When I move the last box out of this place, I’ll be ending a four-year relationship with a home I knew in so many forms. I first met the Packard house as my friend’s post-college apartment; right after graduation, I moved in for the summer. Then I left. I moved in again the next summer and haven’t left since. (Go ahead and debate what a three-month early-pandemic sojourn at the family home means for that last phrase.)
When I move the last box out of this place, I will erase the possibility of ever writing another post calvin piece here again. I wrote my very first piece in the living room, on a flowery couch that moved onto a new home before me. In one way or another, my post-Calvin life has been set in this place. In many ways, my post calvin writing has been shaped by this place. Some pieces took place here. Even more were written here.
When I move the last box out of this place, I will continue my life’s long progression of moves. Growing up, I was a geographical mishmash, a native of nowhere. Most of my classmates had lived in the same city—often the same house—since birth. But my life could be outlined in a series of moves: northern California, central Iowa, southern California, central Iowa again. For eighteen years, I could hardly imagine moving across a metropolitan area without an intervening move 2,000 miles away.
When I move the last box out of this place, I’ll have moved across Grand Rapids for the sixth time. As a college junior and senior, I started experiencing the strange phenomenon of cross-city moves. I learned how to rearrange my navigation points, how to redefine my relationship to the same city and landmarks. After graduation, I planned to stay in Grand Rapids, but a part of me expected a big move sooner or later. To my surprise, I stayed.
When I move the last box out of this place, I will no longer live next to four years of memories. The brain saves context along with content; events and settings cannot be untangled from human memories. If we try to remember which philosopher said that snappy quote, we’re also trying to remember the philosophy classroom with its too-bright afternoon light. The place is our guidepost to the memory; the memory is our guidepost to the place. When the place doesn’t inhabit our schedules, then the memory starts to fade.
When I move the last box out of this place, I will lose my proximity to the past selves who visited this house and lived in this house. My college self drove the seventeen minutes to my friend, collapsed on her bedroom floor, and sobbed as she stroked my hair. My freshly graduated self wrote a maid-of-honor speech between boxes in the downstairs bedroom. My new professional self met new friends and hosted them here, and she watched the housemate roster grow and shrink with marriages and move-outs. My pandemic self turned a bedroom into an office space, and she spent more hours inside the house than she could ever have imagined.
When I move the last box out of this place, I’ll drive the four minutes to my new house. I’ll walk the same paths, drive to the same grocery store, and even use the same landmarks as before. I don’t need to say goodbye to this location, just to these four walls. But as soon as the door is locked, I can’t call this place home again. I’m so grateful that—for a few years—I could.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.
A lovely essay Courtney. Although I live west of Seattle, I visited Grand Rapids several times to see my daughter’s family. My best wishes to you as you continue writing.
Love the rhythm of this piece, and the nugget about how space triggers memories.
A curious interplay exists between “farewells” and “memories.” It is because of the departure that the memory takes form because there lacks the full presence, and yet something lingers. It is both beautiful and sad.
I think the piece is lovely.
Aww I love this piece and the short time I could spend with you at the Packard! So many sweet memories from that place