|The View From Topside of our RV|
My partner and I have lived in a 38 foot motor coach since 2006. We consolidated all our savings and paid cash for the big RV. We moved from a cottage in the woods of Marin County to a pleasant campground in Petaluma, a small town north of San Francisco. Our monthly expenses shrank for $2400 to $900. That was very nice indeed!
Now that the cross-country ride was over, we entered an interim period. We were living in two places. We were confronting the magnitude of switching into a wholly new mode of life, a life in a small space, a life where every object must be in its place. If there was no place for a particular substance or object, then it must either be tossed out or stored.
This was where the madness began. This was the trial of my relationship with Fox at its most intense. This was the time where the difference in our tastes, the variations in our personal hygiene, the needs of a man versus the needs of a woman had to be negotiated with utmost patience.
Fox has a total inability to throw things away. Through the trials and horrors of her marriage, Fox held on to her family’s legacy. Fox keeps everything! She has her daughter’s first school essay. And the third, fifth, twenty fifth, sixty fifth. She has the most minute school document generated by two children from kindergarten to the graduation of college. She feels that all of this is precious history and must be restored to her children when they’ve married, had families and moved into their own homes. Meanwhile she will carry this titanic cargo container of luggage wherever she might go.
She has the trunk that her grandma brought from the old country. It is filled with mothball smelling sheets, pillowcases, linens of esoteric Swedish origin and serving trays of engraved silver.
In order to prevent her husband from stealing the silver, she had it stored for sixteen years in a secret locker at a Pay-n-Stor in Oakland.
Fox has twenty eight albums of family pictures. She has fourteen white buckets, ten gallons a bucket, of rocks and seashells.
This is to say nothing of clothes. Fox has clothes: a collection of marvels, of shawls and swirling skirts, of gypsy vests sewn with coins, of blouses from Lebanon, sweaters from Morocco, hats from Afghanistan, baggy trousers from Bosnia, scarves from Samarkand. When we had made our decision to move into a motorhome, we were renting a cozy cottage in the woods. We gave our landlord ninety days notice. Then we procrastinated for the next two months, not knowing where we might end up, which motorhome we might purchase. When the coach was found in Florida, we had twenty five days to go. When we reached Petaluma in the coach and parked it at the Kountry Kampground, we were down to eleven days.
In eleven days, we had to move out of the house. We had to store or dispose of all our stuff. Fox’s stuff and my stuff.
They were different kinds of stuff. In all fairness, it is acknowledged between Fox and myself that she has more stuff. But I have stuff too.
I have a Yamaha electronic piano with a synthesizer module. I have power amps, tuners, tape recorders, microphones. I have cameras, lenses, flash attachments, and attachments for the flash attachments. I have computers and computer hardware. I have telescopes! I have eyepieces, adaptors, binoculars, equatorial mounts. I have a bicycle, spare tires, pumps, inner tubes, cables, chains. I have big flashlights and small flashlights. I have the flashlights to find the flashlights that I’ve lost in the dark. I have red LED flashlights for astronomy. I have hat- mounted miner’s lamps, just in case I go into a mine. I just have a thing for flashlights. I love ‘em! I also love cigarette lighters. Even when I quit smoking, I love cigarette lighters. Oh, yes, I have books. I have star charts. I have maps, atlases, thesaurus, the obscure novels of Charles Williams, all the science fiction of Jack Vance and Philip K. Dick. Though I may have less than Fox, I DO have stuff. Major stuff. Never mind Fox’s face creams, emollients, hair conditioners, powders, brushes, combs, scissors, electric trimmers.
I almost forgot the pet stuff. How could I forget the pet stuff?
Here, Fox has a near-pathological weakness. I may have mentioned that Fox is a gift-giver. Fox has a list of gifts that must be given to friends and family members for the next ten years. She finds a bargain for cousin so and so that will be perfect for her fifteenth wedding anniversary in the year 2018. She buys it because it’s a bargain. She cannot resist a bargain. She stores the gift away in a box and then is unable to find it when the occasion for the gift arises.
As for our pets, no toy, health aide or grooming implement is too trivial. So long as it’s a bargain. She buys chewies and catnip toys and braided leather jerky treats. She buys cat castles, self-cleaning litter boxes that never work, pet beds for the window sills. She buys plastic mice and scratchy poles and replaceable cardboard scratchy boards and a wonderful round thing that has a pingpong ball in a circular track.. The cats love that one.
