Japan. February 1999. One of my first memories of the trip Rick and I took to Japan was that of maneuvering my overpacked suitcase on the train, up the steps, down the sidewalks, everywhere. And it became harder as I went along, filling any extra air pockets in that bag with souvenirs from the trip and gifts from our Japanese friends.
Rick was not impressed. That suitcase slowed me down big time. It was horribly clunky and heavy — definitely not an easy thing to haul up steps.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that impressed, either. While I had no real way of knowing what to pack for two weeks away in a country half around the globe — in the winter, when wearing warm (and bulkier) clothing was more essential — I discovered early on that I had brought far too much and I was paying for it every time we hit a train platform!
That was our first big trip together, taken four years after we started being a couple. Both of us brought more than our share of baggage to the relationship.
For Rick it was negotiating a new life after a marriage he hadn’t wanted to end, seeing his kids only part time, as so many divorced dads did in that time. The 50/50 shared custody was much less common in those days.
For me, it was a history of relationships that were far from perfect and had left some battle scars on the heart along with the deaths of both parents and some dear friends. We were both far from perfect people, survivors of our pasts — but shaky.
You could have told either one of us “that was then, this is now.” We would agree — but it wouldn’t change a thing.
We all evolve in our relationships and if all systems are go, we evolve in a way that makes being together all the better, the reward for the days that didn’t go so well in the past. When we allow ourselves to move forward, to step a bit out of our comfort zones, to be a little less afraid, we open ourselves up to wonderful things. We modify our expectations, we learn from mistakes in the past and celebrate the differences.
It took me a long time to learn to pack lighter for travel. Even on my first trip to France in 2009, I was loaded down. And that was arriving. Just imagine after shopping for two weeks!
It took awhile for both of us to release our personal baggage.But after twenty years together, Rick and I have learned to adjust to most of one another’s quirks and preferences.
We both value our personal space, living two blocks apart but connecting every day. Our living styles are different and there was no reason to force them to combine. This, alone, makes us happy — and the envy of many of our friends!
We’ve learned to respect each other’s interests. I’ll never want to ride my bike across Canada to Vermont as Rick did this summer. And he will never understand all my crafty bits. But we accept them and revel in the things we love and share.
As we began to let go of the things that tied down our hearts, things that were part of the past, we could be free to have a relationship that is enviable, one I had never thought I could have.
I’ve always held onto things, both the tangible and intangible. The warm memories of my childhood and family. Friendships from long ago. I collect. One look at my mostly out-of-control house and you might guess that I have separation anxiety. Marie Kondo’s “tidying” book all but gave me hives. When it comes to art supplies, china and books I border on hoarder status. A trip to the lake doesn’t involve just me, a cat carrier with Lizzie, a small cooler with the weekend’s food, a pair of shorts or jeans, a couple of tops and clean underwear. There are contingency plans — extra books and art supplies, clothing for all weather, a computer.
But in recent years, I’ve been wising up a little bit.
I’ve started to declutter the house (well, I’m starting in the basement so no one can tell but me — but I know!). I’m trying to part with things I no longer use or care about and make newer purchases more carefully. When I went north this summer I decided to focus only on drawing and painting and took only the supplies I would need for that, leaving behind the piles of mixed media bits, yarn and other supplies that I had brought along in previous years, just in case.
There was an added benefit to this — by focusing on one medium instead of doing bits and pieces with several, I actually improved in my art work! It was a bonus.
Rick was right to be frustrated by my overpacking in Japan. And, while he still thinks I bring way too much when we travel, I’ve managed the last few (including three weeks in France in 2012) with a small suitcase that can fit in the carry on rack. And while he’s not sure why I need to pack my pillow, he appreciates that I sleep better that way — which works out nicely for him, too.
I believe with all my heart that we are built as much from memories of the past as we are with all the wonderful things we absorb every day. Those memories can be good or bad and sometimes they are, oddly enough, both. Just as I will always love and mourn my Marmelade Gypsy Rose, the sweet cat for whom my blog was named and who died four years ago, I wrap my heart around his successor, Lizzie Cosette, who is so unlike Gypsy it rattled me for several months. But she is her own Lizzie, not Gypsy 2. I believe Rick will always love his ex-wife a little bit and has come to look at part of the past with a smile, remembering the good times and grateful for the two boys they share, the two young men in whose lives we now all share.
We are packing lighter now. One day, perhaps I can travel with a backpack instead of a carry-on. But for now, I’ll stick with my small suitcase — and pillow. And a heart ready to be filled with all the exciting new experiences that await.
Postscript: Not long after that trip I wrote this poem for Rick in a poetry yearbook I create for him each Valentine’s Day. I’m no Mary Oliver when it comes to poetry — it’s a pretty simple style. But the words say it all.
Everything I’d ever need
Went with me to Japan.
The bubble wrap,
Books to read.
And food to eat.
Clothes for warmth
And clothes for dress,
A pillow small and blue.
All was in my suitcase,
All, that is, but you.
And so I lugged it
By my side,
While ribbing I did take.
I’d do it all again, I bet
Although my back did break.
I’d really try to pack it light
So I could make you proud,
And not to have to hear you gripe
Alone or in a crowd!
I’m learning how to pack my bags
Much lighter than before.
I’m leaving fear and history
And anger at the door.
I’m trying hard to keep
My insecurities at bay,
And only pack the good things
I’ll need on any day.
Like courage, humor, spirit.
Faith and peace and joy.
Trust and laughter,
Are what I could employ.
I’m packing lighter than I did
The other times before.
Now if only I can do so
When I hit the road on tour!
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.