Then one day
the sky fell in
and freedom lost control
and ran off the road and hit a pole
And it was all
and it was nothing
-Josh Joplin Group, “Dutch Wonderland”
Woke up this morning in Denver after a pretty severe series of nightmares involving burrowing underground and interacting pretty negatively with space aliens therein. It was the eighth distinct location where I’ve woken up since the open of this trip 2.5 weeks ago, making for further discombobulation of my already rather tormented subconscious. The details of this particular dream are needlessly grisly. Suffice it to say that I’ve had better nights.
The morning voicemail on Em’s cell, however, was in some ways darker still. Apparently the moving truck with all our stuff, save the few items we found relevant to our six-week Sojourn, was in a car accident outside of LA, turning over at least once. No word yet on the extent of the damage or even whether any people were injured (though it sounds pretty bad). There was a claim from the President of the moving company who kindly left the message that, while their insurers were still sorting through it, the damage wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Whether this is an accurate reassurance or an early attempt at liability limitation remains to be seen.
In any case, it requires the contemplation of all of our stuff being gone or irreparably damaged. One’s mind quickly jumps over the furniture and the replaceable though seemingly indispensible stuff (vaccuum, lamp, and so on) and straight to the really sentimental stuff. Stuffed animals. My collection of small carved/sculpted turtles. A few papers. And oh, the photographs.
While the turtles are probably toasted oatmeal, being fragile as all get-out, one would think that most of the sentimental items would survive such a crash well intact. But then the pivotal question, one we can’t likely ask till Monday, is whether the truck opened or not. If it remained closed (and didn’t catch fire or something), then we can at least be sure that there will be an accounting for everything. But of course the vision that quickly develops in the mind’s eye is one of whipping winds carrying burst-open boxes of heart-rending items across the heartless LA freeway, careless convertibles dodging and weaving amongst the testimony of decades worth of beloved accumulation.
Damage I can deal with, but total loss is challenging. And the potential ambiguity of knowing what was lost, the direct result of a failure to sufficiently inventory box contents amidst the madness of frustrating packing, is perhaps the worst of all. And though we are steeling ourselves in an attempt to mentally imagine that there will be no truck at all showing up in New Jersey, just a settlement check for some number of thousands, there is some space between this mental commitment and the understanding that one’s wedding albums and pictoral history of high school are gone.
Of course, there is also opportunity. Like the disasters that would whip through SimCity, wreaking the best-laid zones of half a century to waste in a couple months, the losses that at first seem devastating are often incredible invitations to rebirth. I have been all too aware of the conflict between my own desire to transcend materialism of all kinds and my affection for a certain amount of material items and the collection thereof. It may be just this kind of event, like meat making me sick in high school, that is necessary to nudge me in the right direction. Em and I even talked about this possibility (hard to invoke discussion of insurance, to which I begrudgingly assented, without contemplating doomsday scenarios, which is incidentally one of the many reasons I conceptually hate insurance), realizing among other things that we would probably stop collecting books (probably the only type of item we overtly collect) should something like this set us back. Perhaps we will emerge from this completely devoid of our physical attachments to inantimate objects, able to face the future with a new fearlessness. The very thought is strangely inspiring.
And yet, there are the pangs. A history told in words and pictures. The computer that I didn’t back up quite well enough, or some of the backups that were insanely packaged in boxes in the same shipment as the computer itself. The fact that my decision of whether to start over with American Dream On, my second novel, or work with the 80-some-odd pages assembled over the last 8 years, may be determined by the condition of that machine and its survival or lack during the accident. (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that stupid and that there are backups of this in multiple places, but one never really knows until something like this happens.) And some things dear to Emily – her grandmother’s music boxes and the candelabra. And the few bits of shared accumulation in 6 years of marriage, few to none significant in their own right, but this is how Americans are taught to mark the passage of their time. It’s not right, but that doesn’t abridge the emotional twists and agonization.
I would love to tell you that I just don’t care. And while I feel closer to that than I ever thought I would, it’s not true. If it were, we wouldn’t have packed up just shy of two tons of stuff and sent it across America’s dangerous highways in the first place.
It’s overshadowed the last week of events, suddenly, which is too bad. In some ways, it could cast a pallor over the whole trip if we don’t start to get a decent handle on how totalled our stuff really is. But it’s a stuff-tragedy, not a personal one, and for that I’m grateful. Stuff can be rebuilt or rebought (or more likely not), but people are inconstructable. The sting of an event like this could create a lifetime of counterbalance to American training about stuff, which could be just what I need. A little bell that goes off every time I crave an item, a Pavolvian antidote to the way capitalism makes us pigs.
There’s just no way of knowing till it all shakes out.
I would love to now launch into the travails of a return to the Grand Canyon and the roundtrip to Indian Garden, of a whirlwind Albuquerque with my parents in full fervor, of the discovery of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a town that joins Nevada City, CA and Madrid, NM, and probably a few others as potential small-town retreats for a future I still can’t flesh out. But these will have to wait – personal timing of the trip unending calls us to another outing and my own wrestling with late developments makes such review seem relatively trivial, or at least not primarily pertinent. There will be time and space to discuss those details – they are not forgotten. And suddenly, those may be some of the only photographs of the last 15 years that I have.
Someday, I will leave this world. And take not a single physical possession with me on my way. Perhaps it’s time to enact the latter early, well before having to engage in the former. An opportunity indeed. Not one without pain, but perhaps, over time, one without sorrow. Or at least regret.