Times of transition are hard because we know so well what we’re losing, but we don’t know what we may be gaining. ~ Marilyn Sewell
On our last morning in Madison, I awoke, donned my glasses, and surveyed the scene.
Our mattress was adrift in a sea of empty blond hardwood that stretched to bare white walls. Just one pile of bags hunkered in a corner. Gone were the bureaus, the hanging clothes, the framed pictures. Light spilled through the French doors, behind which the sunroom beckoned, its floor clean and uncluttered without the futon and desk.
The cats stretched their paws at the foot of the mattress and looked at me with long, pensive faces, like furry little orphans on a life raft. Never since the dim memories of kittenhood had they been through such upheaval. I chuckled and petted them. I wished I could explain that they were still safe. We are like gods to our pets: We know much more than them, and they have no choice but to practice helpless faith in us.
I murmured Ron awake. We had a lot to do. Our trip across the country promised to be complicated, and it would take hours to get out the door.
It was fortunate that I’d started macrobiotics and regained some strength over the past week. I’d still been too frail to move larger items, but friends had helped Ron carry furniture and boxes down the stairs to our pods that waited at the curb, while other friends and I had wrapped delicate items and tidied up our place. I was, once again, grateful for others’ help.
We were embarrassed by the quantity of our possessions. I couldn’t fathom how they had become so numerous, because I thought we’d been disciplined about this. When we’d moved in together just four years ago, at first we had stuffed all our extra things into our storage unit in the basement, but it was so packed from floor to ceiling that we couldn’t even enter. I had insisted on a purge, and over Ron’s groans we’d spent weekends organizing boxes and getting rid of everything that wasn’t either useful or sentimental. The result had made me proud: All our joint possessions now fit into our one-bedroom apartment and single storage unit.
All week, we’d been stuffing endless clothes, books, kitchen supplies, and knickknacks into boxes. Ron is one to make up little songs, and as the hours of packing dragged on, he came up with a catchy new Reggae tune.
Put de shit in de box
Wrap it all up
Light de match
And throw it on top…
When our friends showed up for the pod-packing day, some of them seemed disdainful of the inefficiency of our packing. It was pointed out that we could have thought to pack clothes or other items into drawers instead of emptying the drawers into boxes. That would have saved space.
Along with embarrassment, I felt irritation at these comments. I’d had a lot on my mind lately. So had Ron. It might look, to healthy people, like we should have done more purging or strategizing, but it takes time and energy to make decisions about what to keep, and my mind was busy strategizing about how to travel across the country without having an accident in the car or lapsing into serious bouts of pain. Our inefficient packing was one of the many hidden casualties of my illness.
I hid my irritation and reminded myself that most of our friends were not being critical, and that even the one or two who were critical were still very generously helping do a job we couldn’t have done alone. I was truly grateful.
Now the big day was here. We dressed and heaved the mattress downstairs and into its slot at the top of one pod, so that now both pods were completely full. They would be picked up and trucked across the country for us in the next week. We then stuffed our last bags and boxes into our little Hyundai sedan, wrangled the canoe onto the top of the car, and ratcheted it down with bright orange straps.
Next we tackled the kitchen. Our journey would take five days, and I had a plan for traveling without breaking my macrobiotic diet. Food was my only medicine right now. We couldn’t afford a health crisis midway to Portland. Our biggest cooler could hold just enough for all my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners–I had tested it–plus some ice. It couldn’t hold enough for Ron, though, so he’d break his own macrobiotic diet and just eat Safeway and restaurant food. We’d stay in motels because of the kitties; I could use the mini-fridges and microwaves along the way.
Yesterday, we had cooked big batches of the simplest, most-transportable macrobiotic meals from Virginia Harper’s book. Our fridge held a dozen mason jars full of miso soup with tofu and seaweed, and precooked red lentils with almond butter. We transferred the jars into the cooler, slit and dumped two bags of ice on top, then hefted the heavy cooler down the stairs, my knees aching as we descended yet again, and shoved it into the trunk of the car around the canoe straps. Finally, we swept the apartment, wiped down the fridge and the counters, and brought the kitty litter box down to the car, setting it on Hefty sacks laid across the backseat.
I was the first one back up to the apartment, my last time climbing these familiar stairs. I clutched the railing on the way up, grateful that my knees could soon rest.
In the apartment, midday sun glimmered off the lake and streamed inside. Sometimes we had joked about needing sunglasses on bright days like this. Light flooded the wood floors and white walls. All was quiet and calm. I tried to memorize it one last time, this beautiful place, the first place we had lived together.
Wandering into the sunroom, I gasped and let out a little laugh. Kili and Bear cowered in the bookshelf, the last place left to cower. I’d made it from cinder blocks and wood planks over one of the radiators, and each cat had crawled into a cinder block, hindquarters sticking out one end and head out the other. Bear’s block was directly over Kili’s, and they gazed at me with saucer eyes, looking absolutely terrified. I giggled and tried futilely to calm them down.
I knew just how they felt. All spring and summer, I had wished doctors or God or somebody could tell me it would all be okay. But right this moment, and for much of the past week, I felt optimistic. My belly didn’t hurt. I no longer needed to rush to the bathroom every couple hours–just in time for the road trip–and though I felt wistful and sad about leaving Madison, I was excited for a change. After the past several months, I was ready to throw in the towel.
We put the kitties in their carrier to their usual howls of despair, and Ron lugged them to our heavy, bag-and-canoe-laden little car. Friends had given me a bumper sticker as a going away present: ESCHEW OBFUSCATION, one of Dad’s favorite phrases. Somehow it felt like a good-luck charm.
Ron pulled us away from the curb and I grinned at him, one arm trailing back to the cats to stroke their fur through the cage. We were off.