When you first rode a bike, the task might as well have been changing a river’s course. Unforgiving and clueless you struggled, chest in your throat and lungs in your feet, hurtling through space’s maw. I remember the handlebars swinging from the invisible monsters pulling at them, felt the dead weight of gravity lunging in random directions. Somehow, there was some point when I could wobbly pilot the bike down our flat street. I can’t separate my memories of getting on and falling from the stock scene in movies, but there was some kind of progression, a little better, building bit by bit, and then it was possible. Practice makes the extraordinary invisible and mundane. It takes the horror away.
Moving is something many of us do too often, others not often enough. It exercises valuable skills in organization, spatial relationships, anxiety control. It was always exciting, at least for me. What my parents felt my eight-year-old or younger mind couldn’t appreciate: it was always a welcome adventure. Leaving for college I had some grasp of why some I went to high school with never left their parents’ zip code. As much as I wanted to leave a small, brittle center grabbed every handhold and wheezed. It wanted the same bathroom, the same walk to the mailbox, the same set of turns to a now irrelevant school–at least, I think it did. I kept going with its grey electricity behind my eyes. You can only escape to growth if you move.
Recent moves have been abrupt and dissociative. I planned what I could, which was really very little: even in the best moves the items are packed, the conveyance reserved, and there is just hope that everyone comes at the right time and sends things on the right way. Moving is stressful, wellwishers assure me. I don’t feel stress so much as anticipation of things being ticked off and schedules met. Putting things in the storage space and returning the truck on time are unambiguous, discrete tasks: ideal for men. It feels good to get everything all lined up and worked out. That is the key–all movement forward in space and time.
Three Saturdays ago was a real move to a “real” home, a place with an address and neighbors sharing walls. All the trepidation of buying the house now irrelevant with its completion, I should at least import my belongings. I have felt no rush which I see as a blessing, the only sense of time pressing for when I get the truck. It doesn’t feel immense or transformational–wobbly without training wheels but possible. It feels like something that can be accomplished and done.
The UHaul place is like all the others: orange and white trucks with full-color graphics on the sides run through with scratches and dents, a tired guy behind the desk handing over multipart forms I sign. I am texting, texting: getting the truck now, will be a little late, not too late, leaving now. Ok, let us know, the texts come back. The day is almost too brilliant to see.
Fourteen years ago now I had a big yellow Ryder one of these, long as they come with a car dolly on the back. It was almost too big to handle, terrifying on the old Fort Worth Mixmaster: narrow lanes and people barreling down giant Texas pickups the big truck rendered toys. I realized I forgot the houseplants on the sidewalk halfway to the freeway, turned around for them to find them still there, lined up in their pots. The freeway the second time had all the fear, and it didn’t let up until Amarillo.
Part of me wishes I had been a trucker. You are always moving then, piling on the miles and working against the clock and the man. But it seemed like a perfect male job, especially just out of high school: a clear set of procedures, an unambiguous and easily understood goal. You got to see the country and nobody yelled at you all the time; roll the window down and be out in the new where. The cowboy mystique still hovers around the edges, a romance of the road now mostly gone to motorcycles, I think. With the truck there is the rough and tumble of the blue collar but contained in honest work. I still recommend it to kids that seem the least bit adventurous. Just stay out there for a year and save the money.
In the present, the little truck drives like a pickup truck: it feels solid if the interior is miserly. A fuel efficiency gauge jostles its little white needle as Click and Clack yammer on the Saturday morning radio. It is not hard to stay green.
Between all the texts I make decent time and Eric and Beylan have not waited too long. The place is deserted. I take the two locks off and lock them together and hang them on the gearshift. The ramp rolls out and lands with bang to satisfy the heartiest middle school boy.
Determined to maximize his anaerobic workout, Eric all but lunges my largest possessions up the ramp. Being an empty bookshelf and a file cabinet with the drawers taken out weight isn’t a challenge, but the speed still impresses. The seven-dollar dolly gets the boxes of books on; Beylan and I wrestle the couch halves. In a flash it is done. The storage ladies, broad hipped with towering hair, putter by on their cart: nope, don’t have to do anything, you need us again, you know where we are. The dark grey square that smells of moths and sunburned pine is clean and empty. Standing in the threshhold it is one of the few times I don’t want to linger and take something in. It’s just a box they’ll rent to someone else.
