Sometimes when I take my daily walks in this quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in north Seattle I find myself envying the owners of the houses I pass with their commodious interiors, spacious yards, and landscaped gardens bursting with flamboyant foliage. They possess their own property and can shape it to their will; they have a space that they can call their own. So it has not been for me, at least since I left Greece with my sons in 2012 and moved back to the United States. It has been one rented house or apartment after another, and every time I have managed to establish a routine, extenuating circumstances of one sort or another have forced another move.
And thus it has happened again. Until now, one or more of my sons has always been living with me, and so we have had to have appropriately-sized accommodations. Now, though, my youngest son is about to head off to college and I can downsize. If I could count on the rent staying the same in the place where we have been living I might have not bothered with the move and stayed there, but the landlord has assured me that as soon as COVID restrictions are lifted, the rent will be raised significantly. By shifting into a one-bedroom unit in the same compound, at least for a year I can lock in a slightly lower rent than I am paying now.
What’s the fuss? you might say. You’re only shifting from one unit to another in the same apartment complex. That should be easy. Not so. The unit I am moving into is at least a city block away from the one I have been living in, and in between is an obstacle course of other buildings, slopes, and steps. There is the matter of purging enough furniture and other items so that my belongings fit into the new place. And there is the packing, the lifting, and the carrying. The purging took weeks and is still ongoing even in the aftermath of the event, and the move itself took several full days. A move like this is traumatic. It involves uprooting and replanting, ripping out one phase of a life and patiently allowing a new phase to begin to grow. When I was in the midst of it I had to press forward resolutely even during periods of exhaustion and despair. A quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V came to me. I used it at the beginning of America Redux, my memoir about returning to the States after thirty-five years abroad, and it seems equally appropriate in this situation.
Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more…
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood…
Now set the teeth and set the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height…
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble luster in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot…
You might say: But Shakespeare was writing about war; you’re only talking about moving from one location to another. If you look at the activities literally, perhaps. But moving, uprooting your life and transplanting it somewhere else, is in fact a metaphorical battle, especially if you do it over and over with no end in sight. Once, in the days of my youth, drifting from place to place was fun, but I am weary of such moves. I truly have to summon up strength and resolve to go through it yet one more time.
As I mentioned above, for weeks before the move I sought to lighten the load by getting rid of things I didn’t need. That meant taking a trip to Goodwill in a borrowed car to get rid of household items I never used, and dropping books and DVDs off at little free libraries in the neighborhood while on my daily walks. Whenever I contemplated how many things I still had left in terms of having to move them from one place to another, I still felt burdened and stifled. As I began to pack everything into boxes and bags, the process seemed endless. The new apartment was in the process of being cleaned; the assistant manager had shown me a similar unit so I could get an idea of the size and layout, but as yet I had not even seen the apartment I had committed to. He said it was not policy to show units before they were ready. The reality was that this complex was inexpensive compared to normal rental prices in this part of the city, and units were generally claimed almost immediately after they became available and long before they were ready to show. That didn’t bother me so much; I had moved into my previous unit sight unseen; my sister had arranged it for me while I was still living in Yakima.
What caused me stress was the short window I had to accomplish the actual move. It was ironic that now, when I needed their physical assistance the most, all five of my sons were out of town. This was the first time in years that at least one or two of them wasn’t around. Desperately I sent out an email to relatives requesting assistance.
Meanwhile, I negotiated with the management office for a window in which to accomplish the move without having to pay overlapping rents. In the end, all they could offer me was one weekend. I would receive the keys late Friday morning, and the move had to be completely accomplished by late Monday morning.
I packed things into suitcases, boxes, and shopping bags. It was not only my stuff but that of my sons. One or another would stay for awhile, take off for somewhere else, but leave things for me to store for them. There seemed to be no end to it all. It was like the many-headed Hydra that Hercules battled: as soon as I filled up one container, more stuff sprouted up all around me.
And still I had no confirmed offers of assistance. If I only had more time! I daydreamed of the new unit being already empty and cleaned; I could carry over a few things a day at my leisure, and eventually I would have most of it shifted from one place to the other. Instead, as the scheduled weekend approached, I was attacked with intermittent paroxysms of uncertainty. Would someone come? How could I possibly do this?
Just a few days before the deadline, I received affirmations of rescue. One of my big strong younger brothers called and said he’d come on Sunday with his pickup to help me move the heavy furniture. A sister, her husband, and another brother showed up on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to help me with the multitudinous lighter items. It was a frantic three days, no doubt, but it all got done. I was left, by Sunday night, with a mountainous heap of belongings crammed in disarray into the new place. I had to get my food from outside, but I managed in the midst of the jumble to carve out enough space to set up a bed frame and mattress so I could sleep.
In the film series Lethal Weapon, as maniacal bad guys shoot at them and his younger partner Mel Gibson cackles with glee, the aging police officer played by Danny Glover often exclaims in dismay, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” That quote occurred to me numerous times during this move. And yet… Life is all about transitions. The only time you really stop moving is when you die. By then, your spirit will be long gone, going through more changes, exploring new worlds. Until then, we get through the difficult parts as best we can. The good news? Despite all the heavy lifting over a period of days, my back and muscles suffered no ill effects, not even unusual aching. The often tedious-seeming routine of calisthenics and yoga that I have been doing for decades paid off after all.