Chapter Nine: Movin' Out
Our headline is an ode to the opening track of Billy Joel's "The Stranger," a Boomer masterpiece I once hated and appreciate more every day. It's also what was happening in Spring, 2021.
OK: House sold, house acquired. The time had come to put aside frowny faces and coldly focus on logistics. While sublimating grief into furious action is a skill set of mine, mundane details are not. I mean, if you’re paying me to report a story, I will drill down to bikini wax levels and probably drive you crazy with single-word tweaks after I file and walk hand in hand with you into the fire of fact checking because I am there to protect our working relationship and not abandon you. And my name is on it for the whole world to see. But comparing estimates on storage companies, opening mail from the government, filing FATCA notifications or writing up expense reports? Anything that redounds solely to me, and is tedious, I will blow off. This is not optimal self-care. I pay a lot of late fees.
Here's what I had to do in the next couple months: pack up the Paris house and move most everything into storage except a few things I could wear repeatedly for three months and not want to kill myself while waiting for the new house to be in decent enough shape to move in. (Easy enough when you’re going somewhere fashion forgot). I’d need to separate out enough kitchen supplies to take me through a series of temporary furnished rentals (nobody provides decent knives), locate and secure those rentals, pass the driving test, find and buy a car, finish closing on the house, and figure out who was going to do the new house’s renovations and what they would entail before I could be reunited with my stuff. I had Fred and Penelope in tow, which meant multiple litterboxes and food would join us at every stop. I hoped, but wasn’t sure, that all the temporary moves and car trips weren’t going to destroy their tiny cat brains and send them into fits of anxiety that would redefine their elder years.
The ex and I were being constructive with each other, which helped. We came to agreement almost immediately on what belonged to whom, as well as how much I owed him for the house renovations. He gave me a few pieces of his furniture that I loved, including a mid-century office module with a a built in secretary desk and shelves and drawers that was perfect for all my papers and old magazine clippings, and which he didn’t have a place for in his new apartment. We had to pack up separately, but shared bubble wrap and tape. His stuff went first. He had less of it, but seeing the house slowly empty was weird as hell. My stuff was going to take forever. I had the couches, two big beds, most of the kitchen equipment, and an enormous collection of clothes and shoes I’d likely never wear again.
Everyone reminded me how traumatic and horrible moving is. “You know, it’s as bad as a death in the family,” was the repeated phrase, whose origin felt fishy to me even if the sentiment felt right. (How do you know it’s that bad? What if you hated the relative who died?)
Well, the awfulness was real, and it was multifaceted. It forced me into conversation with every object I owned, lamenting the state of its dustiness and disrepair, while worrying whether it would survive the clumsy hands of movers I had yet to meet, and instinctively didn’t trust. In addition to facing my questionable judgement in knick-knack acquisition, my wardrobe—I had stuff I bought in New York when I was 29, I had the dress I wore to my high school graduation—was a reminder of time gone by I could never get back. Time and health: my post-Morton’s neuroma feet would never again put on the 75-ish pairs of stilettos I had accumulated. Even if my aging dogs were still in some kind of shape, which they weren’t, I was moving to a place where I’d have to worry about brushing cow shit off them anyway. That radical change was now becoming very real and it sort of did my head in. I identified with those clothes. I earned them. They represented me and who I was in the world, and now I was putting all that away. Who would parka and rubber boots me turn out to be?
I put away the bright blue pencil skirt I wore to my second date with the ex, the one where we spent basically the whole night making out in the dive bar downstairs from my old apartment. I put away the rainbow sequined Dolce & Gabbana disco sandals with the 5 inch heels that were a present from the designers. The ex’s son was 14 when I came home from a reporting trip to Sicily with them. We were in a phase where we had the same sized feet, so I told him to try them on, which led me to dress him up in a vintage blue and red Adolfo knit dress with gold piping and a pair of giant Jackie O sunglasses. We did a small photo shoot but even if we hadn’t thought to commemorate it, I will never give up those shoes because they were now the container for that memory. Just like I will never give up the skinny black Helmut Lang suit I bought when I finally transcended the world of women’s magazines to go work at a hyped-up general interest startup called Radar. It is a size 42 Italian and I will never again be smaller than a 44. I don’t have a daughter with my proportions to hand them down to. When I die they will become someone else’s problem. Sorry in advance.
So like I have done with every house, I would build a museum to my past, which was now becoming ever more distant. That was sad. I got rid of plenty of stuff, but I kept way more, none of which I’d need, and off it went to a shed in the oddly named western suburb of Plaisir to wait until my future started to take form. The last day of the move, when we handed over the keys, I was tasked to do the final once-over of the house before the new owners arrived. We hired our cleaner one last time, and I needed to pay him and take out the trash. When it was finally time to show up for the last ever visit, I called him and told him to meet me in the street with the garbage and my vacuum cleaner. I was in tears and couldn’t face seeing the place again, empty of everything except for our carefully chosen paint colors and that fucking bathroom wallpaper. I’m a champion-level dissociator and this was the first time in my life I’d ever bowed out of anything because I was too emotional in the moment to handle it.
Move one was a two week stint in a tiny studio in Montreuil, a Brooklyn-y town due east of Paris, because it was close to my driving school, and I still had a few hours of behind the wheel training to go. It was perfunctory and clean, with a Murphy bed that felt so divorced dad I had to laugh. That was me, I guess. Still, I loved the first few nights I spent there. I had forgotten how much I adored living alone. Nobody could overhear the incessant liberal podcasts that blared from my overworked laptop. Nobody else’s schedule mattered so I ate when I wanted to and didn’t have to share. The studio’s best feature, other than its proximity to the high-turnover halal butchers on the rue de Paris (best lamb chops you will ever eat) was a massive picture window with a panoramic view of Montreuil’s rooftops. There were enough days of sun that March that that view felt hopeful. I had never lived in Montreuil so it was new to me, and it was sparkling, and reminded me of New York, which I also moved to suddenly, and which contained the keys to my entire life. I held onto those memories a lot when I looked out at that view. When I wasn’t arguing with driving instructors, I was wandering the markets, or I was home in the Murphy bed watching Paul Newman as Lew Harper, as late or as early as I wanted, careful not to spill shallot-y lentil salad in the sheets. Despite how in flux everything was, the freedom was breathtaking. I had forgotten how much I needed it.
For our next installment, limbo will still be limbo but it changes scenery, and I fail the driving test. It will not be next week, because I live in France and it is August. It will be the week after, because I am still American and my DNA tells me that month-long vacations are actually bad for my health. Thanks for sticking around this far!