In the recent years of my life, I’ve become a master at three particular skills: packing all my worldly possessions in a matter of hours, forgetting the things I’ve left behind, and making a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich.
I’m sure that most young adults of the western world are familiar with the lifestyle of moving from one apartment to the next each year in an effort to find something better or cheaper, or simply to chase down new experiences. It starts from the time we turn eighteen and ends I know not when. I guess the only definitive termination of this kind of life would come at the hands of either a career or a baby. My sisters and I have each lived this kind of life pretty thoroughly.
I, however, feel I have gone above and beyond this nomadic adolescent state in recent years. Starting from July of 2010, I have managed to effectively pack everything I own and carry it with me to a new location approximately eleven times. If I made the split second decision to start over (again) right now, I could have everything I need with me and on the way to a new stage and a different cast of characters within ten hours. I’ve had practice. I’ve moved between the Niger training site and my host family. I’ve moved between my house in Kiota and the hostel in Dosso. Most recently Ive moved several times between my base-camp in Phoenix and this life in Denver of which I am still completely unsure. Almost every time, this had to be accomplished within the span of one to two days. There is a permanent blueprint in my mind of exactly how all of my most important belongings jigsaw themselves into my several suitcases and containers. There is a mental footnote ranking each and every thing I own from most to least important so I know exactly what to jettison when I run out of room in whatever transport I’m taking. I have it all down to a science.
You get an odd feeling of symbolism when you are in the process of carrying everything you own to one place or another. You get the feeling that all the permanency in your life is just an illusion, and the situational ties to people and places aren’t as solid as they seem. You feel like the ruler of a kingdom that you believed to be on solid ground, but which you one day discover to be floating miles above the rest of the world. You marvel at the wonder of it all, but have to begin the never ending work of keeping people and things from running off the edge. I try to tell myself that symbolism only really exists in works of fiction and has no place in the real world, but then I can’t completely be convinced that this existence isn’t a work of fiction itself. I’m too busy guarding my borders and staring down dizzying heights to be convinced.
This second skill is an integral part of making the first skill function. Honestly, they could almost be classified as the same thing. The tricky part about willfully forgetting the lives you’ve left behind is to find the right balance between practicality and tragedy. I have to black out enough to keep myself from constantly grieving over what I’ve had to abandon, all while carefully keeping enough memories so as not to lose completely the experiences which became a part of who I am. I call this the Wendy dilemma, because she was the only one who managed to get it right.
Few people ever realize the absolute tragedy of the story of Peter Pan. Ninety-five percent of the book is contains the happy childish adventures of Wendy, John, Micheal, Peter, and the lost boys. Then when Wendy realizes Micheal doesn’t remember their parents at all, she asks all of them to come back to the real world with her and be adopted by her parents. I’ll admit, on her part it could be seen as a necessary move. Everybody stays in London except Peter, and that’s when the tragedy ensues. As the children grow older, they forget. The lost boys, who had possibly spent entire life spans in Neverland, forget how to fly within a few weeks. Nobody remembers who Tinkerbell is or what the house in the forest looked like. They all forget Peter, himself. Their best friend for ages is suddenly and totally erased from their memories. Micheal eventually postulates that there never was a Neverland to begin with, and John grows up to be a practical gentleman with no stories to tell his children, because he has forgotten them all. It’s the most tragic ending I can think of. There is no great and wonderful thing in the world which cant be nullified by the passage of time.
Only Wendy remembers the old days and keeps a window open for Peter to visit sporadically. She is still forced to grow up and abandon childhood adventures, but she remembers some of the fantastic, brave things she and her brothers did, and it makes her a better person and a better mother for it in the end.
That is the balance I must try to strike with myself. It’s a balance we all need to find. I have to move on to new phases in my life without constantly mourning for the life and (to a lesser extent) the things I once had. At the same time, I can’t forget completely, or the first twenty years of my life will have been lived in vain. I know I can’t fly anymore, but I can at least keep the window open.
I make grilled cheese just about every weekend, and I think I’ve got it down to a science. You have to use a sturdy wheat bread, and put the butter on the bread, not in the pan. Shredded cheese melts more evenly than just using slices of cheese. My favorite fillings are sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, paired with mozzarella and Havarti cheeses. Most importantly, if you’re just working with a basic frying pan, cook it on a lower heat with a lid on the pan, so the cheese has time to melt before the outside of the bread gets too brown.
2.3 decades spent on this earth, and these are the skills I’ve learned so far. I guess I could have done worse. I’m pretty certain the world will always need more grilled cheese.