One day as I was about to sell the sofa, I moved it and found forty nine cat toys and thirty four missing catnip mice.
Eleven days! Eleven days! Do you understand, now, why we drove across the country in such a frantic hurry? Why we didn’t stop at the Grand Canyon and spit over the rim?
Something happens when it becomes a fact: that we are moving from a house of normal dimensions into a motorhome about the size of the very first submarine, the one designed by John Ericson during the Civil War, the one powered by two guys pedaling a chain-driven propeller. The one where they drowned on the first trial in Chesapeake Bay. We’re going to attempt to separate the necessary from the desirable and make distinctions that will enable to us to live well in a wheeled boxcar with awnings.
In that eleven days we drove ourselves on caffeine and anxiety, shuttling from the woodsy cabin to the campground and back. Some nights we stayed in the coach. Some nights we stayed in the house. Gradually, our bedding disappeared from the house, our coffee pots, our silverware.
Fox is a wonderful artist and craftswoman. She creates things out of all kinds of materials. She has leather strips, boxes of beads, bags of feathers, nameless baubles. She has healing work materials: long sheathes of sage, bags of herbs, bottles of essences, oils, salves. Everything must be stored or brought into the coach.
All of our many friends suddenly found that they had pressing engagements elsewhere. Fox and I were on our own: a woman with fibromyalgia and a bad back. A man with feet so sore they feel like they’ve been inside bowling shoes four sizes too tight.
I refuse to let Fox lift heavy objects. When I am away somewhere, she’ll sneak a lift on me. I’ll come home and find the forty pound bag of kitty litter has shifted from the steps to the storage bay. Then I sound like Ricky Ricardo. “Honey? You got some ‘splainin’ to do.”
Busted! Fox says sheepishly, “I thought I could lift it.” Her elbow is bent so that her left palm can press against her lower back, just beside the hip joint. She’s slightly hunched over.
She does this because her lazy ex-husband always screamed at her for being lazy. He was a liar, so he lacerated her with accusations of falsehood. He was a cheat, so he perpetually interrogated her about hatching schemes. He was unfaithful, so he called Fox a whore. He was a thief so he accused her of stealing. He was a terrible loveless father, so he called Fox a useless mother. This went on for decades, and Fox is still overcompensating. Lifting heavy boxes. Working like a mule. Gradually the message sinks in: I won’t yell, I won’t insult, I won’t accuse, I won’t suspect, I won’t philander, and I WILL love as consistently as I can love. I am White Buffalo.
Our move brought out all this buried material and put our relationship through a powerful test. I was irritated. I wanted to say things. I didn’t say those things. Instead, I realized that all this stuff is as important to Fox as are my computers, cameras and instruments. They are integral to her self –expression. She is a mother. She is a woman. She is an artist and a healer. Who am I to tell her that she has too much stuff? If it’s too much, she will discover that on her own.
We rented two storage units at a local facility. This place is a collection of old cargo containers painted beige, plopped down on a piece of property next to the Petaluma River and locked behind a security gate. For a hundred seventy dollars a month we squeezed all the excess into these two containers.
Our daily itinerary became a triangular ping pong game of house-storage-motorhome house-storage-motorhome. I had old papers in the basement, manuscripts I’d written thirty years ago. I had notebooks of poetry that I couldn’t throw away. They were juvenile, they were terrible, but I couldn’t toss ‘em.
As I carried all those fifty pound buckets of rocks, I wanted to scream.
I kept my mouth shut. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m glad I did. I wanted to remonstrate, “Honey we will never need these buckets of rocks, these barrels of seashells! Why are we going to pay money to store them? Why, honey, why?”
I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the most profound acts of restraint I have ever achieved. I watched Fox keep all this stuff without uttering a peep. Some day, maybe a year from now, maybe five years from now, she’ll look at this and say, “what the hell am I doing, storing all this junk?” Not yet. Not today. I have to carry the stuff, all boxed up and wrapped in newspaper, load it into the car, take it to the storage place, pile it high, build towers of useless junk, not saying a word.
I am ready to explode.
A month ago the Petaluma River jumped its banks during a mighty storm and rushed into our biggest storage container, wiping out half its contents. After a few tears, Fox bravely threw out the ruined clothes, the soaked papers, the filthy supplies, the laid up gifts for unspecified cousins. I lost some things, too, but I was lucky. The electronic piano, standing upright, was half underwater. After drying, it still plays. Unbelievable, but it still plays.