Packing for Eternity
A lifetime of forevers
It has been an arduous task this time; should I take the warm sweater or a lightweight coverall? I have no idea what the weather will be like and worse; I have no idea what to expect. Will the locals be friendly? Will we like the food? More importantly–should I pack for any eventuality or do as Ron suggests, and pack just the barest essentials?
I have always been an over-packer. An outfit or two for the beach (even when there was no possibility of an ocean visit), an overabundance of underwear in the eventuality that, for the first time in my life, my bladder lets me down, an outfit for shopping, lounging, visiting, travelling, and a formal gown just in case we find ourselves at the captain’s table on a cruise that we weren’t planning to take. Then, of course, there are multiple pairs of shoes required to match the wardrobe items.
When I was a small child, Mama used to say, “For goodness’ sake, Anna, you are not packing for eternity–try to lighten your load a little!”
Mama’s advice was well-meant, so, whenever I pack for an adventure and am tempted to go overboard, her words play in my mind and I try paring the quantity of luggage back.
Most of the time I am unsuccessful and really, that is most likely also mama’s fault.
When I was ten, mama became very ill and everybody knew that her time with us was limited. Because my father was a busy businessman, and because he didn’t bother with me much, it was decided I would go to live with my mother’s sister.
Mama watched from an old rocker in the corner of my room as I packed everything I could possibly fit into one battered suitcase and a school duffel bag. Mama rocked gently, her knees covered with a soft mohair blanket. I knew that she was very ill, but she wanted to oversee my last preparations before I left our family home. I also knew that she hoped I would pack all of her love for me, and I did, gently placing it between my snow-white camisoles and neatly folded snuggle pyjamas. That was the one time she did not tell me to pack light because she knew I would not get another chance to revisit the house to claim forgotten treasures, nor would I ever get the opportunity to tell her that her love was the dearest thing that went into my suitcase that day.
I would have been happy to walk out the door with nothing but her memory in my heart but she wanted more for me than I did. So, I left my family home, and my family, for the last time with two bags stuffed with ten years of childhood memories, favourite toys, books, clothes, and my mother’s love.
As it turned out, I had packed for eternity. At least it seemed that way to a child trying to navigate a whole new existence.
Aunty and Uncle were very kind and did their best to provide for a child that wasn’t theirs. I was probably fortunate that they didn’t have kids of their own and I must admit that I hoodwinked them from time to time, suggesting that it was okay for me to do stuff that I knew my mother would have balked at.
Before six months had gone by, my father moved away and, although I knew that he sent regular money to provide for me, he never bothered to visit or send stuff on birthdays or Christmas.
None of that bothered me–I had unpacked my mother’s love with my undergarments and wore her close to my heart for the rest of my life.
The eternity of my childhood was filled with the adventures that most children enjoy. I made friends with a neighbourhood boy who was delighted to find that I loved to swim in the river, catch tadpoles, climb trees, and have picnics made by my aunt, consumed while lounging in the tall river grasses with dappled sunlight playing on our faces.
He was my first love and by the time I was fourteen, we had shared an awkward first kiss under the flowing tendrils of a weeping willow, in our favourite place by the water.
Not long after love’s first embrace, my friend and his family moved away. I sat forlornly on the footpath, watching the removalists haul household furniture and cardboard boxes marked Kitchen, Bathroom, Lounge, etcetera, to store in the cavernous space in the back of a large truck.
With eyes downcast, a heavy load of suitcases occupying his hands and a duffel bag slung over a shoulder, my friend made his way to his family’s car. His father was poised, ready to load the luggage into the trunk.
Fearing I would not get to say goodbye, I yelled out, “Hey, looks like you packed enough for eternity!”
My beau looked up, treating me to a brave half-grin. He shrugged, waved a hand, and allowed himself to be ushered reluctantly into the back seat of the station wagon. Within minutes, he was whisked out of my life, leading me to a decision never to fall in love again because the pain of separation just wasn’t worth it.
I stuck with that attitude until I was twenty-one, engaged, and ready to begin my next eternity with a new husband by my side.
My aunt sat on the corner of my bed and watched as I loaded all my belongings into a tower of suitcases. I could tell she was sad to see me go but there was also a quiet excitement in her eyes. She was finally going to be able to share the life she and my uncle had put on hold to raise me. I thanked her as I sat on cases to close them over my bulging possessions.
“Your mother would say,” whispered my aunt, “that you have packed enough for eternity.”
I smiled softly, surprised that my aunt had mimicked my mother.
“She would,” I agreed, “but marriage is meant to last for eternity–right?” I waved my hands to indicate my piles of possessions. “So, I’m gonna need all of this.”
She nodded, and I noted a hint of sadness shadowing her excitement.
