We drove to Lancaster in the pitch dark. My son and youngest daughter were in the back seat with the dog between them, and my oldest daughter took the front seat so she could work the Spotify playlist from my phone. I should have been exhausted, but I had crossed into overstimulated territory like my kids sometimes did when they were infants and toddlers. Miles passed, along with bridges and hills and all the exits I recognized from previous trips. One by one the occupants of the car drifted off to sleep, except, of course, the driver.
I used the quiet time to think, to pray, to process the clusterfuck of the previous days and weeks. I was still wearing the mismatched outfit; I still hadn't showered since the evening after the movers left (which was really only the night before). Every once in awhile I have a day when I think back to events from the morning and feel like they happened a week ago instead of mere hours: that night on the drive to Lancaster felt like a year from the morning when we dropped the table on my toe. Only the physical pain as I pressed the accelerator could convince me it was only hours in the past.
We rolled into Lancaster well after midnight, and I dropped off the two older kids with their aunt. They shuffled into her house in a stupor, and I backed out of the driveway and headed to a nearby hotel with the little one and the dog. My former sister-in-law would have welcomed all of us--including the dog--with open arms, but there's only so much chaos I can feel okay about inflicting on someone else.
Bleary-eyed and the walking definition of a hot mess, I grabbed only what we needed from the car, checked in, staggered up to our room holding the little one on my hip with one arm and the dog's leash in the other hand, and I got everyone settled before taking one of the ten most appreciated showers of my life. I changed into the clean pajamas (and yes, underwear) carefully placed near the top of my bag, fell into the bed, and thanked God for the Red Roof Inn before sleeping like the dead for seven full hours.
We woke up, gathered our things, and checked out of the hotel. I had to figure out how to reconfigure the arrangement of all the stuff so that we would fit, but somehow I got it all in there. Thank goodness for little ones whose feet don't reach the ground and an engineer uncle who managed to teach me a few things about how to make the most of available space.
We drove back over to Aunt Nicole's to visit and retrieve the big kids. Nicole is my youngest's namesake, and I have loved her since we met when she was 13 and walked around humming TLC's "Waterfalls." She spends her life supporting, including, and celebrating people most of us would walk past without stopping, and I never see her or hear her voice on the other end of the phone without feeling for a moment like all is right with the world because someone like her exists in it. I hope my daughters grow up to be just like her. After all the stress and sadness and grief of the preceding weeks and days, in the middle of this crazy journey, the stop at Nicole's was probably the moment I started to really breathe again.
We had breakfast at a diner midway between her house and the highway, and I got to hang out with her toddler for awhile at the end. It's no secret I love babies, and for some reason, they seem to love me back most of the time. We bonded over the rock bed in the parking lot while Nicole bonded with my brood over pancakes, and before I knew it, we were saying goodbye in the parking lot. I insisted on a selfie of our group, and in an effort to get in close, we ended up leaning into each other in almost a pyramid configuration.
I remember learning in geometry that a triangle is a sturdy, reliable shape (and then trying to incorporate as many of them as possible when constructing the stupid marshmallow-and-toothpick bridges we had to build for a class project). The angles draw strength from each other in a way they can't in a square or rectangle; there's something about having that connector piece ("hypotenuse," in technical terms) reaching across between two points that adds stability. Aesthetically, a triangle shape is pleasing to the eye, and photographers are encouraged to pose their subjects and compose their shots with triangles in mind. Triangles = good stuff.
I doubt Nicole would have ever predicted someone would call her a hypotenuse, much less intend it as a compliment. But she was, and it is, and I can't think of a more perfect person to launch us forward, away from the trajectory of all that we knew in the direction of the path unfolding in front of us in Texas. I remember pulling out of that parking lot with a sigh of relief and smiling a real smile in the rearview mirror at the little ones as I reached across the front seat for my daughter's hand. I might have even said out loud, "We're going to be okay."
The day we left Connecticut started early. The kids, dogs, and I slept in a big pile on the floor in the mostly empty master bedroom with the only working air conditioner in the house. We were a massive tangle of blankets, legs, feet, arms, and tails, and it took some doing to extricate myself when the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m.
Salvation Army pick up requires the items curbside by 7:00 a.m. I knew I needed help with the 6'x3' farm table from the kitchen, but I wanted to do as much of the rest by myself before waking everyone up. So I made what felt like a hundred trips carrying patio furniture, a bench, bags of toys and clothes, and other assorted castoffs to the curb. The moment came when I had no other choice but to rouse my sleeping 14-year-old and ask for her help with the heavy, awkward table. Grace and magnanimity in the early morning have never been her strengths, but she dragged herself downstairs to help.
