two weeks in: baltimore vignettes

k and i leave for baltimore around 1. the cats are sedated, the car is packed just shy of blocking any rear vision. the drive is 9.5 hours along the ohio and pennsylvania turnpikes respectively. out of michigan and throughout ohio we are tense and sad and unable to communicate. in pennsylvania i buy aunt anne’s from the rest stop, hold k’s face in my hands, and we start over, determined to begin life in b-more sweet and together and better than ok. at my new place, the cats are still stumbling around trying to understand where and how they got to be in this new place. we all stumble into bed, an air mattress bought on clearance at bed bath and beyond. morning comes quick and hot and hopeful. later that night, our second, but what feels like the first, we take beer and cigarettes to a park, watch the still waters of druid lake and the city across it. i think, “this is love.”

on the day my things are unloaded from the trailer, it rains endlessly. all my boxes have moved in transit and between the trailer’s four steel walls is the debris of my memories: correspondence i have kept since i was a girl, clothes, shards of glass. i cannot stand to look at it, so i sit on the porch and watch the movers haul everything in with care it doesn’t seem to warrant. they are so kind, they are so fast. they show me each broken piece like an apology. later i learn one is from michigan and we reminisce about pizza at the white horse. when they leave, having moved everything but the box spring which will not fit, they each hug me close. we are wet and warm, somehow sad and triumphant. eventually k and i get the box upstairs–we saw it in half, fold it on the long end like a book or a taco and unfold it back in the bedroom after it’s cleared the stairs. you can’t tell it’s been broken down its center line.

unpacking is a hellscape we flit in and out of in waves of bearability. the kitchen first, the living room, the bedroom. when every box but those full of books is empty, we stay in on the couch, my feet in k’s lap and hers in mine. she looks around, says it’s starting to seem like a place i might live. she sees more clearly than me–i am still mired in michigan, in a life i had and a cozy known universe. being here scares me even as it excites. i feel un-moored and without roots. this is made worse by my inability to reliably navigate baltimore. it feels to me like a city of easter eggs, of secrets. you don’t know where you are until you are there, and then suddenly, there you are. some mornings i run down 33rd and around lake montebello before circling home. at the lake people either nod as you pass or look away. i’ve found this duality in all places, total friendliness or total invisibility. either you are there or you are not.

just as k walks toward the airport terminal it begins to rain again. the drops pound against my window and it’s too early for the sun. i miss her when she leaves the room–what is this feeling when she is gone even further? it goes beyond missing. one night she said to me, “it doesn’t feel like enough to tell you i love you anymore. it’s more than that.” more than that, more than this. k transitioned me out of michigan, but who will transition me out of k? who will transition me into baltimore? every morning i remember more of her and of me. always more with her, always more when we are together. i sometimes don’t recognize myself, but i am also always home. the diaspora taught me how to rebuild every bit alone, and i do it. k makes it easier, better. more than rebuilding, more than just living. sometimes baltimore is so beautiful to me it aches; i tell myself that’s healing.

my aunt’s friend gives me a gorgeous high back chair. my uncles and cousins are shocked that i’ve carried it to the car without their help, shocked that i plan to bring it home the same way. they treat me like a little girl who can’t do very much and it bristles against the years i’ve spent becoming myself, doing for myself, learning the easy and hard ways of being alone. this thing that i treasure more than anything, my self sufficiency, they seem resent. i bring the chair to my new apartment and to my impossibly narrow staircase and wedge it up inch by inch. at turns it’s so stuck in the stairwell i can slide under it. i ask one of my neighbors for help getting it the last way up, someone i have seen walking by and have chatted with mundanely. his first words upon seeing it lodged above the stairs are “can’t your boyfriend help you with this?” i think he’s picked the wrong day and the wrong girl. he leaves without helping at all, and i manage the chair the rest of the way up without aid. i say, out loud to myself and without irony, “i am a champion.”

i bake bread for the first time just short of two weeks in. i visit the farmer’s market one block away and ask about canning tomatoes, buy green beans to pickle. i hang shelves and mirrors and re-sort closets. i visit campus and fill out paperwork. i talk on the phone with k, with my sister, with many of my anchors. i get real mail and flowers from loved ones across the US. whatever else i think now, when something arrives penned by a hand you know, that address is yours. you live here now, where it is by turns lush with greens and lustrous with the reflection of buildings and boats. whatever else i think, i live here now. sometimes during the most banal moments i am happiest. finding screws at the hardware store, cashing a check at the credit union. sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette while the neighborhood walks by.

today a woman passed me, said “you always look so peaceful here.”

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