On more than one occasion I have rolled my bright yellow carry-on suitcase into the office on a Monday morning to the confusion of my co-workers.
“Where did you go this weekend?” they would ask. “The Hamptons?”
“No,” I would reply. “95th and Broadway.”
My suitcase contains little pots of beauty products, sample-size toothpaste and my shampoo in T.S.A.-approved three-ounce bottles. I have a folding hair dryer, folding toothbrush and a folding dopp kit to keep everything organized.
My heels and sneakers complement each other’s shape in one corner of the suitcase, with my delicate blouses tightly rolled in the other, as I must be prepared for morning meetings, happy hours, dinner plans and snuggle sessions. Ultimately, I aspire to pack everything I need without suggesting he is my “everything.”
When our relationship began, I would arrive at his place with a nonchalant canvas tote, shoving in cheap wrinkle-proof dresses for the next day, as if our sleepovers were accidental. Eventually I graduated to a larger tote that I use to carry groceries; it has a 50-pound weight threshold, enough for several outfits, my makeup bag, a pair of shoes and my dignity.
More recently I transitioned to the yellow carry-on, what I call my “rolling suitcase of inferred permanence,” which has been a tactical delight with its capacity and portability, aside from the notorious clack of its wheels as I approach his apartment or leave mine. My neighbors must assume I am constantly catching flights to more exotic locations than my boyfriend’s walk-up apartment.
Each passing month silently confirms that he and I are heading toward permanence. My little shampoo resides next to his oversize body wash like a petite and confident counterpart. I have my own towel that I place on a hook adjacent to his after each use. My razor has found a cozy spot in the shower rack. My book-club pick sits atop his desk, ready to serve as refuge when I’m tired of watching his favorite Bollywood movies.
I once lived with a previous boyfriend, mixing our possessions with hope as I relocated from New York to Miami, his city of the moment. I shopped for decorations that weren’t overtly female, settling for shades of royal blue that reminded me of the ocean that almost kissed our backyard. I dressed the bed in fresh linens and golden yellow throw pillows to add a touch of contrast, which he never understood.
I found a beautiful tray for him to neatly place his keys and the contents of his pockets when he got home from a long day. I painted a canvas above our bed with childlike enthusiasm, the same canvas that eventually found itself propped against the dumpster when, a year and half after we moved in together, our relationship ended.
Bound by a lease and messy emotions, we remained together for months as I combed the apartment thread by thread, unraveling the items that were mine, his or ours. The espresso machine could be his, I guessed; he really did love it.
But the rest of the kitchen stuff was mine, assuming wherever I landed next would have a proper kitchen in need of my ever-growing collection of witty coffee mugs. He could keep the television; it couldn’t fit in my car anyway. Our books mingled on our shared shelf; my possessions peppered his desk drawers.
I took portions of our brief life together, put them in boxes and loaded them in my car — a fraction of a memory in the front seat, a sliver of disappointment in the back seat. I left our place with the bed made and the throw pillows he hated so much fluffed and sitting tall to serve as an insulting reminder of me in his bed.
I think of that past as I make timid movements toward a new life with someone else. This time, I have made it easy to round up my things and leave quickly, always one bag away from walking out the door.
A few months ago, I did just that. In a storm of anger and insecurity, I gathered my things in a well-organized frenzy. He called me back to the apartment as I waddled away with my bag of clothes, toiletries and used Tupperware. As I stepped into a cab, he ran out to the sidewalk, bewildered by the ease in which I was running away.
In an instant, I was gone.
For me, there was comfort in that, in having nothing to tie me down, nothing too big to remove at a moment’s notice should we decide we don’t want this anymore. There is no painted canvas hanging over our bed, only a travel-size shampoo in his shower that serves as an act of hope for one more day just like the one before, and the one before that.
Unlike me, my boyfriend is an eternal optimist. He is unscarred and without a broken heart to reference. As I leave each item behind with hesitation, he welcomes it with confidence. His enthusiasm is both endearing and naïve.
If he only knew how hard it was to piece my life back together after I returned to New York City from my breakup, my life divided. And here I am, either a total fool or a total romantic, dividing it all back up again.
With each passing day, he has tried to make tiny declarations of comfort with our merging lives. The almond milk he bought just for me sits like a trophy in the refrigerator, his reminder to me that I’ll be back.
Graceful evidence of our relationship can be traced back to me through a collection of my pink socks in his drawer, my earrings by his bedside, right up to my extra pair of heels he left for me by the front door. As my bag gets lighter, I must admit my anxiety about our transient romance has eased, too.
Just when I began to feel settled, he traveled home to India for a month. I returned to my apartment for the first time in a long time and emptied my belongings from my tote. My laundry had been haphazardly attended to and was piling up against my bedroom wall. The food in my refrigerator seemed disappointed in my lack of concern for its condition, seemingly aware that I had been cooking in someone else’s kitchen.
I unrolled my sweaters, refound a phone charger that had been lost at the bottom of my layers and started to put my things back in their proper place. But the proper place didn’t seem to be all that exciting anymore.
As weeks went by, I counted down the days until he returned. I spotted women on the train making the trek to and from their overnights, feeling like a defector from the tribe. I felt naked with my little purse that held nothing more than a lip balm and a few credit cards.
At times I would have this overwhelming sense that I had forgotten something, only to realize it was my suitcase that I was missing. The exasperating appendage that I had cursed over the past year had also become my security blanket, knowing that its presence meant he was on the other end of my journey.
One night I found his undershirt in my laundry; it had somehow landed in my clothes during the crossfire nights between his place and mine. It smelled like his laundry detergent, a mix of fruity florals and Upper West Side elitism.
I felt an immediate yearning to find my suitcase that had been recuperating in the calm of my closet and fill it with a weekend’s worth of clothes. There was nothing appealing about my dresser drawer anymore, and I had begun to shun my hangers. I wanted him to come home, and I wanted to be waiting for him, annoying bag and all.
He flew back on my birthday, the same day I was flying back from a trip to San Francisco. My yellow rolling suitcase reacquainted itself with his oversize duffel in the kitchen as he held me in his arms, his chest smelling like somewhere I had never been.
“I have a birthday gift for you,” he said, as he unloaded packages from his closet.
The wrapping paper was covered in traditional Indian print, pops of pinks and blues intertwined with shimmering gold. And inside was a purse, a purple canvas satchel covered with the image of an elephant.
“My mother helped me pick it out,” he said.
It fit only the essentials: my lip balm, credit cards and an extra pair of underwear (just in case). It was a fraction of the size of my usual overnight tote and incapable of holding multiple outfits. It had no wheels, nothing close to a 50-pound capacity. But just like him, it had traveled across the world for me, much farther than my commutes across Manhattan.
It seemed as if he just wanted to take the weight off my shoulders.
So I let him.