And then she dropped the damn table on my toe.
It was an accident, and I knew it. I doubled over and slipped into silent-scream mode for a full two minutes before recovering the ability to speak in a normal voice. She was yammering on about how it slipped and she didn't mean to drop it and and she didn't have a good grip and I was going too fast... At some point, I stopped crying and said, "Baby, I'm not blaming anybody! It just hurts!" She stopped talking then, and a few minutes later, we picked up the table and carried it the rest of the way out.
With the Salvation Army stuff sorted, I switched gears to get ready for the carpet cleaners to arrive. Everything in any of the rooms upstairs had to come downstairs, including sleeping bags, blankets, children, and dogs. I went to get donuts and coffee, and the cleaners arrived before I got back. They waited semi-patiently in the driveway, but it couldn't have made more than a five-minute dent in their schedule. Once they saw me alone with three kids, two dogs, and an empty house, their attitude softened a little.
While the carpet cleaners were working, Salvation Army came and rejected about half of what I had set aside for them. I won't lie, I didn't see that one coming. Oh, well. It was time to shift gears and take one of the dogs to LaGuardia for her flight to Texas. We ran by the vet's office to satisfy the official requirement of a vet check-up within 24 hours of the flight and get the necessary paperwork, made one stop at the Petco in Norwalk to buy the assorted items required for shipping an animal by air freight, and then we booked it down to Queens.
Getting the dog on the flight added such a surreal element to the day. At one point, I registered that my toe was throbbing, and I was still wearing my mismatched running assortment, still without underwear, but at that point, standing in the middle of one of the major airports serving New York City, I could not convince myself to care even a little bit. "I will never see these people again" kept running through my mind, both consolation and lament.
Back to Connecticut after the dog took off, and it was time to deal with all that stood in the way of us getting on the road, which included: the Salvation Army's leftovers; several overlooked drawers and a cabinet in the kitchen; all the sleeping bags and gear from the night before, plus the bags we'd packed for the road trip; birth certificates, passports, my cameras, and other assorted stuff too important to send on the moving truck.
What happened next is kind of a blur. I remember my daughter saying, "It's never all going to fit." She was right, but I still contend we managed to squeeze in all the important stuff somehow. We did have to jettison quite a bit, some going into the trash pile, the rest going back in the house for our beloved housekeeper/nanny/angel to redistribute to her church or wherever she decided it needed to go.
The trash people came and overcharged me by about $100, but whatever. They had me over a barrel, and they knew that I knew that they knew it. They did agree to come back one more time in the morning for all the stuff we still hadn't processed. I hope they actually did; I really have no way of knowing.
At some point, we wedged ourselves into the car around all our various assorted stuff. I made the kids let me take a quick selfie, then we pulled out of the driveway of our home. I want to write all kinds of stuff about how much I loved that house, how connected I felt (and still feel) to those rooms and walls and grass and trees, but when I try to find words, I'm only capable of keening.
(My son saw me working on this post and asked to look at the picture at the top. He said, "I look a lot happier than I actually felt at that moment." Don't we all, baby. Don't we all.)
We backed out of the driveway and turned the car in the direction of one last business stop to drop off the cable boxes, remotes, and assorted paraphernalia. We got gas in Newtown and turned west on I-84 toward New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania--the first stop of the Great Gordon/Moore Migration. We left approximately eight hours later than expected.
Any kind of life as we knew it came to an end.
But that was kind of the point.
The day after the party, I woke up and drank one last civilized cup of coffee while my youngest played in the backyard. I lingered over it as long as I could, knowing it would be awhile before I drank coffee in my little green-and-blue folding plastic chair. I also knew life was about to get bat-shit crazy and balls-to-the-wall busy with what would probably be the most intense physical experience I'd ever endured.
In all honesty, even as hard as I thought it would be? It was harder.
My oldest and I worked all day to pack, sort, organize, and keep the two younger kids from killing each other or doing anything that would require emergency attention ("Ain't nobody got time for that," as the saying goes). She and I were in sync for possibly the first time ever, working together around the clock to accomplish the Herculean feat of packing up a household of four people and two dogs to move more than 1600 miles across the country. At one point, I got tired and decided to sleep for a few hours; when I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to get back at it, she stopped and went to sleep for awhile. I never would have been able to do what had to be done without her help, and I will remember her hard work and commitment until the day I die.
