Monday, July 24, 2006

The opening of the carry-on

We all like to talk about the baggage that we carry around. Everyone says that it's preferable to keep in down to a single carry-on. I prefer to travel that way. That way you don't have to worry if the airline has lost your bag. (Thank you, United.) So sometimes you have to struggle to close the bag but you get it closed eventually.

I have started to think that it's not the number of bags but your ability to keep them closed that makes the difference. You can fill a suitcase with a bunch of stuff and stick in the back of the closet and just forget about it all. It's all still there but it's not part of your daily life. Then something happens and the bag opens. Sometimes it's a sudden explosion. Sometimes it opens slowly, so slowly that you're not even aware that it's opening. Either way around the stuff starts coming out of the bag.

This past week was definitely a strange one. (See yesterday's post.) By Saturday night, I had to acknowledge that the bag had opened. With it came the painful walk down memory lane. My first thought was to shove everything back in and close it quickly. The thing is that I've done that before. That time I ended up with severe anxiety attacks for two months before I crashed and burned -- a result of the stuff in the bag and sleep deprivation. Oh yeah. And I wasn't really eating because I was getting most of my calories in a liquid form. It was the only way that I could sleep through the night. (I was waking up every night about once every two hours, freaking out over whether I had remembered to lock the front door.) Remembering that dark phase of my life made me decide to let the bag stay open for a few days and go through the items that fell out before putting them back.

I noticed a theme to the stuff that came out. They were all memories in which I didn't feel safe. The first one that came to mind was an incident from when I was around nine. I had been playing at the house of a girl whom my friend knew. We had made a mess and needed to clean up. The girl who lived in the house told me to run in and to get some towels. Her older brother handed me the towels and then shoved back onto a bed. I remember hitting him and telling him to get off of me. He did and said, "Don't tell anyone about this. I'm just trying to make sure that my sister is hanging out with the right type of girls." I didn't tell anyone for almost 20 years. Maybe this explains my preference for baggy jeans and sweaters by the time I hit high school.

There were a bunch of other more recent ones too. The most recent of these took place in San Francisco. My job at the time required that I become a notary public. I had driven into San Francisco to take the test one morning. On my way back to the office, I realized that I had no cash so I decided to stop at a branch of my bank in Noe Valley. It was around 11 a.m. I parked my car on Elizabeth Street and walked down to 24th. After getting money from the bank, I ran across the street to get a chai latte from Starbuck's. As I was walking down Elizabeth, three guys came walking down the street towards me. I had my Starbuck's in one hand and my keys in the other. One of the guys asked me if I had a cigarette as they got near me. I told him that I didn't because I knew that that would have meant reaching into my purse. His response? "Well, in that case why don't you give us your wallet?" In what was probably just a couple of seconds, I realized that there was no one else on the street except for us. There was a busy street with lots of people about a half block behind me. I was not that far from my car but they were between me and it. I had visions of them not being happy with just the contents of my wallet. I had visions of being forced into my car, driven all around town to withdraw money, and being dumped somewhere. I took a step backwards and yelled, "Fuck you!" I then turned on heel and ran like hell for the busy street. Once there I pulled out my cellphone and called the cops. When the police officer showed up, I asked him to drive me back to my car. When I got to work, I told my coworkers what happened and then began to sob.

The first time that I went out by myself after that last incident, I was absolutely terrified. I don't know how I got through the evening but I did. And I was safe. I had to prove to myself that life wasn't filled with things that go bump in the night and people who are out to hurt you. If it is, then why bother getting out of bed?

Now I have to repack the bag because I can't walk through life like this. Well, I guess I could but then I'd be like my mother -- who will never hear the story of this past week if I can help it. None of my family will. Because I know their reaction will be for me to change everything about my life. Well, maybe not my aunt who has cancer. She would say that that kind of behavior would be allowing myself to be a victim. And I'm not. And besides it kind of freaks out the cats to see me cry.

So Sunday I vowed to go out again after having dinner with my family. If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to close the bag again. Well, maybe I could but if I let it stay open too long, then I was going to need some help with the closing. I did make one change though. I drove. I'm not sure if I'm up for walking at night just yet. It's all about baby steps right now but I'm not stopping. I mean, it's still my birthday season. I'm not going to let someone else take that away from me.

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