I Can’t Take It With Me

This piece appeared in the WEEKEND section of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.

I am about to get on the train. I’m searching frantically in my purse for a ticket when all of a sudden my suitcase bursts open, and all of my things tumble out onto the tracks. There is no time. I just have to get on the train, but my purse and my pockets come up empty. That horrible cement feeling drips onto me and begins to cloud my eyes. I need to go, but I can’t. I feel myself collapsing into the pavement as the train pulls away, crushing my things below. I wake up twisted in my sheets.

This is my recurring nightmare. Not always the same mode of travel, but always the same problem: too much stuff, not the right stuff. Some people dream of tests in classes they didn’t know they signed up for. Some people dream that they suddenly look down and are naked as they walk down the street. I dream of baggage, literally.

Right now, I am living the nightmare. My room is a mess, and has been for a while. What’s the point of putting things away if I am just going to pack it all up in a few days? I have no clue what’s worth bringing and what I have to throw away. There are big questions to be answered like: Should I bring my whiteboard with me? My lint roller? What do I do with the magazines that sat in my PO Box for months? They deserve to be looked at.

How about my footie pajamas? I wore those out at least twice a year here, but who knows if I will need those where I’m going. Clothes are usually easy. I have tried to be practical about it, separating the heaps into piles. I’ll send each pile back to where it came from: clothes to go back home, clothes to go to back to friends’ closets, clothes to go to Good Will. Books are harder. Books I try to sort into piles, and I just end up sitting on my floor reading.

And what about all the things in my room that I wrote? Most difficult of all to pack is the paper. I decide I would have loved to live in the ’90s, when I could have sorted everything into clean vanilla folders and justified keeping all this paper because “files” were important. It would be so convenient to put all the past in a row in a drawer, but I have no file cabinets. So what should I do with my papers, my professors’ comments scrawled at the end? What should I do with my notes, cluttered with messages from my friends in the margins? What do I do with the letters I never sent? I don’t want to think about it.

Instead, I think about my very last day of high school, when I took off the backpack I had carried since fourth grade, still stuffed with Spanish papers and “Document-Based Question” handouts, and put it up in my barn, thinking I might want to try it out later, feel the familiar slouching weight on my lower back. I haven’t thought of it since, but I’m happy to know it is up there now. I wish I could do it again. I wish I could take my bed sheets and wrap all this up, throw it over my back like a nomad. But my apartment next year will certainly be smaller than the little attic room here that I have called home. I can’t take all of it with me.

I sit on top of my bed, a little raised clearing in the center, reading a book I have rediscovered from my shelf. Peeking over the page, I look out over a sea of colors. There’s the green duffle bag I brought to Myrtle. It hasn’t been unpacked; inside my boyfriend’s neon shirt lies across my flip-flops. There’s my computer charger wrapped around the purple windbreaker I wore to Spring Fling. There’s my friend’s T-shirt, with two images of Beyoncé’s body silkscreened over the chest. Her body sprawls languidly over a pile of library books. I remember I have to return them, or I won’t graduate. I think about heading to Bass for the last time and quickly decide to read just a little bit longer.

Contact Caroline McCullough at caroline.mccullough@yale.edu.

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