Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Weight of Travel

As I mentioned here, Billy unveiled the backpack I'll be carrying on our trip to Belize. Call me crazy, but all this time I'd been picturing a Mary Poppins-esque Jansport. Small and cute, yet mysteriously able to carry two suitcases' worth of shoes and clothes and makeup.

I'd also been sort of fantasizing that, right around now, Billy would say "Haha! Fooled you! You get to take luggage! Two bags!" and we'd share a laugh, and I'd playfully slap him on the shoulder and ridicule him for scaring me into actually believing I'd only be able to carry a few items, and then we'd kiss and kiss and then, later, I'd start packing the first of my two very large suitcases. With lots of stuff that I don't really need.

However, this was not the case.

What he actually did was tell me to stand up and close my eyes. And then he left the room. From the room next door (a storage room/art studio) he commanded that I keep my eyes closed. "Still closed?" his voice, that was gradually getting closer, inquired.

Feeling like an idiot, I huffed out "YES!" Billy's big on the buildup, and it just drives me crazy. Which he knows. Which is, I think, why he does it.

He told me to turn around and put my arms out straight behind me. I knew he'd be putting the backpack on me, I could even hear it rustling in his excited hands. But I still sort of hoped for the surprise weight of a heavy suitcase in my outstretched hands.

Perhaps it is here that I should explain myself. I know how trite I sound when I talk about traveling with only a backpack. I know that I may even sound ungrateful or unwilling. This couldn't be further from the truth. I cannot wait to go with Billy. I cannot wait to experience something so far from what I've ever done in my entire life. But that's just it. I've never done anything like this. And I'm a little scared. I'm scared I won't do well at it. I'm scared I won't like it. I'm just scared because it's the unknown. I'm very much a creature of habit. And my habits when it came to vacationing, consistently involved packing too much makeup, too many clothes, and what everyone thought was way too many shoes, but were always all worn at least once. That's what I do. Wearing cute shoes and doing my makeup and dressing up makes me feel good. I like to do that on vacation. I like to go out to dinner. I like to go shopping. I like to sight see. But I like to wear cute shoes. I like to wear makeup. So that's is why I'm a little frightened. Because this isn't what I'm used to. At all. Not only am I traveling to Belize, I'm wandering out of my comfort zone.

So I stood there, arms out straight behind me and eyes closed, as instructed, and he put it on me. He slid the backpack over my arms and rested its padded straps on my shoulders. It felt huge on my body, cumbersome and not me. "Lemme look at you," he said, spinning me around. I hooked my fingers through my jean's belt loops, stuck my hip out, struck a pose. He laughed. I felt uncomfortable, awkward. I laughed, too. "I think," he said, while I stood there as he adjusted the straps around my body, like a first grader on my way to my first day at school, "that this may be the last time you come with me, huh?" He laughed and tugged me to him by the shoulder straps. He kissed me, still holding onto the front of the backpack.

"Maybe," I laughed back. I tilted my head back, touching the top of the backpack with the crown of my head. I felt shorter, for some reason. I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I moved them from my belt loops up to the shoulder straps, hooking my thumbs around them by my armpits, pushing the straps away from my body. Just like I did in high school.

I wasn't sure how long I was supposed to wear it for this particular fashion show. Billy kept circling me, checking me out in the gray backpack. He kept nodding in approval, tucking straps in here and there, saying "Uh-huh," and "Nice." So I stood around clumsily for a minute or two of his evaluation, feeling more than a little strange, then finally took it off. It slid down my arms in one smooth motion, and I swiveled it around onto the bed to take a look at it. Since, technically, I still hadn't seen the thing.

What had seemed like a scary behemoth on my back, now suddenly seemed so small. I opened the top flap and peered inside. "I'm supposed to fit all my stuff in there?" I said, pointing to the tiny cavern that would become the home to all of my earthly possessions for ten days in Central America.

"Yeeesss." He then began to unzip and unclip all sorts of compartments and hiding places within the bag, opening each one and displaying its vacancy triumphantly. "Look at this one! And this one here! And, oooh, here's another one!" I looked on, watching his obvious excitement unfold with every compartment. This is what he loves the most in this entire world. Traveling, carrying nothing more than he has to. Being unencumbered. His glee was contagious. I couldn't help but smile, watching him. "You know," he said, re-zipping a compartment, "this is the backpack my brother used when he met me in Greece. And it's the backpack my cousin used when we went to Australia." He handed me the now closed backpack. Passing a baton, of sorts.

"I feel honored," I said with a smile. I meant it. I did.

When he gave me the backpack, I felt the weight, the enormity of what it meant to him. I'm the first girlfriend he's ever taken with him. I'm stepping into a space previously occupied by only family members, people he was required by blood and law to love. People who will be in his life forever. And, me? He's not required to love me, he's just chosen to.

Billy's not one to talk much about the future, about the whys and hows of his loving me. He'll tell me he loves me, that I'm beautiful, that he's crazy about me, but he's not much into dissecting his feelings like I am. He doesn't want to rehash why he sought me out, what he liked about me before talking to me, why he was so hell-bent on getting my phone number, why he worked so hard to gain my trust from the very beginning. He just says "Do you know I love you?" And when I say yes, he says "So why all the questions?" He can't be mushy, he tells me. And that's fine. I can accept that. Everyone has their limits. So I look to The Dresser of Strength. His invitation to live with him. The fact that he stops and picks up ice cream for me some nights on his way home from work. But the one thing that supersedes all of that is this trip. His insistence that we spend ten days together, where we know no one but each other. Sharing something he loves so much with me. Wanting to be with me enough to take me with him the one time in the whole year that he actually gets to be alone. Wanting me.

That makes the backpack so much easier to carry.

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