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She Carried A Suitcase
She carried a suitcase, marked by about five different shades of red, missing zippers, torn seams, and lotion stains on the inside pockets. Eight years and she had never changed this suitcase. A gift from her grandmother, she continued to carry it. Every other weekend, pack the following: toothbrush, toothpaste, some clothes, lotion, and a hairbrush. It was just like clockwork, and all her belongings went into that suitcase.
She thought about trading in that suitcase for another one but never could bring herself to do it. She liked the familiar clang of the wheels against the staircase as she carried her suitcase up the steps of her dad’s apartment. What would she do with a new suitcase? How could she adjust to a new sound? Right now, she knew exactly where everything went in her suitcase. Why would she want to adjust to new pockets? What if there wasn’t enough room in a new suitcase? No, she liked her suitcase just fine.
Today was one of those Friday’s. Time to pack her suitcase and head over to her dad’s apartment. Pulling her long, brown hair back in a ponytail, she began mulling over her drawers deciding what clothes to pack. Deciding on a pair of jeans and a plain black long-sleeve shirt, she folded them up, carefully placed them in her suitcase, and headed to the bathroom. Her mom stood at the top of the steps eying her daughter.
“Need any help?” she asked.
“No, I am fine,” her daughter replied, without even looking up from her packing.
“Is your dad preparing dinner?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
“Alright, well, I’ll be downstairs.”
She paused, listening to her mother’s footsteps as she walked down the stairs. Walking back into her bedroom, she took one more look at her suitcase and decided her packing was complete. Closing it with the one zipper left, she rolled her suitcase down the hallway, down the steps, and set it to rest by the front door.
Fifteen minutes before her dad would be here. Another weekend away from home would be underway. Another weekend, at least in her mind, wasted. No time outside, no friends, no neighbors, no companion except for her suitcase.
Exactly fifteen minutes later she spotted her father’s car. He walked up to the front door, and she gave him a weak hug. Without a word to her mother, he loaded her suitcase in the car, and she followed him, yelling “bye” to her mother behind her. They rode the entire way in silence. She had her headphones on and was listening to the sweet voice of Patty Griffin singing, “Strange how hard it rains now. Rows and rows of big dark clouds.” Her father had the car radio on. An addict to talk radio, it always seemed shows on NPR were more interesting than any conversation they could have.
The car pulled up into the driveway, and she stared at the faded brick building. She hated the sight of it. It was old and decrepit with no dishwasher or garbage disposal, poor water pressure, and one bathroom. None of the houses were exactly the makings but palaces, but to her it would be no loss if her dad’s apartment crumbled to the ground.
She carried her suitcase upstairs, hearing that familiar clang against the steps. Smokey, her father and stepmom’s cat, greeted her and her suitcase at the doorway. She rolled her suitcase into her “room” and pulled off her boots. Her father came in.
“Dinner should be ready in about an hour.”
She just nodded and continued fumbling with her suitcase. She still hadn’t adjusted to her new surroundings. It was only a few months ago that her father and stepmom had decided to get married. Before, her dad had lived in a larger apartment consisting of two stories. Of course, it was plain with white walls and white carpet and no feminine touch, but there was room. Two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and two bedrooms. She and her suitcase had a place of their own! Now she was forced to share a “bedroom” with her stepmom’s computer. In actuality, it wasn’t a bedroom at all, but merely a place she could stay; a tiny closet to put the “guest” in.
At night she would shove her suitcase underneath the futon and then pull the couch out to form a bed. Eying the room, she noticed a change. Sitting atop an end table against the wall was a television, a rather large one, that she swore used to be in the living room. Getting up from the couch, she traveled the little way into the kitchen.
“Dad, what’s with the TV?” she asked.
Her father looked up from the stove.
“Oh that. It broke, and we haven’t gotten a chance to fix it yet.”
“How am I supposed to pull the bed out?”
“Can you just sleep on the couch this weekend?”
She sighed. “Sure.” Then, she walked back to her “room.”
But it wasn’t okay. It most definitely wasn’t. She didn’t want to sleep on a couch. She wanted a bed. Was that so much to ask? Nothing there was hers. Nothing. Now, she didn’t even have a decent place to sleep.
Pulling out of her suitcase an old Agatha Christie novel, she lay out on the couch and began to read. She didn’t know what time it was when she heard the front door slam open and shut. Her stepmom and eleven-year-old stepsister had arrived.