Neither my aunt nor uncle were fond of my fiancé, Julian, but I could not understand their reluctance to accept him into our small family. I had endured a few heated family discussions but my mind was made up–Julian was the one. My aunt and uncle finally capitulated, reluctantly, and wedding plans were put in place.
My for eternity was the longest and most difficult time of my life.
Julian began as he intended to continue–drunkenly and abusively. He was also the laziest person I had ever had the misfortune to meet. I think I stayed with him in the early years because I was reluctant to admit to my family that they had been right.
After my two kids arrived, I made excuses to myself that children needed both parents to raise and nurture them. Because Julian did not provide much nurture, I did my best to provide an ordered household, which I maintained by obeying my husband when and wherever necessary.
Of course, there were joyous times, and I also watched on in excitement when my two cherished offspring packed their bags for school excursions, sleepovers and camping trips, teasing that they had packed enough for eternity.
One of the most joyous times for all of us was when Julian finally succumbed to a long bout of liver disease, releasing us to go about our lives without fear of upsetting the resident tyrant. Even during his prolonged illness, Julian had ruled the house with an iron fist, screeching for this, demanding that, and I knew that my two kids were praying for the day when they could pack their bags and set off into the world.
I was fortunate to be able to spend two peaceful and fulfilling years before overseeing their preparations for departure into the wide world.
Loneliness set in, and I began preparing for holidays, which took me to the usual tourist destinations. Eventually, I packed an obscene amount of luggage for an extended cruise, something I had never experienced previously. I even got to wear the ball gown, which had survived over the years, when I dined at the captain’s table.
The whole cruise adventure turned out to be a big mistake! Fraught with loneliness and a lack of confidence, coupled with an inability to socialize, I could hardly wait to get back home to the life of a self-imposed recluse.
As time passed by, I found myself dwelling way too much on my childhood years, when I had at least enjoyed my freedom and the pleasure of a friend or two.
Hoping to experience some of my past peace of mind, I found myself driving back to the neighbourhood of my youth. I parked outside my aunt’s old house, now home to a new family. My aunt and uncle had moved to a different state before my kids were born and had allowed the ties to severe, mainly, I suspected, because of Julian. I received a chatty email from time to time, but the sense of family had diminished over the years.
I sat watching two young children playing in the yard that I had once thought of as mine and I was reminded of Ron, my first love, who had moved from the neighbourhood when I was merely fourteen years old.
The memory, so poignant and intense, sent me to the riverbank and the old weeping willow where we had carved our initials on the day we first kissed.
Call it what you will, synchronicity, fate, the inevitable reuniting of soulmates, but that was the very day Ron decided to visit and see if our initials had withstood the weathering of the years.
Following a bout of intense loneliness, and having circumnavigated the loss of a partner, Rob was sheltering beneath the old weeping willow, tracing our faded initials with his forefinger, when I chanced upon him.
We married beside that same tree exactly one year later with our families and a small group of friends in attendance. It was easily one of the happiest moments of my life. Following this, we both got our happy ever afters; forty years of growing old together–an eternal love shared that we had both waited through our separate eternities to claim.
It has been an arduous task this time; should I take the warm sweater or a lightweight coverall? I have no idea what the weather will be like and worse; I have no idea what to expect. Will the locals be friendly? Will we like the food? More importantly–should I pack for any eventuality or do as Ron suggests, and pack just the barest essentials? We both know it is time to leave, time is drawing in. As with any anticipated journey, I am both excited and afraid.
Ron has entered our room, a sweet smile on his face which transforms into soft laughter as he sees the pile of suitcases cluttering the bed. He shakes his head and guides me to a corner chair, then sets about laboriously removing cases from the bed, which he places on the floor.
I feel bad; I have caused him unnecessary exertion. I can almost hear his old bones creak as he struggles with the weight of my packing, and I know he just wants to lie down.
He takes the last few things, still on hangers and returns them to our wardrobe–a pair of cut-off beach shorts, and an old ballgown that should have been discarded years ago. He recognizes the now aged summer suit I wore when we married and stops to stroke it lovingly, his face in gentle happy memory.
“You could never throw anything away!” he holds his hand out for mine and helps me to our bed. “Why did you waste your energy packing? Good lord, there is enough here for an eternity.”
I settle in beside him and grasp his wrinkled, arthritic hand in mine. We both know we are about to take our final journey, and synchronicity has demanded we take the voyage together, booked ahead on a family pass. I briefly wonder if there is some sort of fare discount involved.
“I did pack for eternity.” My voice sounds wispy and frail, “I didn’t know what we would need.”
“I told you,” he replies gently, our final breaths mingling, “this time we only take what’s in our hearts.”