Packing

No one told me my parents’ divorce would make me an excellent packer. That detail was absent from the Reddit threads and Tumblr blogs I visited in search of answers, as it was from the literature splayed on the table in the office of the psychotherapist my father brought me and my sister to see. But it was true: in spending every other weekend at Dad’s, I developed a mental checklist that cemented itself in my mind, and hasn’t budged since. The handful of times I forgot a crucial item, forcing Dad to drive all the way back to Mom’s to recover said history book or ballet shoe, ensured I never did so again.

As I grew older, I learned to derive pleasure from packing very little. There’s something empowering in the notion of traveling light—something reassuring in reminding yourself that the things needed to sustain you are few, that you are efficient, that at any moment you can pick up and leave and want for (almost) nothing. I am proud of myself when I pack light for a trip, not only because it saves me the pain of asking someone else to lift my carry-on into the overhead compartment, but because it means I have streamlined my life into a shape I can handle alone. I feel the same way when I pack a tote or backpack for a day running errands in the city, and remember a snack, my water bottle, a phone charger, an extra battery, a flannel to throw on if (okay, when) I get cold. The trick is never to over-pack, but to have handy anything and everything you might need. To be the best prepared of anyone around you. In this way, you beat the game.

Of course, there’s also something soothing in the process of packing itself: the folding, the rolling, the fitting of items together just so, like a real-world game of Tetris. At this point, my hands do the work automatically—again, a product of so many weekends away. There’s a satisfaction inherent in running through my mental checklist and finding it complete. Even better, over the years I’ve acquired packing accoutrements—suitcases, pouches, laptop sleeves, shoe bags—that are uniformly black and rectangular. They’re arrayed on my bed even now, ready to be zipped and flown to Florida. And I can’t deny that the sight of them pleases something primordial in my core.

In a way, this fondness for packing is an offshoot of my penchant for doing that keeps me functional even when my mind is spinning out. I’ve cried every day this week, overwhelmed by a deep-rooted fear that I am unlovable and unknowable, and each time my hands begin to move of their own accord, washing dishes, doling lentil soup into a Tupperware for lunch, packing or unpacking or re-packing my work or gym bag. The rhythm of these actions propels me forward, casting an aura of functionality around my body while my brain implodes and spirals ever deeper into worst-case scenarios. But when I finally break the surface of reality again, there are the clean dishes, there is the ready lunch, the packed bag, the suitcase filled with everything I’ll need for a few days away. A big part of growing up, I think, is learning to save yourself.

There are times when I crave the opposite: someone to still my hands, pull me close, tell me they know me, they love me, and everything will be fine—that it’s okay to rest for a moment. Another part of growing up is learning to be vulnerable in ways you thought you’d stamped out of yourself: shucking off a self-preservationist instinct in favor of trust. Believing a good thing can last. Relinquishing some control. Packing a little heavier, every now and then.

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Packing

The Lonely Writer’s Club: 3

ICYMI: I joined my first-ever writer’s group, which we dubbed — somewhat unoriginally — the lonely writer’s club. We meet every other week, so every two weeks I’ll post my free-writes from the group on here.

This week’s prompt was simply, after the election: What now?

My response to the election of Donald Trump has been to dress gayer. And while the question, “What does it mean to ‘look gay?’” has many contentious answers, mine is a snapback. Combat boots. Baggy leather pants and aggressive jackets. No makeup, rap music, and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ face. I snarl at every white man on the subway, wondering if he’s the asshole who decided my basic human rights are less important than economic policy.

I continued this philosophy on Saturday night. And, sitting on the subway to 8th Avenue with my headphones in, I felt a man tap me on the shoulder. He was sitting right next to me, and while I fumbled to pause Rae Sremmurd and remove an earbud, he leaned in close, waiting. My whole body tense, one hand inching toward the pepper spray on the key ring in my right pocket, I addressed him.

“Yes?”

“Do you know how to get to 59th Street?”

I wasn’t sold—we were on a Manhattan-bound L train going nowhere near 59th Street. And why, out of everyone on the train next to and across from him, did he ask me? Every synapse in my brain lit up like I was being held at gunpoint. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and pounded in my ears. I’d spent my week writing about hate crimes committed against black, Hispanic, and gay people by those who felt Trump’s win meant they could act with impunity. I was more than a little paranoid.

“You’ll have to transfer to the A/C/E,” I answered, a steely edge to my voice.

“Oh, okay. Which stop do I get off at?”

“The last one.”

I replaced the earbud. He wasn’t a particularly menacing man—his sweatpants and parka were clean, as were his shoes and fingernails. He’d stuffed a fuzzy beanie in his back pocket to reveal a fresh haircut. And I was used to men addressing me — asking for directions or tossing out an unsolicited, “I like your haircut” — without considering that I’m small, I’m female, and I’m traveling solo.

But I was wearing the hat and the pants and the jacket. And we were living in Trump’s America.

 

The Lonely Writer’s Club: 3