It was warm for an October night, but then again it was the South, so it was always warm. I rushed into my bedroom after an awkward farewell dinner with my aunts and cousins -- I couldn't stop rubbing my nose for some reason, and I blamed it on the unseasonably warm weather, even though I'm sure it had something to do with nerves -- and resumed packing. Two suitcases were splayed open on my bedroom floor, and I was attempting to stuff as many clothes as possible into them without going over the 50-pound weight limit I was allotted by the airline. After throwing in a second pair of boots, I zipped one of the suitcases and weighed it with the handy little weigh scale I had just gotten from Marshalls. This is strange, I remember thinking. JetBlue is currently determining what I am allowed to start my new life with.
This was the first autumn in my entire life that I hadn't started a new semester of school. When late August rolled around, I felt odd and out of place in my childhood home in Charlotte, North Carolina rather than in Raleigh, where I had gone to school for the past four years. It had been perfectly reasonable, and even preferable, to fill the summer after graduation hanging out in Raleigh, with beach trips and music festivals, babysitting the family I watched for two years and freelancing at the local alternative weekly. When my apartment's lease ended in late July and I had to move back home, though, it was with a sense of defeat, and I knew that I needed to get my stuff in gear if I was going to lead a fulfilling life. After accepting a job with a publishing house, I soon found myself packing my bags for the great city of New York.
My mother came into my room and settled herself on my bed to "help me pack," though in reality it was just to make fun of my selection process and watch The Devil Wears Prada. Did I really need to bring my 600-page novel about the history of New York when I had a weight limit on my luggage? Probably not, mom, but it makes me happy and that's what matters to me right now.
I was packing anything and everything that was familiar to me in an effort to turn New York into a comfortable home. I would only know one person there (who attended Columbia and was guaranteed to be largely absent due to copious amounts of studying), and I was moving into a stranger's room in Williamsburg for two weeks while I searched for an apartment. Unlike others in my graduating class, I was lucky enough to find a job in my field fairly quickly, but my new job in publishing was the only certainty I had. No friends, no home, no relatives... If I needed my books to get through this time in my life, you'd be damned sure I was going to pack them.
I sat with my mother on my bed as the movie ended. We pretended that we weren't both heartbroken at the thought of her only daughter moving away from home and simply focused on how great I would look in my new trench coat traipsing around New York City à la Anne Hathaway. My brother periodically poked his head in after playing video games in the living room to complain that we weren't watching something better, and we'd counter that we wished he was gay so that he could enjoy quality entertainment. Our dog trotted in and curled up between me and my mother and my brother eventually joined us, the four of us huddled together on my twin-sized bed. I started to forget why it was so important to move away from my family, and then needed to get up and pack more to forget those thoughts. Should I bring one umbrella or two? You won't have a car to take shelter in when it rains, better bring two.
We'd all barely slept when we left the house at four in the morning. I hadn't slept at all -- I had no way of knowing when I'd be able to fly back home, and I didn't want to waste any of my last moments. In a way I was leaving behind my childhood. Never again would I live at home and be able to fully rely on my parents. Two suitcases and a carry-on were all I was able to bring; I'd have to get the rest at some indeterminate time in the future. It would be up to me to pay bills and rent, cook food and make friends, take care of myself. In the cold darkness of that early October morning we all seemed to realize this, and so made nervous conversation on the way to the airport. My mother wavered slightly in her traffic lane, but whether it was from sleepiness or emotion I'll never know. My dog sat happily in my lap, shedding white hair all over my black yoga pants, but I didn't mind at all. I wouldn't be able to cuddle with her in my bed for a long time, she could shed all she wanted. I remember laughing a lot in the car; we were all slap-happy and exhausted, looking for a way to process leaving home.
Once we pulled into the airport drop-off lane, we went abruptly from laughter to tears. I'd call as soon as I landed? Of course, of course. We held up the traffic lane for a good five minutes, making promises of future visits and safety on airplanes and looking before crossing the street, and then we just simply held each other. Laden with my clothes and books, I left my family behind in the car and walked into the fluorescent-lit airport, puffy-eyed and dragging my suitcases behind me.
Two hours later, I was flying over the outer marshlands of New York, the sun just peeking over the horizon and turning everything into the most beautiful vibrant gold. Suddenly, out of the rural fields came the towering spires of the city, the sun glinting off its windowed buildings and throwing them in sharp relief against the cobalt blue sky. A buzz of activity ran through the plane; people began waking up and gathering their things, and I couldn't help but feel excited along with them. It wasn't fully morning yet, but I could tell that everyone would hit the ground running when they arrived. They had things to accomplish, as did I. We landed, and I put away my book and stood with the other New Yorkers.