It happens again, time after time: you move to a new place. Sometimes this new place is exactly what you’ve been looking for, like the spacious, one-bedroom apartment with the gray countertops and the large living-room window looking out into the city. Other times it’ll simply do.
There have been 19 moves and 17 places (two repeated) so far: houses, apartments, and a trailer scattered over two countries and seven cities. Moving this much comes naturally, though not often easily. Moving from one country to another is hardest, of course, and moving from one state to another is easier. It’s easier still to move within the same state or within the same city. The easiest of all is moving from one house to a different one just two doors down because the floor plan is exactly the same, but the rent is lower and the owner will take care of the lawn in the summer and the snow in the winter.
But whether from one country to another, one house to another, easy or difficult, it comes: the swapping of one place for a different one.
You arrive at a new residence, hopefully happy to be there, though you usually don’t know how long you will be, either happy or there. You simply try to settle in as fully as possible. You know that if you don’t, you will end up living a half-life, and, after a few times, you’ve now learned that that is no way to live. But even as you plunge into making this new place your own, always, without fail, you fall asleep the first night wondering, How long I will be here?
Sometimes, it turns out, you are in a particular place for quite a long time, maybe even four years in a row. The house feels truly like your house, and the settling is deep and thorough. Only a few boxes of sentimental trinkets remain packed and stored away in the back of the garage. They’re not enough to draw your attention, much less your annoyance at their remaining unpacked. Friends from out-of-town and family from overseas visit you at this house more than once. You remember how the house felt to you at age 11 and at 15, and its walls have seen both versions of you.
Other times you are in a place for a short time, maybe six months at the most. In these places the settling is never complete and sometimes neither is the unpacking. You got tired of emptying box after box and quit once the most-used things were put away. Now, a couple of months in, that lingering question of How long? keeps you from finishing because there’s no point in unpacking it all just to pack it back up again soon. While in these places, maybe no one will visit because it’s just easier for you to go to their house than for them learn how to get to yours. In these places, memories tend to be few, and often dark. There’s a lot of you sitting around alone, surrounded by completely-bare walls, listening to music in the dark or watching cheap, late-night TV.
But whether you’ve lived somewhere for a long time or a short time, each apartment, house, and room stays with you. Every once in a while you mentally scroll through all of them, recalling images from each. You don’t want to forget any of these places, though there’s no way you could remember the very first one when you were just a baby. But to keep from forgetting, you take pictures upon arriving and before leaving. It’s part of the moving ritual, as necessary as three rolls of packing tape and as important as not leaving family heirlooms behind.
You carry all the previous places with you. You’re even proud of their number, even though many of them were not yours to choose. There’s always an excitement and energizing anticipation in adding another address to the list. There’s also always a sense of loss – sometimes slight, sometimes deep – at knowing you will never return to the place you are leaving. Each place brings something new, whether it be a whole new life or just a new view out your bedroom window. Each place also takes time, experience, and a piece of you it will never give back.
Through it all, the cycle of leaving and arriving brings a sense of rightness as it continues, mainly because it always has continued, and, you suspect, it always will. You will leave and you will arrive again, time after time.