“Hello.” Her stepmom’s booming voice could be heard out in the hall. Walking into her office to hang up her coat, she spotted her stepdaughter.
“Hello there sweetie,” her stepmom cooed. She looked up from her book at the stick-thin woman in front of her with misplaced red cheeks that matched the color of her suitcase. She thought of her hair as “peroxide” blonde-a poorly done at-home job with store-bought alcohol. And she hated her green eyeshadow, which was the color of pastel chalk and caked on her eyelid.
“Hi,” she said with hidden annoyance.
“What are you reading?”
Without saying a word she turned the book to face her stepmother.
“Ah. Looks good. Hey, did your dad tell you about the television?”
“And is that okay?” her stepmom asked.
“Yep.” She didn’t even look up from her book. Done trying, her stepmother left to go in the kitchen. Her stepsister was probably already in her room watching television, which is what she did all weekend every weekend.
She tried to continue reading, but she didn’t want to be here. She never did. She felt trapped, stuck in a pocket a glass box cut off from any other civilization; she could see the outside world, but she couldn’t reach it. She wanted to take her suitcase and go home. But she couldn’t.
She ate dinner at the kitchen table in silence, only occasionally nodding her head to the mindless ramblings of her stepsister. After dinner, she began some of her homework and decided to go to bed around eleven. Why not? The sooner she went to bed, the more time she would melt away till she got to go home.
Walking over to the cracked straw crate in the living room, she opened the top and reached in for her quilt. Pulling out the dark purple checkered fabric, she noticed something strange on the shiny exterior. Grabbing the middle, she felt what could only be described as chunks in between the layers of fabric. Puzzled, she carried the quilt over to her stepmother, the original owner of the quilt.
“What’s this?” she asked her stepmother.
“What do you mean?”
“Um, the white stuff on the outside, and the chunks of what I assume to be the same stuff on the inside.”
“Oh,” her stepmom answered, as if just now realizing what her stepdaughter was referring to. “I had some of the candles on the top of the basket lit and the wax dripped off onto the basket. It must have seeped through the holes in the crate and gotten on the quilt. It’s fine.”
Normally, her stepdaughter remained calm. She didn’t see the point in fighting. Nothing would change. But she could not hide her disgust now. “It’s not fine!”
“Honey, I’ll get a new quilt. Just use that one for now.”
“When?” Her eyes opened wide, and she stared in exasperation.
“So, not only do I not have a bed, but I have a quilt with chunks of wax in it. That’s great.”
“Do not talk back to me.”
“Why not? It might convince you to make this place halfway-decent for me to come to.”
“That’s it. I’m bringing in your father.”
“You’re never going to get a new quilt.”
“Are you telling me I just lied?” Her stepmother was becoming truly angry.
“How long has that TV been broken? You’re never going to get that fixed either!”
“Do not raise your voice to me!”
“Whatever.” She decided it wasn’t worth it. Rolling her eyes, she carried her useless quilt into the study and lay out along the couch, her legs bumping the wooden ends. She knew her father would look at her, pretending to be asleep, and decide the fight wasn’t worth it. He was notorious for being non-confrontational. In the family room, she could hear her stepmom and father arguing about her “unseemly” behavior.” But she didn’t care. To her, their behavior was “unseemly”-making her come to this filthy place where the floors were so dirty she couldn’t walk around without socks or shoes.
A little while later, when she was convinced her father and stepmother had gone to bed, she turned to face the open doorway. All was dark, but she could still see the red of her suitcase. Her tears fell on that suitcase, lying next to the couch, perhaps washing out another shade of red. Her suitcase rested, the last scrap of comfort on this island. This suitcase that she had carried for so many years was her only piece of home. It was the only thing in this entire place that belonged to her.
The next day, drove her back home. He listened to talk radio, and she listened to Patty Griffin. Once they had arrived, she ran into the house, welcoming her familiar surroundings. She quickly unpacked her suitcase and placed it in the closet.
In another two weeks, she would pack her suitcase once more. Toothbrush, toothpaste, some clothes, lotion and a hairbush. It was just like clockwork and all her belongings would go into that suitcase. And she would carry that suitcase, marked by about five different shades of red, missing zippers, and torn seams.
Eight years and she still carried that suitcase. A gift from her grandmother, she would always carry it. She would never trade it in; she couldn’t. That suitcase was a part of her.