You will move out much as you moved in, a time lapse in reverse, gathering all of the cloth and papers into two suitcases in the center of the floor, decolonizing corners of the room as you go.

First the shelves stop belonging to you. Then the towel racks. Buying clothes hangers had always seemed too permanent. You didn’t. One less thing to drop down the garbage chute into that clattering darkness. You work your way inward in concentric circles, taking back sentences and gestures, taking back spilled drinks from broken glasses, haunted sleeps on a mattress that kept you awake. You stack your belongings into piles and weed out the imposters among them. You don’t want to clean the dishes again, so you stop using them, and when you do, they stop belonging to you, as if they ever did, waiting for you upon your arrival as though you were just any anonymous tenant in need of a plate.

Moving out is a form of contrition. Forgive the sleeping late, and the not sleeping. Forgive every pot of coffee, individually, and the pink mold you are sorry grew from the used coffee filters. Forgive yourself the plans you made and dropped to the floor of the closet because there was no place to hang them. Hanging, anyway, you would have been able to see their outlines too clearly, to see them sprouting limbs grotesquely and walking away. Going home may not be forgiveness, but you scrub this room until you are sorry, until you it is as strange to you as you once were to it. Once you had never slept in this bed, never traced the condensation in this shower, never burned your arm on this oven, and now you will never sleep here again. You empty the refrigerator, give away the basil plant. You make a to-do list that ends, “go away.”

The last thing you lose is the language. You cannot even say “heavy” to a taxi driver. You have lost “luggage” and “coffee with cream.” On the airplane you work out the equation over and over: how many hours since you last saw the sunrise? You always end up with an uneven remainder. It sticks high in your stomach like turbulence. You land at the same time you departed.

I wrote and whittled this piece while I was studying abroad in Berlin during my junior year of college. It’s turned out to be remarkably prescient. That move — away from an apartment where I lived alone and had a regular writing practice for the first time, away from a city where I first discovered I was fascinated by the shape and structure of cities — that move would be the first of many over the next few years. Sure, I’d already left my parent’s house, and I’d already moved from a dorm room to my first apartment in New York to my aunt’s apartment in Brooklyn, but moving away from Berlin felt like the beginning of a trip I’m still on. Two days after landing back in the states, I flew to Alaska for the first time. The longer piece of which this was once a fragment went on to describe landing in Alaska, too. It was the height of summer and the sun wasn’t setting. I had bought my first watch for the trip, and I wrote about staring at its glowing face while lying in a bedroom still lit by the sun at 2 a.m. I was reading Infinite Jest at the time, and I’d routinely stay up until dawn without realizing it, and then have to turn myself in, groggy, at the restaurant where I worked. Eventually I covered the window with cardboard and black plastic bags, leaving a single hole in the center. It turned my bedroom into a camera during the day, projecting an upside down image of the world outside onto my wall, and created a blessedly dark cocoon at night.

Every time I revisit this piece I’m amazed again at how much I already seemed to know was at stake in a life of nomadism. The dishes that never belong to you, the plans that must be dropped because there’s no place for them to thrive, the strangeness of the self in a place that is strange, the basil plant that always needs to be given away. This has become something of a ritual, giving away the plants I inevitably acquire whenever I feel too rootless. When I left Alaska it was a tomato plant to McKenzie and a trio of herbs planted in a broken buoy to Katreena and Rich. I’d actually had it in my mind that herbs could come with me. But once the car was packed — two bags strapped to the roof, Jade wedged in the backseat, Steve behind the wheel, and me in the passenger seat with that big plastic buoy on my lap —suddenly driving for a week from Alaska down to Seattle that way seemed far less appealing. By chance, we ran into Rich and Katreena while trolling around Girdwood looking for a place to throw away the last of our garbage (Steve and I lived in a dry cabin with no amenities that summer) and I gave them the herbs. I don’t know what became of them.

I’m growing a garden here, too, predictably. The urge to plant seems to strike the hardest at the times I am most certain I won’t be around long enough to reap the rewards. Just tonight I built a trellis for the snow peas I am told will proliferate wildly. So be it. My roommates will eat snow peas late into the summer, while I drive east. I’ll leave all the furniture again, donate half of my clothing, muse on the projects left unfinished, the trappings of home I never wrought. I’ve actually nested more here in Seattle than I did in Alaska or our house on Bainbridge. My bedroom is hung with pictures, maps, and postcards (including one of your letters). I’ve tilled the garden into rows, laid down burlap sacks between them, and built a trellis out of bamboo shoots and fishing line. But I’ll sell the bike, the cross-country skis. I’ll take the blender, and the galvanized watering can, and the cast-iron skillet my youngest brother gave me after I left my own well-seasoned pan in the cabin in Alaska, a fact I realized with deep remorse halfway through the Yukon.

The question that haunts me, ultimately, is whether I’ll ever know how to stay. Even when I reach Philadelphia, where I tell myself Steve and I won’t just live but will root, but will settle, will I keep refusing to buy hangers, telling myself now isn’t the right time to join Spanish classes or to participate in local politics? Nomadism can become an excuse for apathy, when being rootless seems to justify thriving as an individual, independent of surroundings, rather than as part of them.

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