Unpacking Time

Moving sucks.  The only thing worse than categorizing all your belongings and carefully boxing them up, is unpacking boxes where half the items suddenly qualify as trash.

My recent unpacking has been more surprising than any from moves of my past.  I had boxed up everything in my apartment in the fall of 2009 and moved to Korea with two suitcases full of clothes.  After teaching there for two years, I moved home.  My then-boyfriend was now my fiancé, and we found a big apartment to settle into together.

Unpacking together, we regularly shook our heads at the little items that the other person owned.  “Can I put this in the garbage pile?” I asked Kevin, holding up his Darth Vader helmet.

“Absolutely not.  That thing is awesome,” he said.

“How about this?  This looks like garbage.”

“That’s not garbage!  That’s a speaker I stole from the drive in theater as it was closing!  But speaking of garbage, can we get rid of this wicker thing?”

“That!  It’s totally functional.  It’s a medicine cabinet for the bathroom and you can hang towels from it.”

“But… it’s wicker.”

Slowly we found places for our stuff.  Some parts of merging together were perfect: he had a bed and I didn’t, I had dishes and he didn’t.  Our halves made up a whole.  But we also had two bookshelves and two coffee tables, and only one couch between us.

We each found ourselves going through journeys of our separate pasts too.  Kevin laughed hard when he found his old notebook full of fifteen year old poetic angst.  He laughed harder when he found a Penthouse from 1980’s that he’d stolen from his dad.

We both had stacks of yearbook pictures of old friends who’d written end-of-the-year messages and quirky private jokes in glitter pens.    Shame how something once so important now had no place to go.

I stumbled across $90 that I’d stashed in a photo album.  I’d probably hid it after a bartending shift with intentions of depositing it during the week.  I smiled at the cash gift from my 24 year old self, and pocketed it.

I also found notebooks from college full of details about the rock layers of the earth, and how to write fiction.  I found journal after journal filled with doodles and scribbled poems that I’d written while listening to “Scarborough Fair” stoned on my bedroom floor.  I threw out some things, and shelved the others.

Then I found a mix tape.  It was titled “Anna’s songs from ‘98.”  I smiled the second I saw it.  Though I had no idea what songs were on it, I was eager to hear half-songs that I’d recorded from the radio, with abrupt endings and bits of DJ banter.

I still had a tape player too.

There was an old tape inside which I ejected.  It was a chanting tape called ‘Om Namah Shivaya.”  Had I ever used this tape player?

I slid my mix tape into place and pressed play.  Hazy wobbly sound emerged for a second, and then it screeched into a whine.  I hit stop with instinctual speed, and opened up the tape deck.  I already knew what I would see; the tape had become unwound and was stuck in the tape player.

I carefully pulled at the loose tape, wiggling it free.  Then I began winding.  As I watched the crinkled tape roll back into the cassette, I realized I’d totally forgotten how frequently I’d done this at a young age when I was first falling in love with music.

I made my first mix tape in 1995 and titled it “Anna’s nifty mix.”  We listened to it on a road trip from Wisconsin to Florida and I felt proud of my great selection, from Offspring to White Town.  The next year I recorded over that tape and re-titled it as well.

Even in my teenage years I’d enjoyed making mix tapes.  I didn’t have a CD player in my car, but I had a growing collection of CD’s thanks to BMG’s “12 CD’s for a penny” deal.  I would write out the perfect order of tracks from various artists, mixing genres to show off how sophisticated and eclectic I was.  And then it didn’t matter if my car had no hubcaps, because I was still driving in style with my personalized music mix.

After winding up the 1998 mix tape, I flipped it to the other side hoping I could hear any bit of music that I liked when I was 14 before the tape player ate the tape.  I wondered if I’d hear TLC or No Doubt.  I pressed play.  Again I heard distorted guitar, this time accompanied by the unmistakably familiar voice of Dave Matthews.

I had started listening to Dave Matthews Band in high school, eventually tattooing a fire dancer on my ankle, so I could forever remember that I once turned 18.  But in 1998, my musical taste was certainly more radio-driven, so I knew that though I’d left the cassette label the same, I’d clearly  recorded over my old memories.


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