It is late. So late, we cannot quite discern whether it is still nighttime, or if the heavy darkness is about to give way to the break of dawn. There is no movement; the village is still, and the streetlights are beaming an illuminant orange outside the window. The crickets have stopped chirping, but the roosters have yet to start to crow.
Neither my cousin Sophie nor I can sleep. We sit restlessly in her room at my grandmother’s house, laughing, reminiscing and reflecting. We have the type of conversation that close members of family like to enjoy after spending years apart. We recall our childhood – the numerous times we purposely pissed our grandfather off just to see him get angry, the imaginative games we used to play in the village fields, the wild adventures we used to dream we’d go on some day.
As we sit enjoying the stillness of the village night, Sophie decides she’s going to have a look through the boxes of her belongings that are stacked up in the corner. This room is full of boxes that belong to my auntie – Sophie’s mum. During their last move back to the UK, a lot of stuff got left behind, and it is all still here, gathering dust.
As Sophie begins to sort through clothes and bags that she hasn’t seen in years, I have an epiphany.
“Have you noticed how we have spent a great chunk of our lives with most of our belongings in boxes?” I ask her, half amused, half very bemused.
“You are right. Why is that?”
“I really have no idea,” I reply, a million and one thoughts running through my mind.
You will also find unpacked boxes by the dozen at my mum’s house, which is two minutes away from my grandmother’s. The smallest bedroom is filled with these cartons to the point that you cannot reach the ones that are located towards the back of the room. The garage is also full of our family’s belongings – packed, forgotten and slowly growing mould.
Just like my auntie’s family, my own family has moved around a lot. Boxes, now that I think about it, have always been there, lingering in some corner, garage, or room.
I was born in England in 1983 and had a wonderful, if at times painful, childhood. Following my parents’ separation and subsequent divorce, we moved to Cyprus. My mum wanted to escape the bad memories and start afresh. So we packed everything up and left – my mum, three brothers and I.
All of our belongings were shipped over from the UK. When they arrived in Cyprus, however, my mum didn’t want to unpack anything. It was too painful, she said. So the boxes were placed in the garage, where the majority of them remain until this day.
When I was 16, we moved back to the UK. More boxes. And then, after I graduated from university, my mum, stepfather and two sisters moved back to Cyprus again. And we arrive at the situation we have in our house today: boxes upon boxes upon boxes. Almost three decades of belongings are in storage.
I sit trying to make sense of it all. Why go to the trouble of boxing everything up and taking it with you if you have no intention of ever unpacking and using the items again? I then realise that unpacking and settling gives a sense of permanence. Once the china sets are out, and the family photos take their proud place on the mantelpiece, you have a home – and once you have a home, it is difficult to leave when things get difficult.
Boxes, on the other hand, give you the illusion of being free. When a life situation doesn’t seem permanent it doesn’t seem as menacing, and the minute the going gets tough, you can get going. And I think about the reasons why we left England, and then Cyprus, and then England again, and I understand that these boxes have come to represent our lingering sense of anxiety. My family has never rested in one place, and psychologically this is very telling – I guess we’ve always been running from something and that something has more often than not been emotional pain.
I now realise that this has affected me subconsciously on many levels.
For most of my life I have wanted to be somewhere else. When we were living in Cyprus, I wanted to escape village life and be back in England, and I was instrumental in ensuring we got away.
When I was back in Lincoln, I wanted to escape my at times turbulent relationship with my mum and be independent, so I ensured I got great grades and headed off to university in Leicester. Once I graduated, I absolutely hated the monotony of being back in Lincoln, so I packed up and moved to Dubai. And, most recently, I could no longer take my suffocating corporate existence, so I decided to quit my job, sell everything and embark on a round-the-world trip.
And my belongings are now back in a load of boxes, which are currently in some Dubai warehouse waiting to be shipped to Cyprus.
Thinking of all this, at first I freak out and start to believe I have a chronic case of commitment phobia. After all, I cannot settle in one place longer than a few years before I become restless, annoyed and start to think that the grass is greener in some place more exotic or exciting.
But I decide not to look at it so negatively. Perhaps, just perhaps, years of moving around has set me up for a life that, yes, isn’t exactly conventional, but is darn exciting. Is it running away? Or is it simply a case of being resilient and strong enough to admit when something isn’t making me happy, and to pack up and try out new things?
Once you have a husband/wife, children, mortgage and career, it’s very hard to say, hang on a minute, I don’t want this anymore, and to move onto something new. I am not saying that people shouldn’t work on things – on the contrary, if the family package is what you want from life then you should do you upmost best to make sure that it does work.
However, this isn’t what I want from my life at the minute. I want adventure in the place of a husband, travel in the place of children, freedom in the place of a mortgage – and as for a career? Well, I want to write a book, and having the ability to go and live all of the aforementioned will (hopefully) be the inspiration I need to take my work to the next level.
“I don’t want my life to always be in boxes,” Sophie announces, breaking my reverie.
I take a moment to contemplate the boxes, what they mean, and realise they have been good training for the route my life is taking.
“I don’t mind,” I answer, as I silently think of the adventure that awaits me.