Saturday night in Albuquerque, and I'm feeling distinctively melancholy. I've been packing up the house since I got home from work tonight, and though I've packed up my things and moved twelve times now since high school, all this packing takes me back to last summer, when I was packing up my darling apartment on the corner of Main and 4th in Grinnell. The last time I packed, Cam came over and helped me wrap all my dishes in newspaper and fit them into (only) two boxes. Ali came over, found me on the floor of my bedroom surrounded by papers and books and other assorted garbage, and immediately began to throw things away for me. Jamie came and dragged me off to the pub on my last full night in Iowa. And Cam, Adam, Ali, and Jamie helped me pack up my truck (Ali could be a bricklayer, for her amazing skills at stuffing as much as possible into my tiny truck).
Some thoughts from leaving Grinnell:
10:30 pm Thursday night 14 August 2003 901 ½ Main G-nell
Just said goodbye to Cam, for a few months at least if he doesn’t make it back here in time to say goodbye tomorrow. I sent him off with part of my novel, a vanilla coke, some hugs, and a bunch of my furniture, including my papysan chair, the old brown fur couch, my bed, my desk, the stereo shelf, some rugs, some other shelves, the big wooden shelf I had all the dog food on... and he gave me a check for $100!! And the assurance that I mean just as much to him as he does to me... he said he’d never been so sad in his life, between me leaving and his grandmother dying and school starting... what a great guy. So lucky to have him in my life. He spent almost 2 hours tonight helping me pack up my kitchen stuff. And now I’m going to the pub so I don’t get too cry-y. I told him that after he left in June, I got all cry-y, and he said that he’d probably cry in the truck tonight on the way back to Des Moines. But we agreed that it takes a stronger person to let yourself feel those sad feelings than it does to suppress them....
2:40 am later
It’s nearly 3 and I’m not at all tired. The night is misty, humid, and warm, & I’m listening to Radiohead alone in my increasingly empty apartment. In the back of this legal pad are old notes from freshman year, the beginning of a letter to our prospie Anne, some Spanish, some notes back and forth between Tori and me. Tomorrow I will throw them away, but tonight they stand witness to the five years of my life I’ve spent in this amazing place. I can’t believe I’m leaving. I’m leaving tomorrow – tonight is my last night in Grinnell. It hurts me. The weight of all these years sits heavy on my chest like an asthma attack. All the nights here. All the deep, long talks with people I love like Jamie & Ali & Cam & Carrie & Kevin & Mary & Tim & Tori & everyone else... all the walks... how well I know all the streets, this sky, these stars... how I’ve seen this land safely through 5 autumns, five winters, 5 springs. This is the first autumn of my life – I mean, well... of the last 5 years, I guess, but when I say my life it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration — that I’m not coming back to Grinnell. It’s autumn and I’m leaving Grinnell & everything seems backward & upside down. When J & I were talking...Jamie said something [...] and I said, “See, and when you say that, I have this feeling —” I put my hand over my heart and Jamie nodded. “This heavy sense of love – and loss – and hope – and deep sadness ...” Jamie nodded again, knowing what I meant — and right now I’m feeling all that and more about Grinnell, and about Iowa, and all that I’ve done and been and learned and loved here. This place, this town and this college and these people — are my home just as much as Oregon and Madison are, but the difference is that the people who make Oregon and Madison home will always be there, whereas the same is not true for Grinnell. In three or five or ten years all my beloved Grinnell friends will be gone, and though I’ll be able to come home to these streets and trees and cornfields, I’ll never be able to come home to the same Grinnell that I’m leaving tomorrow.
A part of me doesn’t want to sleep at all, just wants to sit awake all night and see this town through one last night under my care, watch the sky ease into one more dawn before my loving vigil. I feel so lost already... and though I am excited about my move, I realize that I’m complicating, forever, my life so that I’ll never be able to feel like I’m home without feeling at least a little bit homeless or displaced again. In the desert I will miss the cornfields, and in the midwest I’ll miss the mountains. What was that Richard Jackson quote? "Just when we begin to trust in the moonlight we notice how many stars it erases – it is not easy."
2 police officers, strolling down the street, look up and see me sitting in my window, and wave. Radiohead is perfect for the quiet, sad, weird mood I’m in. As if anything could accurately describe what I am at this moment, on the eve of my farewell to Grinnell.
It's strange to be leaving this house, because though -- as my mother keeps reminding me -- it's not a particularly friendly or warm place, it's been my only home since I left Iowa. And it's true that this house has never felt like home in the same way that 1017 High Street or 901 1/2 Main Street did, nevertheless, this is the place where I first made my life in New Mexico. But then, we all know how terrible I am at saying goodbye....
I'll feel better this time tomorrow, when the bulk of my belongings are ensconced in Lisa's house, when I begin again to make a home for myself here among the cholla and the pinon, the epic skies and the many faces of the mountains.
I'm moving across town, the Madison equivalent of moving from a little house on, say, West Mifflin, to a big house out on Lake Kegonsa (the Grinnell equivalent of moving from High Street to Newton). It's a 25 minute drive from Vassar Dr to Del Ray, more if there's traffic. A completely different neighborhood, a different demographic, a different feel. Where I live now, the houses are all smushed together (I can hear every conversation my neighbors have when they're in their garage and I'm in my backyard, or when they're outside and I have my windows open -- though it's not as bad as our house in Boston, where you could practically reach out from our kitchen window and touch the next house over) and the neighborhood is full of grad students, twenty-somethings, and young families. In order to see the Sandias from my house, you have to leave the yard, walk down the block to the corner, and look east -- they're off in the distance.... Lisa's house -- my new home, for now -- has such a huge yard that it almost seems rural. The neighbors are far away (though you can hear the peacocks screaming a few houses down, no problem) and the mountains are close. You can't not see the mountains, from Lisa's. It's a beautiful, beautiful place, and I'll be very lucky to call it home for a while. But for now, for tonight -- the last night in my house on Vassar Drive -- I'm sad to be packing and leaving, and missing all the people who mean home.
"...But every once in a while I miss Iowa, even though I only lived there for a few years.”
“Was it hard to leave?”
She nods, still staring into the fire. “Yes, it was.... I remember giving all my furniture and plants away to my closest friends like each was a promise. Like my things could take my place in their lives. Like, here take this chair and think of me every time you sit in it.” She’s quiet a moment, thinking, but he doesn’t say anything, and after a breath she continues. “I guess a part of me thought that my stuff could watch over my friends, too. Here, take this lamp, that aloe plant, and you’ll be safer. You’ll be okay. And I thought —”
“I thought, if I leave all my things with these people, it’s a commitment to see them again. I didn’t realize then how insignificant things were....”