Goodbye to ibis. Goodbye to the Gulf of Mexico. Goodbye to alligators and armadillos. Goodbye to drive-through liquor stores. Goodbye to people dressed in suffocating costumes dancing on street corners in 95 degrees just to get one more driver to stop and buy stuff at a store in a strip mall. Goodbye to daily thunderstorms. Goodbye to smiling clerks and servers. Goodbye to the host at the gate to my friend’s apartment complex who asked me, “You all fixin’ to have some fun?” and laughed when I said, “It could happen.” Goodbye to Winn-Dixie, one of the only places where the clerks don’t always smile. Goodbye to Publix, where everyone seems genuinely happy. Goodbye to traffic jams on I-75. Goodbye to the giant confederate flag on I-75, the one that embarrasses us all. Goodbye to year-round porch-sitting. Goodbye to royal palm trees, still exotic to me after five years. Goodbye to Sandhill cranes in the mall parking lot. Goodbye to black widow spiders. Goodbye to cigar-sized grasshoppers. Goodbye to so many people I love. Goodbye to the places I didn’t love, like Bruce B Downs north of Fowler. Goodbye to my best excuse for using “y’all.” Goodbye to TPA, the easiest and most efficient airport I’ve ever been to. Goodbye to socklessness. Goodbye to the ubiquitous palmetto bugs and their ilk. Goodbye to hurricanes. Goodbye to the anoles my dog loves to chase. Goodbye to shorts worn with Ugg boots. Goodbye to decent iced tea served everywhere. Goodbye to the zebra longwing butterflies that liked the passion flower vine I planted. Goodbye to bringing a sweater to restaurants in the summer, and not in the winter. Goodbye to the voluptuous smell of gardenia and the velvet-heavy scent of jasmine. Goodbye to pelicans. Goodbye for now, Florida. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…
Whether it’s for an overnight trip or a move to another state, I hate packing. Every decision nearly paralyzes me–should I take these earrings or those? Do I have room for an extra pair of socks? Should I give away this book, though it was my grandmother’s, though I haven’t opened it in years? I want to live simply; I want to save everything, just in case I need it later. I want to get rid of the STUFF that is expensive to move or store, that weighs on my mind so that one of my recurring dreams is of having to move and never quite being able to gather everything. But then I pick up a card, ready to throw it out, and read it again, and see that it was given to me by a friend and it contains words of love, and I travel in memory…and then I put down the card, not having decided what to do with it, and look around me at the unfilled boxes, and despair. I contradict myself, like Whitman, “…I am large–I contain multitudes.”
But I like unpacking. I like opening a box and figuring out where those items should go in the new place. I even like opening my suitcase and putting away the things I took on that trip in their proper places. The decisions have already been made–the stuff was taken with me, and brought back. It is finite, having already been contained. And the old brass figurine of a terrier dog that was my grandmothers comes out of the box and is put on the shelf, clean from having been dusted before it was packed, and I am home.
There’s a lot of talk on the internet these days about being an introvert. There are tests that people take to define them as introverted or extroverted, this or that. Simplistically, introverts don’t like to be around people, and extroverts do. But I–sometimes I like to be around people and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I like to meet new people and sometimes I like to stay home from the party and read. Sometimes I like talking one-on-one, and sometimes I like talking in groups. And aren’t we all, really, like that? Some of both?
I’m not saying labels and categories are completely useless. But I do think we all contradict ourselves. We love to travel, and we love coming home. We hate being on the airplane, but we love glimpsing a new place from above, the mountains and trees so familiar and so strange. We love dreaming of going to Ireland, but hate planning the actual route to drive and where to stay. We feel a bit sorry for ourselves when we’re sitting on the couch for another Friday night watching Netflix, and we dream of doing something so relaxing when we’re standing awkwardly at a stranger’s party with a drink in one hand and a fake smile plastered on.
But this, I’m sure of: I ALWAYS hate packing. It goes too slow and I get nothing done, or it goes too fast and I just KNOW I’m taking something I should have thrown out. Packing makes me feel like I’m shrinking, like I’m losing certainty; I don’t know where that ball of garden twine is, and what if I suddenly need it? And it gives me more reasons to judge myself, because inevitably I’m far less organized than I would like to be, and packing highlights disorganization. It is, by nature, imperfect.