The movers showed up when I was only about 80% done packing, so I asked them to finish a few of the cabinets I had left (though not many). I almost cried when I realized I had already packed the coffee machine, and then I suffered another blow when it dawned on me that I couldn't even go buy coffee because I didn't want to leave the movers unattended at the house. They're about to load up all of my worldly belongings and drive 1600 miles with them, but I didn't want to leave them alone for five minutes? That should have been a big flashing neon sign, but in my sleep- and coffee-deprived state, I didn't see it.
Moving is moving, and anyone who has ever done it knows what it feels like to see all of your stuff sorted into efficient piles and stacks and loaded onto a truck. Every load that leaves the house gets you one step closer to wherever you're going next, which can feel exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. You see all the dust and grime underneath furniture that had been sitting in the same spot for almost ten years, and you wonder if there are places in your heart or soul that have accumulated the same amount of dust, grime, and general ickiness. You find things you thought were long gone and marvel at their survival--wow, I thought I lost this, but look! Here it is!
(Most remarkable to me was turning up an almost infinite number of pacifiers: mostly from the days when my youngest couldn't go two minutes without one, but also a few that I'm pretty sure hearken back to her older brother in the time right after we moved into that house. I thought of all the nights that I hunted in the dark for one of those blessed things to please, please, please get the baby to go back to sleep. They must have been mocking me from under the play kitchen or behind a bookshelf where I never would have looked in a million years.)
Slowly but surely, the house emptied out. There was still a lot left to do--we had to get ready for carpet cleaners, a Salvation Army pick up, and trash pick up the next morning--but the bulk of it was done. I initialed and signed all the endless moving sheets and tipped the movers, and then they left. We watched them pull out of the driveway, and then we went to grab something for dinner and take another load to Goodwill.
After we got back, I took a shower and realized that while I had carefully packed outfits for the road trip, I didn't have anything clean to change into right then except for a random mismatched running shirt and leggings I had once thrown into a backpack in an ambitious-but-unrealized attempt to work out while on vacation. I didn't have any clean underwear, so I went commando. I tried not to overanalyze the situation.
Then I realized my laptop was missing from the backpack where I found the clothes.
I have a tendency to misplace things, think they are lost, panic and freak out for a few minutes, and then find them safe and sound. I allowed myself the panic and freak out, thinking all equilibrium would be restored after a few minutes, only to discover that no, this time the item was truly gone. Since I had intentionally put it in the backpack earlier that morning and never touched it all day, and I knew the kids hadn't taken it anywhere, I came to the conclusion that one of the movers must have stolen it.
I did what anyone would do in that situation: I tried to contact the moving company and got a sketchy voicemail. I sent an email to some random address, wondering if the whole thing was a set up to steal IKEA furniture and a few antiques, and I would never see any of my stuff again. I gave up the laptop for lost and texted my friends my tale of woe.
They told me to call the police. Right. I had totally forgotten that might be an option.
That conversation started the wheels spinning in my head, and before I called the police, I used the "Find my i-Phone" app, and lo and behold, it pinpointed the location where my computer was attempting to log on to the internet. I called the police and gave them the information. An officer came over to the house, which inspired more than a little awe in my children.
Shortly afterwards, the moving company did respond to my email, and they tried to patronize me with, "Oh, people often think something got stolen, but it usually turns up on the truck. We'll look for it in the morning." My reply? "Yes, I'm sure people often do make that mistake. However, my computer just tried to log on to the internet from an apartment complex in the town where your offices are located. That means it isn't just sitting idly on a truck somewhere, and since I'm 20 miles away and am not the one using it, someone else has it. Perhaps you could go ahead and look into it right now. The police have the address and are on their way."
Long story short, the moving company representatives leaned on the guys who worked at our house and got the laptop back for me. When we found out which guy took it, my oldest daughter and I both said, "Him?! Really? He was the friendliest of the whole crew." The moving company reps acted like they wanted a medal for being so tough with the movers and returning the laptop; I just said, "Of course you freaked out on him, he fucking stole my computer. Thanks for getting it back, though." Lesson learned: some people can be assholes. Others can be tone deaf and annoying.
There's an episode of Sex and the City where one character (Samantha) tells off a doctor while wearing one of those humiliating gowns in an examining room. The narrator, Carrie, says something to the effect that it's hard to pull off righteous indignation while wearing an article of clothing that is made out of paper and shows your entire backside. Indeed, that would be a challenge.
But that was a fictional show. Try pulling off righteous indignation with first a police officer and later a moving company rep when you haven't slept in days, nor have you had access to coffee, and you are wearing mismatched workout gear and no underwear.
I realized I might be capable of getting through this after all.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.