Moving across the country is difficult enough. What makes it even harder is having to drag the weight of your entire life behind you.
That’s what it felt like, at least, as I loaded up a 5’ x 8’ U-Haul cargo trailer with everything I was taking with me from my childhood home on the north shore of Boston to my new apartment in West Hollywood. In the weeks prior, I’d spent hours painstakingly sifting through my old bedroom, separating all of my possessions into two piles: Keep and Dispose. My mom, with her organization skills and keen sense of spatial awareness, helped pack the former into neatly labelled cardboard boxes that reflected a lifetime of hobbies and passions — I would try my darndest to keep my roommates from seeing the one labeled Record Player / Juggling Equipment / Build-A-Bear — while the contents of the latter were either sold on eBay or added to our ever-growing pile of trash on the front curb.
A couple of months after my departure, my parents would be moving to Burlington, Vermont, so I truly could leave nothing behind. There would be no additional packages shipped westward, no old memorabilia stacked in my closet and saved for me to pick up the next time I visited. By the time I was finished packing, the room that had been mine since elementary school was empty, save for an air mattress and an iPhone charger for my last night in Massachusetts.
As my dad and I loaded up the trailer in the morning, I realized that to a complete stranger, the boxes would read as a sort of road map to my life, an archaeological dig in which each package or item represented a chapter of my existence. Some key artifacts included a bag of smelly hockey pads; a bicycle and a corresponding box of biking gear; a collection of shot glasses; the ashes of my recently deceased cat, preserved in a polished wooden box and wrapped in his favorite blanket; rock climbing and backpacking gear; vinyl records; my college transcripts and diploma; food, toys, and miscellaneous items for my new dog; souvenirs from foreign travels; and two boxes simply labelled Memories.
And then there were the books. I’d venture that over half of the weight in that trailer came from books — boxes upon boxes of them. There were new ones I’d yet to read, old favorites, fancy box sets, and books that I’d already read that I hadn’t exactly loved but that, for whatever reason — and I’m sure that any avid reader will recognize this feeling — I couldn’t bring myself to give up. They may not have filled me with wonder, but they deserved a space on my bookshelf. After all, they represented a section of my own journey.
Finally, with the last box (a new coffee maker) squeezed into the trailer, the door swung shut. Just like that, my life was secure and ready to move, protected from the outside world by maybe half an inch of sheet metal and a padlock.
Actually operating a motor vehicle with the weight of your past and future attached to the ball hitch on your back bumper is about as difficult as it sounds. When we’d initially discussed how to get all of my stuff across the country, and my dad had floated the idea of renting a trailer, my first response had been one of mild concern. After all, the most complex vehicle I’d ever driven was my mom’s old Town & Country minivan. In comparison, a trailer seemed a serious piece of machinery. My dad insisted, however, that I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
“The only thing you might struggle with is backing up,” he said. “And even then, all you have to remember is that you turn the wheel the opposite way you normally would.”
I must have still looked worried because he then added, “Before you leave, I’ll show you. You’ll see how easy it is.”
So, the morning of my departure, I hopped in the passenger seat and observed as he pulled the car (trailer attached) in front of our driveway, lined it up perfectly, and proceeded to struggle immensely while backing it up 15 feet into the desired spot. He would inch it backward a few feet and then, seeing that the trailer had started to veer off one way or the other, he would mutter something under his breath, throw the car in drive, pull forward, and try again. This proceeded for about 10 minutes until it was finally in the driveway — albeit at an angle — at which point he turned to me and said, “See?”
Thirty minutes later, I was rattling down I-95, wondering what the hell I was gonna do when I had to back that thing up.
Luckily, that moment wouldn’t come until two days later — but by that time, I was already familiar enough with the feel of the cargo to handle the challenge. I’d stayed the night at a friend’s apartment in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and, unfortunately for me, the parking spot at the end of their apartment complex’s extremely narrow 30-foot-long driveway offered no turnaround, so I had to back out the same way I’d come in, with roughly three inches of give on either side of the car.
I’m proud to say I completed the task in roughly the same amount of time it had taken my dad to maneuver into our house’s much-wider driveway (and with considerably less under-the-breath mumbling). From there, it was smooth sailing all the way to the west coast.
Don’t get me wrong — driving such a distance while towing that much freight doesn’t come without its fair share of anxieties. I was pulling my life across the entire country — across the plains of Kansas, through the deserts of New Mexico, up and over the staggering peaks of the Rocky Mountains — and the whole time, I found myself listening for unexpected rattles or clinks from behind me, any telltale signs that the accumulation of my 22 years was about to be dumped out onto the interstate. Not to mention, I was doing all of this in a tiny Kia Forte. With the trailer attached, my car huffed and puffed its way up even the slightest of inclines, and its usual gas mileage had been sliced in half. My life, it turned out, was quite heavy.
When I, at last, barreled down out of the San Gabriel Mountains and spotted the skyline of Downtown LA, I was more than ready to have the trailer removed. After some final finessing through the streets of West Hollywood (no easy task, mind you), I parked in front of my new home and greeted my roommates, who helped load all the boxes into my room. Much to my dismay, as I was carrying a box into the house, I heard one of them quip, “I like that you have a box with both juggling equipment and a Build-A-Bear.”
The next morning, I went to the U-Haul station on Hollywood Boulevard and watched as the empty container was unhitched for good. The employee handed me the newly detached ball hitch, my only souvenir to remember the journey that the trailer and I had shared.
I drove home, feeling gloriously weightless without my cargo. At the new apartment, I stood in my room and looked at the chaotic stack of boxes sprawled all over the floor. I had some unpacking to do.