybe. Vacation in a cabin on a lake in New Hampshire. Getting ready for junior high school. Explaining death and heaven to a two-year old.
My mother bought her first house. Just a few miles up the road from our apartment, she found an oversized raised ranch on a half acre of land. A beautiful house on a beautiful property. Sometimes I think of it as Kenny’s last gift to us. If we had to make our home without him, we would do it in one place. No more roaming. No more cardboard boxes.
My grandparents moved in with my mother, brother and me. And we had more than we needed: apple trees and a two-car garage and good schools and friends and a gravel driveway and a swimming pool and a garden.
But we were still living in a box, only bigger and more permanent than the others. We had more room and more time to accumulate items from our “I want this” and “what was I thinking” lists. And we lived out of nicer boxes: wooden cabinets and bigger closets. And we sometimes created boxes in our minds and walls in our hearts, because that’s what hurting people do.
But we were together. We had each other. And candlelit talks on the porch when the power went out and dinner in the dining room and Wheel of Fortune and new family members
and puppies and spontaneous renditions of King of the Road
and birthday parties and graduations and weddings and baby showers
and my grandma playing the piano and Christmas trees strung with cranberries and popcorn
and love…so much love…
And I knew, that wherever we lived as long as we were together, we would be home.
Written in response to Writing 101: Size Matters.