Packing always proves to be quite challenging for me.
I’m an over-packer. I like having my stuff with me. I like to pack the things that make me happy. The projects I’m working on.
The books I’m reading. My writing. My knitting.
When I travel, I’m not one to embark on a big sight-seeing expedition. I love to experience the culture of wherever I’m visiting. I relish sitting in a cafe and eating delicious foods. Having time to connect with myself and with my husband in a new place. I like the possibility of having time to read, write, talk and to go slow, for a change.
With that, the first thing I like to pack into my suitcase is time.
Time to do all of the things that make me happy—the things I don’t get to do on a daily basis. Traveling without kids means more time for thought—I throw those things into my bag too.
I also pack hope.
Hope that my time away will afford some new perspectives on life. Getting away from the day-to-day allows for some time to breathe.
To be still. To ponder who am I as a person. To contemplate what I want for myself and for my life when I return. To consider the gifts I may bring home for myself after my time away.
It’s always a struggle to fit everything into my suitcase. I’ve learned if I sit on top of my bag and bounce up and down—pulling the zipper a tiny bit at a time, it will close.
Bounce-zip-bounce-zip—swear! Bounce-zip-bounce-zip—wipe off my sweaty brow! Bounce-zip-bounce-zip — check for body odor! Bounce-zip-bounce-zip—cry out for some f*#!ing help! Inch-by-inch I can usually get the damn thing closed. Without leaving a single thing behind.
When I depart, my suitcase is always brimming with possibilities.
It’s positively overflowing. By the time I’ve arrived at my destination and started to unpack, I’ll often marvel at how much I managed to cram in there. I find myself wondering, “What on earth was I thinking packing all of that into my bag? I’m never going to use it all. How did I even stuff it all in?”
Usually I panic a bit thinking my expectations were too high and worrying I’ll be disappointed. This anxiety happens every time, and every time my husband lovingly reminds me that it’s okay. This is what I do. It’s how I pack. It is my process.
As the days pass and I continue to pull the contents out of my luggage, I inevitably find another thing that jams itself into the corner of my suitcase. I always try to leave it behind, but despite my valiant efforts, it weasels its way into my bag regardless.
I usually find it in the corner near the end of my trip—my childhood trauma.
It accompanies me wherever I go. Near or far, the remnants of my childhood sexual abuse are always with me. I hate it.
Recently I had the opportunity to join my husband on a business trip to London. During my first few days in London, I came so close to forgetting about the abuse. It was blissful. But as our time there ticked by, the reminders started popping up.
On my final day there, it started to ooze out all over everything. Leaving a royal mess. By the time I was packing up my luggage to go home, my unwanted item had renamed itself. No longer was it childhood trauma, it was fear.
Lucky me—heading home with a suitcase overflowing with fear.
You’d think that airport security would pull me aside and inquire what I was carting around? One would hope that a security dog would sniff it out and rescue me from it. Damn fear. Sometimes it’s so small I miss it, but sure enough, it grows until I see it again. Fear hates to be ignored.
Fear takes up way more room on my return flight than it does on my departure. Fear is accompanied by thoughts such as, “When I get home, I’m still going to have to do the hard work. Will the residue of my trauma ever be gone? Will I ever be done processing it?”
On my first day in London, I sat in a cafe writing about harnessing the magic of vacation when I return home.
I wanted to highlight how we can bring a bit of the vacation enchantment home with us. I do believe we can do this. But as my final day rolled around, I hadn’t finished my piece and instead of bringing vacation magic home, I just wanted to stay on vacation forever. I found myself longingly crying for our first few days in London, when I thought I had left childhood trauma in a ditch by the roadside.
Lately anger comes along for the ride and it seems that honestly, it takes up the biggest part of my suitcase. My rage. I find myself writing and unable to finish because I’m just consumed by anger. And this, more than anything, is the unresolved piece of my life. The piece that gets in the way of writing. The wall I keep coming up against over and over again.
Anger leaves me completely stuck and I can’t even stand it because I don’t think I deserve to be stuck. I was a child and the grownups in my life hurt me. They should be suffering. They should be processing. They should be stuck. Not me. I feel like a child—stomping my feet with snot and tears streaming down my face as I write that. (It’s embarrassing to be that honest).
As I flew home, with my husband still in London, I found myself feeling quite small. Much like my childhood self—with a big bag that’s too hard to manage and too heavy to carry by myself. It’s not neat and tidy with a lovely bow. It’s messy, crumpled and damaged from being banged up on the plane. It is completely weighed down with rage. It’s still unresolved.
The only way I know how to resolve it is to write about it.
To tell my story. To ask you to hold the luggage with me. I have to own the rage and the anger and I have to be honest when I tell you that I want you to feel it too. I want you to experience my anger with me. If you can feel that angry too, then I won’t be alone with my anger and maybe it won’t feel so enormously big.
I need to be open and share with you that right now, I am burning with rage. Unfortunately the only person hurting is me. Not the people who deserve to be hurting. For the first time in my life I’m telling my story so I can resolve it.
I have to ask you to help me carry my bag. I’m hoping that with help, I can come home from a vacation without a suitcase weighted by my past. You see, I want the souvenirs in my luggage—the beautiful chocolates, the colorful candies, the touristy coffee mugs and the freshly ground Greek coffee.
Not the trauma. Not fear. Not anger.
They get in the way of love. They hinder my ability to connect with my authentic self. More than anything, they leave me stuck and when I’m stuck I can’t do anything. I can’t write and I want to write. I want to write about so much more than this heavy luggage. Life is too beautiful and there are way too many fabulous places to visit.
On my last day in London, I left my favorite cafe and headed back to my hotel to pack. I had tears streaming down my face. I was overcome with frustration. I wanted so badly to get my head around my happy vacation article—but I was just too stuck.
Too consumed with anger and fear to write anything uplifting.
Preoccupied, I went a different way and took a wrong turn. As I rounded the corner, there it was—a pink bike!
A beautiful pink, London, love bike!
As if it was just sitting there waiting for me to find it! I truly choked on my own tears when I laughed out loud. My tears of sadness and rage melted away. My whole body was smiling.
That’s the bike I want to travel the world on. That’s the bike where life is celebrated and feels resolved. That’s a bike with a box of possibilities mounted on its front. I want the pink bike with the hearts and the flowers! I want to ride it and ring a bell. I think I can. I think that’s what I deserve.
I can handle the flat tires once in a while, but I don’t want the old luggage anymore.
I just can’t carry it. It’s way too heavy and it doesn’t belong to me. It never did. It was too big for me when I was little and it’s the size of an elephant now. I need to deposit it on the rightful owners’ stoop.
Let’s do it together.
Let’s ditch the luggage and ride the pink bike.
We can harness the magic of vacation and pedal it around on our day-to-day living.
Author: Jessica Malionek
Apprentice Editor:Renee Jahnke/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Image: courtesy of the author