“You’re like a steamer with excellent speed,” my husband told me the other day, “Except your steering mechanism is faulty.”
“It’s hard to get you to change direction, but once you do, it’s full speed ahead,” he observed.
I thought about it for a minute, and then laughed. “Couldn’t you have compared me to a flirty little sports car with bad steering?” I asked. Then I considered how the crash-and-burn consequences of a car with bad steering are much quicker to descend than the slowly-painful fate of a sluggish steam ship. Remember how long it took the Titanic to sink? Maybe I do want to be the boat, at least as opposed to the car.
This strange metaphor came up in a discussion about my ability to adapt to new circumstances and how I tend to cope with change. I am extremely resistant to change – I dig in my heels, clench my fists, spit on the enemy and kick at their shins. I may not be a particularly skilled warrior, but I am a feisty one. But I had a funny realization about myself as I was talking to my husband – once I decide to make a change or that change is inevitable, I have learned to distance myself from people and even demonize the place that I am leaving. Otherwise, goodbyes become too painful.
Exhibit A: my attitude toward our apartment in College Park/Hyattsville. When we first got married, we lived in graduate student housing, which had the advantage of being directly across the street from the University of Maryland. My husband could catch the bus for a ten-minute ride or easily walk to class, quickly make it on foot to gym on campus, and the grounds were monitored by on-campus security.
The downside: that place was the size of a postage stamp. We didn’t even have room to pace in the 570-foot apartment. The breaking point: when we discovered a full-sized garden of mold growing in first our kitchen, then in the corner of our bedroom. This was a surprise because the apartments were updated, well-maintained and actually quite attractive – but there was some problem with the roofing that allowed water to continually drip down through the walls. Given that I am severely allergic to mold, this explained why I had been getting sick so often while we had been living there.
We found a new place within three days and moved a week and a half later – over Valentine’s Day weekend. This was also unfortunately while my husband was trying to finish up his Master’s Thesis. But despite the absolute hell this put him through, Jeremy says that he has fond memories of our first apartment. I, on the other hand, see it as the place that made me constantly sick – and so I would give it a good raspberry every time I would drive past the apartment complex after we moved out. I was convinced that our second apartment was so much better – Even though it was in the middle of very sketchy neighborhood.
Exhibit B: my attitude toward our apartment in Greenbelt. I was so glad to be out of our very own mold garden that almost anywhere would have seemed like five steps up – but we gained a lot by moving out of the graduate student housing. Our bedroom was much, much bigger (we were able to go out and buy an exercise machine), as was our living room (we bought a bookcase that is about seven feet long) and we gained a whole extra room (“the office”), a dishwasher, and a balcony. While it was true that the neighborhood wasn’t so great, I didn’t have to go on a walk to get some fresh air – I could just sit out on the balcony. I started gardening in pots and was able to do a lot of reading outdoors from April to October.
No wonder I was willing to ignore all the warnings about living in our new apartment complex. Everyone who asked about where we had moved would give us a worried look, pointing out that there were cases of arson and other shenanigans going on around there. But even when the cop pulled me over for a burned-out turn-signal, then refrained from giving me a ticket and instead gave me a warning that I should (as one of two white women living in the whole complex) move out ASAP, even then I disregarded the advice to change addresses. I had decided that I liked all the extra space and there was no way we would be able to afford it anywhere else in the suburbs of Washington D.C. And once we had made a few friends in the D.C.-area, I certainly wasn’t happy about moving to New York. There were a few conversations about Jeremy’s job options that brought me to tears and included a few over-dramatic threats that I would move back home to Michigan to live with my parents before I moved to another new place.
Yet once we moved to Nyack, I began to think a lot about how much I had really disliked living in an unsafe neighborhood. No one ever bothered me personally, yet our car was stolen right from our own parking lot – twice. I was often on edge when anyone approached me in the parking lot, and we had to call the cops on our neighbors a couple of times. So, the apartment that I once extolled as my salvation from the mold garden became another object of my derision. It seems I can’t just leave something behind – I apparently have to develop a deep-seated dislike for the place that I am leaving behind in order to detach.
Exhibit C: Michigan. I wouldn’t say that I’ve quite demonized Michigan, my home for the first twenty-one years of my life, to the same extent as I’ve cultivated my dislike for Hyattsville and Greenbelt. But my husband and I consistently have conversations about how, even though we miss our families and college friends a great deal, we are so glad that we escaped the freezing weather and dying economy in our home state. Many of our friends there are stuck with part-time, low-paying jobs and have to deal with frigid temperatures for six months out of the year. We already knew that we hated the climate when we moved down to the D.C. area for graduate school, so in a sense, I was detaching even before we left home that first time.
And when Jeremy started talking about moving again at some point in the future, I dug in my heels. I cried, I made threats, I turned and stared at the wall in moody silence. I’m so sick of wrapping up dishes and pottery, packing boxes of clothes and books, hauling art supplies, my doll collection and jewelry-making tools, and an entire library of design magazines… I’m so sick of trying to make new friends and then leaving them again. NO. THANK. YOU.
And yet, once I accepted that I’d rather go through all of that one more time than have my husband be miserable and horribly cranky every winter for the rest of our lives, I started fantasizing about owning a boat that we could dock in Florida or North Carolina. A boat is a significant part of my retirement fantasy, so this is definitely a selling point for me.
I also started planning how I would have to invest in an extremely efficient climate-control system (re: state-of-the-art air conditioning) in order to protect my several thousand books from warping in the humidity of the southern states. I started thinking about what other belongings I might be able to donate (anything but books, obviously) in order to thin out our possessions a bit more, which would make the packing process a bit easier and moving costs a bit cheaper. My husband may have to part with our five-hundred pound exercise machine before the next change of address. I am now, as Jeremy said, full-speed ahead. And we don’t even want to move any time soon.
So I guess my steering mechanism is a bit faulty – it gets stuck sometimes, and the wheel is hard to turn. Throw your weight against the wheel, though, and although I may groan, I’ll eventually change course. And then look out – I’ll end up in some completely different (hopefully warm and exotic) location.