I think now I will put aside the boxes and tape, find my tennis shoes, and take a walk. Later, no doubt, I’ll dream, again, about being unable to gather all of my things–the books that don’t fit in the one box I have with me, the jewelry lying in a tangled mess on the dresser, the lamp I simply cannot carry down the stairs with this load, and the truck already driving away…and then I will wake up, and it will be nearly as awful in the waking world.
And then, finally and too soon, one day I will be unpacking boxes at the other end of my journey, rediscovering the parts of myself and my life that I had to put away for a little while.
I have a hundred arguments for why I’m unloveable. I can list my flaws and my mistakes–going back decades–more easily than I can list what I had for breakfast. When I’m sad or hurt or anxious, I settle into my own particular groove, a chorus my best friends know all too well: If anyone knew the real me, the me who isn’t trying to be what other people want, then no one–absolutely no one–would love me. And I’m talking all kinds of love here: familial, friendly, romantic. This is the voice I hear in my worst moments, the faux-logical voice that makes complete sense and comes to this conclusion despite everything I have read, thought, felt, heard, and tried to be.
On most of the bad days, I wish my miserable, pathetic inner voice said something else–anything else.
At a drive-in movie this summer, the fireflies speaking in light over the surrounding cornfields, I cried during the intermission. This was not a crying movie: it was The Lone Ranger, the reboot with Johnny Depp and that other guy. But I had stuff going on in my life, like we all do, and in my case it was stuff that involved a lot of uncertainty and change. I stood leaning against the car with an old friend who had already put up with a lot of my crying and worrying the previous month, and I couldn’t stop the damn tears, and I told him I realized, finally, that despite years of thinking I was a fairly balanced, fairly confident person, I really, truly feared that no one could ever love the real me.
“Welcome to being human,” he said, and he let me get tears and snot on his t-shirt, and then he said something that made me laugh, and then we watched the 2nd half of the movie.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says some pretty scary stuff. Here’s the scariest: “We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.” WHAT? This seems to confirm my worst fears, to reinforce what my high school self knew in her core: I will never belong. Outsider forever. Get used to it, geeky girl who likes to read.
But of course, Brown’s book goes on. And eventually it gets to this: “If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”
Which, to me, reads like a version of Whitman: “…re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” It also reads like an echo of Buddhism, suggesting that to live an authentic life–to seek enlightenment and understanding–is in itself the goal.
And these ideas comfort me. They do. Perhaps more comforting, however, is this thought: when I love someone (family, friend, lover), I love that person’s authentic self. For me, a big part of loving someone is wanting to get closer to that authentic self, to be privilege to someone’s fears and joys and inner contradictions.
My friends, I wish I had The Answer. If you’re having one of those days, if your miserable inner voice is whispering similar poisons to you, I can only advise you to try all your tricks–meditate, walk, exercise, watch dumb tv, beg someone to tell you something nice about yourself, eat that pint of ice cream–and don’t beat yourself up for trying them, even if they don’t work. Especially if they don’t work.
It’s terrifying, this thing we’re stuck doing, trying to live. Admitting to what you fear is also admitting to what you hope for. For me, after the tears, the sighing, the moping, the too much or too little sleeping, I try to remember the hope. We aren’t guaranteed, any of us, that we’ll get what we hope for. But then, we aren’t guaranteed that we won’t. (Take that, evil inner voice. Nothing is certain.)
Breathe. Keep breathing.
My mother’s father was a lawyer. When my mother was a child, he worked for the IRS, and family lore tells us that he was one of the lawyers who went to Chicago and helped put away Al Capone for tax evasion. My grandmother was extremely worried the whole time, we are told. And then my grandfather died, when my mother was just 14. I never met him.
But my mother adored him, though she was kept from him at times because he was “resting,” because he had been diagnosed with hypertension and the thought was that playful, rambunctious children would make his condition worse.
Other than these things, what I mostly know about my grandfather was that because of the hypertension, he was on a low salt diet. Because of that, my mother never put salt on anything. And so I, too, am sensitive to salt, and avoid traditionally salt-loaded foods like potato chips.
But then my siblings and I went through some old documents and pictures in a box, and came across my grandfather’s New Year resolutions for 1924. All of them made me laugh, but here are some of my favorites. Clearly I inherited my sweet tooth and my flirting habits from him.
January 2, 1924