Packing it in
As I sit here on the eve of my forty-seventh birthday, I find myself reflecting on all the ways we delude ourselves that the clock ain’t ticking, that that dot on the horizon – the one in the black robe, wielding the scythe and doing the Seventh Seal dance? – isn’t looming larger every year. Some deny the truth through drink or drug. Some, by fending off the aging process through diet and exercise. Some, by altering their appearance with nips, plugs, tucks and dyes. Some, by inappropriate wardrobe choices. (Girlfriend, piece of advice: The flab spilling out over the top of your daughter’s jeans is bad enough; nobody wants see yours. Lose the day-old Muffin Top.)
I must admit I am partially guilty of some of these things (wearing Chucks and drinking beer like a frat boy, for example), although none that cause pain or discomfort, which rules out surgery, diets, cramming my ass into ill-fitting pants and combing my hair. I developed my own strategies over time for playing Stall the Clock, strategies that were more sweeping and, I would like to think, more elegant. They included:
• Opting to not have children, so you’re always the kid of the family. (Works especially well if you are, as am I, the youngest – and cutest.)
• Deferring commitment. As someone who didn’t start her professional career until she was in her thirties (Get out – you’re actually going to pay me to write this crap?), I say there’s no better way to avoid adulthood – besides living in your parents’ basement – than working a series of dead-end jobs. Except, perhaps, a series of dead-end relationships. Nothing screams extended adolescence like yet another beery, teary, boo-hoo-hoo, a boy broke my heart-fest. Especially when the boys have long stopped being boys and are now full-grown jerks.
• Having two sets of friends: one, your “grown-up” friends, who own things and have kids and careers and commitments and who make you want to go on a bender every time they start talking about their MBAs and IRAs and PTAs; the other, your younger, rock ‘n’ roll/artist friends, who are freewheeling and carefree and don’t start their parties until after your bedtime, and whoseboyfriends don’t have ear hair. (Of course, you have to watch out for the latter camp slipping into the former. When you finally have to start referring to all your former rock ‘n’ roll friends as your grown-up friends, it’s time to give it up.)
That said, the most sweeping, elegant strategy of all, the one thing that really keeps you acting your shoe size, is apartment life, with its inferred assurance that in a moment’s notice you can throw your few possessions in some boxes, stow them in your mother’s attic and take off on some mad, mad Kerouacian odyssey. Even if you never venture as far as Westbrook, the mere knowledge flight is possible keeps adulthood at bay.
Because I spent most of my youth living out of boxes and the back of my car, couch surfing and apartment hopping, I became a master packer. I could dismantle and set up my stereo components with the speed of a pit stop crew, break down my 6’x6′ book shelf and have all my books sorted and crated by the time it took someone to fetch the U-Haul truck. I flaunted my packing skills like other women do their baking – and whatever else real, grown-up women do – talents. It was one of the few things I could do well that could be called useful.
When I moved back to Maine for good, the apartment hopping started to slow down. I stayed in my first apartment for six years and really put down roots in my second. Even when I joined lives with my then-apartment-dwelling husband, we chose to abide in mine. I did move my office out and into the State Theatre building, but that was a halfhearted effort, taking a thing or two at a time in the back of my Honda. That was not a proper move.
All of this is to say (A point? This column has a point? That’s like finding a toy surprise in the bottom of your box of Wheatina!) that I may have been a bit overconfident in my abilities two-plus years ago when it came time to move into our new home. With just a week to go before we needed to vacate our apartment and my downtown office, I hadn’t so much as removed a painting from the wall or put a book in a box. Somewhere in my dim brain I was picturing taking down dorm rooms, studio apartments, shared spaces. I figured I’d set aside a day or so, put on some loud girl music and knock the packing thing off my list in no time.
Except I guess I kind of forgot that I had, by then, been living in the same apartment for nearly a decade, and there were now a second person’s possessions to be moved, too. I guess I also forgot about the two storage bins in the basement filled not with just sports equipment or a couple errant boxes, but crammed full of furniture, old fans, tires, record albums, plant pots, floor lamps, my shopping bag collection, my box collection, my rock collection and three, two-ton cartons marked “FRAGILE” – which were, in fact, back issues of the New Yorker I had moved from West Street years prior. (Packing hint: No one questions a box’s contents when they think it’s breakable. If you want something stupid moved, mark it “FRAGILE.”)
On our first day of packing, despite the fact we had risen at five, I noticed I was still working on the dining room come evening. OK, so maybe this wasn’t going to be such a snap after all.
After five full days, we were finally as close to ready as we were going to be for the arrival of Team Peavey, who was booked to show up at the crack of Saturday morning. I had never physically worked so hard in all my life and didn’t much care for it, a sentiment summed up by three remarks scrawled on various to-do lists from that time: “Moving is like grief: an excellent excuse for being a mess.” “It occurs to me, people actually get up and do this – toil – every day.” And, my favorite: “Honest to God, how many times can you break the same fingernail?”
The night before the move, we had an early dinner at Norm’s and then fell into bed. I’m sure I didn’t have the energy to assess, but if I had, I might’ve noted that there was no more mother’s attic to stow stuff in, since my mom had sold her farmhouse and moved into a condo the year prior. No more boo-hoo-hoos and no more jerks, with this lovely man lying by my side. No more restaurant jobs or pondering what I was going to do for a living. No more aimless flight. And, by the end of the weekend, there would be no more apartment life – no more neighbor noise or rent increases, but also no more picking up the phone and letting someone else deal with the dead furnace or broken pipe. But I was ready.
I was, after all, 44 years old, and it was time. Time to grow up.
And if you believe that crap, Elizabeth Peavey has a Hot Wheels collection she’d like to sell you.