The exit ramp out of limbo is a construction zone. The cars are crawling. Day workers wave orange traffic flags. Roaring diesel machines of construction and deconstruction, rusted metal dinosaurs, loom, swing, crunch, guffaw, and weep as candy colored cars creep by.
Noise, like shaken sand, reaches into crevices and remote crannies of any given collection of things. While jack hammers hammer the alley to pieces during these thick days of summer, my hoarder neighbor begins the Herculean task of cleaning his apartment. The smell that emanates from his floor is pungent. It wafts through the building, down the elevator shaft, and lingers in the lobby. It creeps between the sand and noise of the construction/ deconstruction zone. It drives cockroaches from their home and into the hallways and apartments of others, proving that life can get louder in an infinite number of ways.
For two days, I escape the grating noise of construction for the hum of motorcycle motors, the beating sun, and smell of hot asphalt. I’m acquiring my motorcycle license via the Motorcycle Safety School protocol. I ride a cracked scooter, 125cc engine, the dashboard pieced together with clear packing tape. I’m the runt of the litter, puttering at half speed behind the motorcycles of my peers. This new-to-me form of locomotion shakes my frazzled nerves. Hypnotized by the thrum of engines, the sweltering heat, the exhaustion and exhaust, I ride my little scooter into a fence. Afterwards, I putter with such an absence of speed that I am a wonder to instructor and fellow student alike. I am The One Who Might Not Pass.
The first day, I am a novelty. The second a disaster. Both days, I am the underdog.
And yet, I pass my test.
Happy midlife crisis, everyone!
I pack a box every day for three weeks straight. I start with a set of smart blue bins, bought for me by the kindest friend I have, one who carries me from point to point with a style so subtle, I don’t realize that we were moving until we’ve moved.
In these bins, I place things I don’t immediately need.
I buy clear plastic bins in a manic panic at Target on a day I can no longer take the noise of the construction. Into them go the things I know I might want to find. Recycled cardboard boxes catch books, antique photo album, vitamins, hard drives. Each box gets a cursory note, written on a post-in with a failing sharpie pen. “Inspiration,” says one, “sheets and blankets,” “ideas,” “tea.”
Then come the cardboard boxes from Home Depot. Kitchen supplies, a seemingly endless collection of forks and knives, dishes, pots and pans, can openers, turkey basters, candy thermometers… coffee pots, blenders, whisks, and towels.
Like at the end of a catered affair, when guests wander from their tables, and the cater waiters are pour coffee, the enterprise looses its way. Toilet paper mixes with light bulbs, socks, and staplers. Jewelry, paper, pencils, and pillows. The more I pack, the more I toss, the more I give away, the more I seem to own. Endless piles of things I need and don’t need. Little bits of life, like sand and noise, squeeze into the cracks of everything.
Overwhelmed by stuff, I call for reinforcements.
My sister comes to help.
The good and the bad thing about sisters is that they think they know you better than anyone else. The other good and the bad thing about sisters is sometimes they do. When you tell them that they are wrong, they assume you are lying to them.
The best and worst thing about being the youngest sister, is that you always have someone who, even if shorter than you, you look up to.
The worst worst thing about being a youngest sister is that you spend your early years running after your more ambulatory siblings, and never, ever catch up.
The best thing about being a youngest sister, is that every once in a while your older siblings will stop, wait, and maybe even walk back to help you dust off your knees when you fall.
On that note, let’s have a word about U-Haul.
I reserve a 10′ truck, one way to Dover. It’s to be packed with my things, now shoved mercilessly into bins – soy sauce, Sriracha, shampoo, and soap, and driven by the same friend who carries me long distances as well as short. That’s the plan.
Until U-Haul tries to send me 25 uneasy miles both ways – out of my way – to pick up the vehicle.
I formulate a new plan.
I reserve a 9′ cargo van, round trip from a U-Haul place closer to me. That friend who carries me long distances and short, who once convinced me to release 150 ladybugs into my apartment to help with my ailing plants, yet who I still trust implicitly, will drive.
I tell the lady on the phone that I need it for two days. She says, “no problem.” There will be no rush driving it back to New York.
Until U-Haul reveals that they are only renting it to me for 24 hours. They tell me this when I pick up the vehicle.
“But, I rented it for two days.”
“It’s in the computer for one.”
“I rented it for two.”
“I can’t change the computer.”
“I will be late.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
We assess the smallness of the vehicle. I tell my friends who are helping me move that my desk, my yellow chair, my clothes, and my toothbrush are priority items. My dog spends the day hiding in her bag.
If my life in New York was a movie, moving would be towards the end of act three – a montage of packing and repacking, pushing heavy boxes into the hallway, the flagging elevator, the van… a perfect bookend to my arrival almost 22 years ago, when I stepped off the train with a cello and a suitcase. My oldest New York friend, who I met my first day in the city, and my newest friend, who I met a few months ago, are helping with the move out. In the last moment of a perfect movie, you’d see my hand switch off the apartment lights, lock the door. You’d see my feet walk out the building’s front door.
But, that’s not the end.
In the moments before I fall asleep in my friend’s guest bedroom in New Hampshire I realize I’ve forgotten my dresser. It stood lonely in the corner of my almost empty bedroom as we moved things out of the living room. Immediately after this realization, I am hit with the overwhelming need to sweep my floors. And so, when my friend and the U-Haul van drive back to New York, I go with them.
I sweep. I clean. I surrender more left behind things to the basement of my building. My friend who has carried me all this way and I drink beer on the roof of the building. The sunset is scattered and beautiful, as if five different artists took turns on a single canvas. In one part, the tops of grey cumulous clouds are tinged with fire. Behind, against the bright blue sky, golden clouds stretch out. A salmon sunset hits the southern sky. And a charcoal artist has smudged streaks over the watercolor blues, golds, and pinks.
The movie could end there, too.
But it doesn’t.
My friend who has carried me all this way and back again, carries me further, to White Plains, where I sleep in a guest room furnished for a little boy. In the morning, he carries me back to the train, which carries me to the bus that carries me back to New Hampshire.
Before I step out of the car in the White Plains railroad station parking lot, he hands me a lottery ticket with a flick of his wrist. It’s the same ticket that’s been under a magnet on my refrigerator for a month or two. I bought it in New Hampshire. It has the stickiest part of a sticky note stuck under the numbers. “You won $1,” it says.
“You forgot this,” he says.
And that, my friends, is a good place to end.