At the new place Kymberlee and Oscar come simultaneous with my arrival. I have an uncomfortable feeling that everyone looks to me for guidance and instruction at the same time I am host and reliant on their charity. It is hard to be kind as fast as I need to be wondering where the truck should go. After unlocking the place I cross the busy street and inch down the steep, strange driveway until somebody yells. I stop before smashing into an eave. I am grateful for everything then, and stuff a broom under the back wheels as a chock. It’s the only thing I have.
I trust them to get the stuff out, put it in reasonable places, take adequate care. Eric and Oscar lunge the washing machine up the stairs and into place, heaving the thing Kevin and I could barely get up the first flight of stairs. I am on the lower end pushing, but hardly push at all. Oscar and Eric confer like football dads and wrestle the thing up like football dads never would.
People ask me where things go and I mostly tell them I trust their judgement. The sofa fits exactly in the available space. Books come out of boxes even though there is a question of why this is done, since it’s not known if I’ll want the one lonely bookcase there.
People come and go. Things come and go. They stop and talk and meeting the first or second time seem to hit it off. I feel the delicious open pressure of everything working out and coming together. It feels whole and clean.
The truck is empty before noon. It is due at three. The place is a mess of boxes, packing, random objects in random order, but it is all inside. Beylan has unpacked all my dishes, glasses and cookware; Lana has hung all my clothes by fabric and color. It is all done so quickly. Sun streams through the new windows.
Returning the truck, the same tired guy reads the miles and prints a receipt off a handheld device. Getting in my own car feels like getting inside a small, well-fitted glove, and I realize the hardest thing today has been turning the truck around in the gas station. I give myself a few seconds to sit in the warm car–warm from the sun–and realize how the phase is changing.
We have lunch down in a cool Georgetown eatery, Georgetown being the cool part of town just under the freeway from me. A brewery is having a huge tasting event and the city’s twenty- and early-thirty-something coolerati have turned out in their thick square glasses and ragged haircuts to wait in line. We proceed to a place Kymberlee recommends, all high ceilings and soft colors but with recognizable and excellent food. The talk is dynamic and far-reaching and I struggle through a heavy haze, but nobody mentions it. We are there a long time and I am happy for the company and the closeness, like something out of college except we are urbane now, unpretentious now.
Walking back I realize I am really in the city now–not as downtown as I’d like, but close to places of gritty interest and not far from everything else. It’s not a bad walk to where I’ll get the bus, to where there is good pizza, the music of bars. The freeway, the airport–their closeness comforts me. The city is alive.
Everyone breaks away when we return, though Kymberlee stays to talk. Aren’t you excited to have your own place? You need a base, a grounding. Does it help you feel safe? I don’t know then. Unpacking boxes brings complicated and unanticipated realizations–a conflicted, simultaneous sense of failure and promise. It’s not like when I was eight and then made box forts in the driveway. I have to write checks to live here.
I know a little more now. At first it is uncomfortable, brittle, empty and strange. The stuff doesn’t fit: it has the shape of different places, a whole shell of a different past. Ikea helps, though: all the shelves to hold the things are new, with a different shape. They are clean and perfect. The dryer goes where it’s supposed to go, with the cheaper exhaust hose that works better; the desk goes together with the new bit set I get from the hardware store and the rooms take some shape. The bookcase that was half-filled downstairs is taken upstairs and reloaded with books. Old books–books had since high school, books rescued from the rain in college–look out from the landing and fit well there. Boxes are unpacked and the fridge is turned on. I can walk through most spaces and they are arranged for human habitation, if not yet really lived in. It’s getting better. At moments, it feels fun.
Kymberlee talks with me for a while on that sunny afternoon, about her school wrapping up, about creative challenges, about the way forward. She asks me to come dance with her on Sunday at a club she likes, not far from the new place. Movement loosens you up, keeps you directed. You should come.
She is right. It’s taking too long, and I could be farther along, but the moving is done. I go to dance with her on Sunday and mostly watch, mostly talk, mostly enjoy being somewhere on Sunday night and knowing there is nothing to fear. Friends have done the heavy lifting, and now all I have to move is myself.