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My first move was to New York from Virginia. I can still see the Upper West Side Saturday night street scene clearly in my mind. I stood stiff, nervous, amongst my duffel bags and suitcases, and watched well-heeled people huff along toward their evening plans. Everything moved so fast. I felt like a shrimp in a giant ocean; I felt invigorated and alive with the swirl of possibilities.
My next biggest move came from the decision to leave the East Village. I’d long cherished the neighborhood. My father had lived there for a time when I was a boy, and it had always embodied the exciting, exclusive edge of culture that I longed to belong to. And then it didn’t anymore. The allure faded somehow. And in the parting email I sent to friends and family I announced, with a certain bravado, that I was ‘moving to the country’, though Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn hardly qualified as such.
In Carroll Gardens I have remained. The old brownstones and trees please me as much now as they always have. In its own way, this latest move is as big as the others. Though it’s only a short distance – three blocks - I feel like I’ve come a long way. This new move is the culmination of a deep and lasting romance. I met my girlfriend at a party in the neighborhood, and there we will now live, together.
It's past midnight, and I'm packing up the last of my belongings before I ditch the Upper East Side for Murray Hill in the afternnoon. While I survey the colossal mess, the piles of boxes, and mounds of dust gathering in the corners of my apartment, I reflect on how different this move is from the last one.
August 30, 2005. I’ll never forget that day – the day I moved from Vancouver, Canada, to New York with nothing more than a suitcase and two boxes full of clothes, books, and a few personal belongings. That day, my apartment seemed so bleak, with its bare white walls and a single mattress on the floor (the few pieces of furniture I had purchased had yet to arrive). Homesickness, loneliness, and regret hit me immediately. I didn’t know anyone in Manhattan, I missed my family, and I couldn’t stand the noise of the city. The idea that I was going to have to live here for next two years terrified me. What the hell had I gotten myself into? Who in their right mind would even want to leave Vancouver? I wanted to turn around and take the earliest flight back to Canada.
Four and a half years later, I am still in Manhattan, and it seems inconceivable that I once hated the city. Shortly before I left Vancouver, my brother-in-law predicted that the NYC would harden me. Perhaps it has, but I think more importantly, it has made me the person I am today – better, stronger, and more confident. Some moves are simply a change in one’s dwelling place (like my upcoming one), but others can change a person for better or for worse.
Today's move is the culmination of several: a long, protracted process that began in October. We undertook a gut renovation of our house and construction began in the middle of that month. Since it was a gut restoration, we had to vacate the premises for an extended period. That period lasted 5 months.
After an involved and somewhat lengthy search, we found a sublet right under our noses: one of our architect's tenants' had suffered a family emergency and had to hightail out of NYC for an unspecified period of time. It might seem cruel to say, but their family drama dovetailed nicely with our needs. Furthermore, the apartment was 11 blocks from our home and between the same cross streets so it seemed easy.
Moving is never easy. Moving always sucks. I rented a truck and hired 3 of the guys from my work to pack up and assist. What was needed at the apartment (it was furnished) went over there in several trips in my car. The rest went into a self-storage unit 4 blocks from our house. We stayed in the apartment until mid-February.
We then moved into friends' house while they were on a skiing holiday. Their block was between the same cross streets but only 3 blocks from our house. We kept creeping closer and closer to home on the same axis. Again, many cars trips to and from the sublet to the house-sit accomplished this move. We had to do it all over again at the end of that week.
By then the top two floors of our house were deemed habitable. Another round of car trips, this time from the house-sit to our home, ensued. I also rented a U-Haul van and enlisted my cousin to assist me in moving some of our more essential furniture from the self-storage unit to our house. We set up camp in our living room and toughed it out there for three more weeks.
This week, the ground floor of our house was completed and unveiled. The time had come to move everything back into the house and truly set up our home. I think it more than understandable that I've had my fill of moving myself. That's why I called Rabbit.
The Village Move
Getting home from teaching at the local primary school one day, I arrived at my house nestled in the middle of a coastal village in Tonga. The chief of the village and his wife were sitting in my living room when I opened the door. Some of their furniture had already been moved into my house and it looked like they were moving in with me. I found this strange, but hey it’s Tonga, and I did not want to ruin my ties with them, so I just asked them how they were and then sat down. They proceeded to ask me if I was happy in Tonga, I mean I had been there a little over a year as a Peace Corps volunteer in their village and I spoke the language, taught English at their schools and worked with the youth on projects. I was one of the more positive volunteers always trying to keep myself busy and out in the village. The chief went on to tell me that he and his wife would be moving back into my house and that I would need to move to the city. The city was over an hour away and definitely not where I wanted to be since we had youth projects going on out in the village that took awhile to get started up in the first place, and I only had eight months left in Tonga. Why didn’t the chief understand that? We had never seen eye to eye on much and so I knew arguing with him would not solve the problem
I found a couple of suitcases and boxes and packed up a few things and left for the city with a friend who picked me up. That was the first time I really felt lost when I was in Tonga. I always had close Tongan friends around me in the village, but now I was out in the city without a plan or a home.
A couple of nights passed and I began getting calls from the youth out in my village telling me that they stood up to the chief and they wanted me to come back. They said they would provide me with a house and that they were painting it and getting it all set up for me. A few days later I moved into the house and back into the village. You could tell the youth had renovated the house Tongan style. I had a kitchen table but it was more like a slab of wood being held up loosely by four wooden sticks. Also, the bed they had moved in for me sunk in about a foot deep in the middle of the mattress so that took some skill to sleep on. It was the rats, mice and cockroaches in this new place that drove me a little crazy, and laying out poison for them just didn’t do the trick. I didn’t have the luxury of a shower, I had to go out back and collect the rain water from a tank and shower using a cup. I actually got used to all of these new changes in my life though, and really learned how to live like a Tongan.. Tongans were never afraid of mice, rats or cochroaches, and none of them had the luxury of a shower, or firm bed to sleep on. We were equal now.
The chief of the village ended up being kicked out of office a few months later when it was discovered that he had been stealing money from the village bank account. The youth grew and I was happier in Tonga then I could have ever imagined in my ‘new’ home. I was accepted by the Tongans in a different way now, it wasn’t a false acceptance anymore, it was real. Looking back on it I am so glad the chief decided to kick me out of my ‘Peace Corps house’… I wouldn’t have really known Tonga if he hadn’t made that move.