Miles to Go

I don’t know where to start.

No, that’s not right. I’ve started. Several times. I’ve got little “starts” all over the house; the framed artwork I’ve started boxing for shipment, the piles of plastic bags full of stuff I’m getting rid of, the half-full boxes of papers (oh my GOD the papers we have accumulated) I’ve started sorting — well, mostly pitching, but there is a small pile of papers we will be keeping. There’s the pile of sheets and towels I’ve set aside for donation, the extra mugs whose fate I haven’t decided, and — oh, look! more papers!

I’ve started lots of things. I’ve finished some, too. Like, getting rid of the dead refrigerator in the garage. Done. And the cabinets next to the fireplace — empty. Tim’s dresser has now been converted to mine, which is to say it’s half-empty, with a few pairs of socks in the top drawer. Winter coats and boots are packed.

I do have a practical excuse. I have made strides over the last six months, but my progress was interrupted by two floods in a month. We’re in a side-split house, so half of our living space is below ground. It’s our family room. That’s where I’ve been putting the boxes and bags and things we’re getting rid of, and that’s  — obviously — where the floods have been. Each time we’ve had a flood, I’ve had to quickly rescue everything I’ve started packing, pile it as high as I can in a dry place, clean up the flood (move furniture, pull up carpet, dispose of carpet pad), wait for it to dry, put the room back in order, and the start sorting again. Doing that once was a pain in the ass, but doing it twice was demoralizing. I’d finally started to put some order to the chaos when the second flood happened and set everything back.

But really, the fact that I can’t simply plow through this even after setbacks can be attributed to one thing; it’s just really emotional to do this. I have to sort through our entire life together — including some things from before our life together — and decide what is worthy of keeping. I have to — there’s no way around it. We can’t afford to ship everything out to Portland, and we won’t have space for it when we get there. I’m certainly not shipping eight boxes of kids’ school papers and custody filings and file folders of IEP meeting notes and craft ideas and recipes so I can stick them in a storage locker in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I’ve got to, but I’m having a really hard time.

What happens — and Tim can attest to this — is that I open a box and am flooded with memories from the items it contains. Or I open a box and am flooded with guilt and shame for having kept things that have no value beyond their immediate utility, now long past. Or I open a box and am baffled about what it is; my brain just turns off after a while, can’t process what I’m looking at. So I get a few boxes reviewed, some things sorted, then I walk away, overwhelmed. The next day, in a different part of the house, I start looking at more items, throwing things away, making piles, making decisions, making progress. A little progress is made. Little by little, it’s moving along. But it needs to go faster. Tim’s really good at pushing me when I get hung up on things. It’s not that he’s unemotional (you should have seen him over graduation weekend, if you believe that) it’s that he’s got the ability to detach emotions from objects. He is marvelous in these circumstances. I am sorely missing him during this process.

I have a goal this week of emptying out two closets and the laundry room, and finally packing up my winter clothes. Those are attainable. But what’s facing me in the garage is boxes of papers. Papers. Oh my word, the papers. I would so love to simply torch the lot of them, but I have a niggling worry that there’s a stash of my kids’ pictures or something my mother gave me hidden among their number, so I can’t bring myself to do that. buried-papers-1

The decisions about the large items have all been made. I know where our furniture is going; largely, in the dumpster. Only a handful of items are coming with us, since we are thrift shop/hand-me-down/Craigslist furniture buyers anyway. Very little of it is worth bringing on the trek across country. My piano will join us later, when we have space for it. I’m not even worried about it making that trip alone; it’s old enough to handle it.

I was feeling pretty stupid about feeling overwhelmed by this process until I talked to some friends. In separate conversations, they asked how I was handling the move, and I told them all of this. When we got to the part about Tim not being home again until two days before we leave, each of them said “so you’re going through all of this stuff by yourself?” They were both shocked and dismayed for me. They know.

Through them, I saw that this really is a momentous, earth-shifting thing, that uprooting a history like this and whittling our belongings–our tangible expression of our life together–is wrenching, emotionally exhausting. It’s not just me being a wimp. Doing it alone, without someone to trade off jobs with, increases the difficulty. It’s not just stuff, it’s all the memories and images and noise it triggers in my mind. I’m flooded right now, and afraid of the flood, and adrift in the flood.

And I just realized that my life this spring has all been about flooding, both physical and emotional. That’s why the basement flooding has taken such a toll on me. And this, folks, is why I write. I don’t figure stuff out until I put it on paper. And yes, some of the paper is years worth of me “figuring stuff out.” Another reason I worry about lighting it on fire.

So it’s okay for me to be overwhelmed. Now I know this. Someone told me recently to be gentle with myself. I don’t quite know what that means, except to take my time, which I really don’t have anymore. We leave in 82 days, which looks like a big number, but really isn’t. It’s two months and a couple of weeks.

Somehow, it helps to write this down. To see where I am in black and white, to make an assessment. Maybe with these thoughts not rattling noisily around in my head anymore, I can move out of neutral. First gear would be a nice improvement. I’ve got miles to go before I rest.

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