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Excerpt, Essay 8, A Moving Experience

(An essay about household moves. It helps to know that at this point in the move I have lost my right slipper.)

Sandy sobbed when she gave away her cross-country skis a couple of weeks ago. “It’s the end of that part of my life,” she said. A neighbor we called in for a second opinion told her, “No one has used that kind of ski in twenty years,” but this did not help. I carefully did not add that Sandy had not used these skis in either New Jersey or New York for twenty-nine of the thirty years she has owned them, and that she was even less likely to use the skis in Palo Alto, which has the annual snowfall of, say, Cuba. This too would not have helped. When Sandy cried once more as she placed the skis on the curbside pile destined for the Salvation Army, even I briefly felt her grief and loss, though for over a decade I had secretly if unsuccessfully schemed for these skis to have an “accident” that would require their disposal, a fate that only rank cowardice prevents me from imposing on the cumbersome, unused rowing machine that has become part of my married life, smirking at me from the corners of a succession of garages.

Late that night, my eyes sprang open. The bedroom, once so comforting in its orthodox familiarity—bed, dressers, a chair to sit on while we pull on socks—now seemed like a place I no longer knew. Towers of boxes blocked the windows; I could not see the sky, or the city lights. The room even smelled different, its reassuringly female fragrances of drawer-sachets and face lotion replaced by the papery odors of stirred-up dust and new moving cartons.

I lay sleepless, torn by the fate of the bundt pan I had left on the curb, suddenly connecting with its humble orange self in a way I never had in the five years it had sat dusty and unused behind spare Christmas lights and our backup crockpot. The bundt pan was the only baking pan my mother had ever given me. I had assumed she had given it to me because she does not bake, and I do; though now, it occurred to me, perhaps she had baked a cake for some occasion in her own world, and when she gave me the pan it was a gentle cue for me to ask how it came in her life. Yet I had taken the bundt pan with barely a comment, as if I had been doing her a favor. Perhaps when she gave it to me she expected me to grab the car keys and run out for ingredients and then spend an afternoon baking a cake while we chatted—as if I, and for that matter, my sister, were not wary of sharing too much with my mother, who believes in broadcasting the details of her children’s lives to several hundred of her closest friends. Perhaps she would look for the bundt pan when she came to visit, and feel hurt that I had discarded it without asking her about it first. Perhaps she would tell her friends!

In the dark bedroom, huge cartons heaped with hangered clothes loomed like fantastic monsters erupting from the depths of some strange sea, shaking their serpentine heads at my dilemma. Was it morally defensible to retrieve the bundt pan? Would it be fair to Sandy, who had to give up her cross-country skis, which had a much longer provenance in her life? That argument had merit, I considered, twisting my head on the pillow in a useless attempt to get comfortable; after all, she had bought the skis herself, which was a much different case than if her mother had given her the skis. Surely the parental gift trumps the personal purchase. Then again, maybe she had purchased the skis with money that had special meaning—a gift from a parent, or a well-earned work bonus.

Perhaps, it occurred to me, Sandy’s tears over the departure of the skis were not simply over the abrupt, even cruel recognition of life’s passages that a household move can foist on us: the forgotten dresses now far too jeune fille, the once-favorite jeans we will never squeeze into again, the many bittersweet reminders that we are not only moving forward in space but in time, toward a final destination that shifts closer every decade. Perhaps there was a significant event in Sandy’s own personal history (that strange, sad, lonely, pre-Karen era) that I in my caddish self-absorption had not thought to probe for.

Why had I not asked her about the skis? We had spent twelve years following one another’s dreams and passions, packing and unpacking our lives, two nomads willingly balancing pots on our heads and wandering into the deserts of the unknown; and yet I had been so absorbed in divesting our world of those hated, cumbersome objects that I had not asked her what the skis meant to her. I lay in the dark, feeling lumpen and callow, unworthy of her investment in me, and wondering why she even bothered.

Sacrificing the bundt pan would be my small atonement. I saw myself watching the Goodwill truck trundle down the hill as I said to Sandy, So tell me about the skis—oh, and here’s the story of that bundt pan…

But I could not erase the image of my mother shyly handing me the bundt pan, no doubt while I was prattling on unthinkingly about old-growth forests or the price of gasoline. The pan grew in my mind until it was a massive orange orb floating above me accusingly.

I scrabbled my hands over several carton-tops until I found my glasses, donned my left slipper, then crept out of the bedroom and out of the house (biting my lower lip so that my squeals were muffled when I stubbed my bare right foot on half-filled boxes, as happened every other step). I crouched in my nightgown by the pile of goods at the curb. The midnight fog wisping in from the bay curled around my shivering shoulders as I debated with myself one last time. Control gave way: I was possessed by my possessions. Still torn by my conflicting loyalties and ashamed of being such a cheat, I rescued the bundt pan and whisked it into the house, pushing it under a large wad of packing paper in a half-filled carton.

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