I’m still not a fan of suitcases. As a few of my friends have excitedly packed their bags to travel abroad this summer, I’ve hardly been able to keep from grimacing. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel – it’s just that I spent fourteen years of my life living out of a suitcase.
I’m aware, in the same way that I’m aware of fairytales, that amicable divorces exist. It’s just that my parents don’t have one. Throughout multiple instances with the police, a detailed and extensive divorce decree, and weekly Sunday tradeoffs at 7pm, it has always been clear that my parents absolutely hate each other.
I could never explore all of the things about my parent’s situation that were difficult for me as a child. I don’t believe that even years of reflection could shed light on all aspects of those years of my life. But there are a few things, even though I’m now on the other side of it all, that still stick with me in a way that influences my daily life. The dislike suitcases is one of them.
When I was in the 8th grade, my grandmother bought me a set of them. They were a deep blue, bordering on navy, with wheels that turned every which way so that I could steer them more easily out of the house… down the sidewalk… into the car… out of the car… into the other car… out again… and back up into another, different house. Physical strength has never been my strong suit, but I’ll be damned if I don’t know how to lift a suitcase.
I recall what a magnificent present my luggage was. Having suitcases, of course, was better than not having them. It meant I could take back and forth the clothing I loved most. I could have my toiletries, the books I was reading, someplace to store my phone charger. I could have a little, tiny, packable world that stayed mercifully and blissfully the same.
Even the novelty of that wore off, eventually. I came to resent the blue bags, in a way – maybe even blame them. I insisted upon unpacking each Sunday night, mere hours after I’d packed the first time, and putting everything neatly in my dresser drawers. It wouldn’t stay that way for long, but it was better than keeping everything packed in a suitcase. I wanted to live somewhere. To belong.
My parents divorced when I was four. In many ways, I’m proud of them. They would have been miserable otherwise, and I think things would have been a lot worse for everyone. But there will always be a fraction of me that wishes things had been different.
I don’t remember a single instance in which I’ve seen my parents touch each other in real life. I’ve seen them yell mean things at each other across the Kroger parking lot, and slam the door in each other’s faces, and threaten to take each other to court… but never touch. I own one photograph, a present from my grandmother, in which my mother is resting her head affectionately on my father’s knee. They were barely older than I am now when that photo was taken. It was a different lifetime, with different people playing their parts. I cherish that photo, although I don’t really know why. That world doesn’t exist for me, and never will.
And, for two very valid reasons, I wouldn’t really want it to exist, anyhow. My baby half-siblings are six and three years old, and if my parents had chosen differently, they would never have been born. When people frown at the mention of divorce and call my family a broken one, I can’t help but ask them how that doesn’t fit into the “plan” they laud over me. If divorce is a sin… are my siblings sinful? Are they not supposed to have existed? It all becomes very existential.
My mom often expresses that she wishes she could have given me a different father. When I remind her that I’m only who I am because I come from both of them, she disagrees. She seems convinced that somehow, the person I am today would have found another way to exist even if I had a different dad. I know she means well, and I try not to take offense, but the person I am right now is a product of both of my upbringings, both of my houses, and both of my families.
There have been times of my life when I’ve tried to deny that. Divorce has a singular way of making you feel as if you might actually be two people. You follow two different sets of rules, communicate in two totally different ways, and present yourself in two distinct manners. I’ve never wanted that for myself. I’ve always longed to be me, just me, without any of the confusion of constant change and those damnable suitcases.
I’m still trying to figure out how to strike a balance between those two halves of myself. I hate that I feel the need to pick a side – a version of myself. When my parents say horrible things about each other, and damn each other’s qualities to hell, I can’t help but recognize those parts of them in myself. I possess a lot of traits that my mother hates in my father, and vice versa. At more than one time in my life, I’ve felt like that must mean they hate me, too.
When I was 18, I made a choice to live in only one house. I no longer pack those suitcases and move my life from one place to another because a divorce decree tells me so. My happiness, my stability, is more important than a piece of paper and my parent’s pride.
Nonetheless, the real-world consequences on the person I am today are hard to ignore. As my friends take their own suitcases and study abroad, I am petrified by fear. I don’t want to pack another damned suitcase, even as much as I want to see all those beautiful places. I don’t want to feel like I don’t have a home, like I’m driftwood unable to settle. I want to feel stable, secure, and peaceful. My boyfriend, adventurous soul that he is, is not a settler. Where his head hits the pillow at night is of little consequence to him, as long as he can wake up to something new and exciting and beautiful. I want so, so badly to join him on those adventures. I want to be a ‘free spirit’ like my friends, who have spent their days this summer in Spain, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, and Germany. But those suitcases are sitting in my closet, gathering dust.
My ultimate goal is equilibrium. I strive every day for understanding and compassion – to see life through my parent’s eyes as they will never be able to see it through mine. I like the thought that in a way, I can reconcile them – not as the people they are, but as the person I can be. I can bring the two halves to peace, inside myself.
Next week, I’m meeting with a study abroad advisor at my university to see about going abroad in the fall of 2018. That will give me time, I think, to reconcile all these scattered pieces, dust off my suitcases, and become reacquainted. I have my eye on a few different programs. I’ve considered Seville, Spain, a few locations in England, and one in Ireland. I’m making a list of places I want to travel in the months leading up to my program. There are so many monuments I want to see, so many cities I want to visit. My boyfriend will likely join me for a while, or I might meet up with a few friends along the way.
Sometimes, I think the best medicine for what you’re afraid of is experience. Eventually, with enough practice and a lot of patience, I think this body I’m in could be home enough for me. In between the places I visit throughout my lifetime, my suitcases can live in a dusty closet where they belong. And if I ever take them out and pack them, it will be because I want to go somewhere. I like the principle of that very, very much.