Revisiting the Life I Sealed Away in a Storage Unit
I thought I’d be overwhelmed by nostalgia but I felt anything but that.
My daughter and I carved pumpkins today.
I remember the few stray tears that came with a sob she tried to muffle when I told her a few weeks ago that Halloween was unofficially canceled. For her sake, I’ve been trying to cling onto any bit of normalcy that we can. We decorated the front porch with swaths of fake cobwebs, a menacing fake spider, and a string of lights. And today we carved pumpkins.
I scoured the house, looking for any spare candles we could put in our jack-o-lanterns but I came up short. I realized that all the tealight candles we owned were in a storage unit where our lives were packed away a year ago.
A year ago I had to leave the place I called home for eight years. As a transplant to the Bay Area, I had never quite felt like I had earned the right to call it home, but I’m starting to realize that I was just letting the judgment of others get the best of me.
Natives were always so raucous about their disdain for outsiders moving in and changing the character of the cities they had always lived in. There was a certain type of pride they felt that I never felt invited to share in — and why should I? I wasn’t born there after all.
But in a lot of ways, my life truly started there.
It’s the first place I moved to when I fled from my family. I was pregnant with my daughter, and not in a good situation I might add. The prospects of higher education and a new life beckoned and I went without looking back. It was there that I loved and lost and learned to love again. It was there that I went from a woman who wanted to know things, to a woman that finally did know things. That’s where my daughter was born and raised, and in that way, I suppose she earned the right to truly call it home in a way that I never had.
I tried my best, but it just wasn’t where we were destined to end up, I suppose.
I remember the day the movers came to take our large furniture away. My daughter and I slept on the floor that night — the last night in our “home” — in a big nest of blankets I ended up having to leave on the sidewalk because they wouldn’t fit into my Honda Civic that was already packed to the brim with the remnants of our lives that I couldn’t be without.
The eight-hour drive to my parents’ home in Los Angeles seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. When we arrived, my parents cautiously regarded me, trying to hide the happiness they felt at seeing their daughter and granddaughter because they knew I felt anything but happiness.
It hasn’t been all bad, of course. We’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones. We’ve made new memories. We’ve lived through a pandemic. It almost feels like we’ve already lived through a lifetime since we’ve been here. The Bay Area feels like a hazy dream only solidified in reality by the friends that intermittently message me asking how life is in the south — when am I coming back they ask.
There’s a mutual understanding that they ask me this just for the sake of conversation. In reality, the chapter of my life that is the Bay Area has been neatly closed. I can’t imagine returning now, not when the world has changed, not when I have changed.
For as many years as my daughter and I spent there, I can’t sense any of the roots we put down there. The earth has been salted and the roots have withered, never to grow again.
We went to the storage unit today in search of our candles. It’s been a year since we’ve seen our things. We eagerly ripped open the boxes while I relished getting a taste of nostalgia for what our lives had been like in Oakland. I stuffed the tealight candles into my purse and grabbed a macrame wall hanging I had nearly forgotten about, but the nostalgia didn’t come. I contemplated ripping through all the boxes, intrigued by the possibility that I hadn’t seen enough of our belongings to get a full taste of the memories. But I knew that it was a fruitless endeavor.
In all honesty, I’ve spent the last year looking forward to moving onto something new. I’ve reached an understanding with myself that craving a life that ended long ago wouldn’t help me. I’m like the shark constantly swimming because if I didn’t I would sink to the bottom of the water column — perhaps I would even suffocate from the lack of water flowing through my gills.
It’s hard to tell how my daughter feels. She felt the pangs of homesickness when we first got here, but she adapted all too well as children are apt to do. When I ask her where we should live next, she never mentions Oakland. She talks about a world of possibilities, and the ones we’ve already tried are never at the forefront of her mind. I guess she takes after her mother.
When I pulled the sliding metal door shut on our storage unit, I only thought about when we’d be opening it again, hoping that the next time it was open would be the start of the next chapter of our lives. I keep waiting for the perfect moment to leave, but the world is telling me that the perfect moment will never make itself clear.
I think it’s telling me that I just have to take a leap of faith, the same leap of faith that brought me to this intermission in my life.