The first time I ever moved was when I was three years old. My family lived in a rental house in Sausalito, California. It was a tiny house built into the hillside overlooking the San Francisco Bay, with 30-odd steps leading up to the house from the sidewalk. One of my earliest memories was of moving day. The movers put down big pieces of plywood over those steps so that they could slide the boxes down to the street level.
That move sent me and my things in two directions, as my parents were separating. My mother rented an apartment a few towns away, and my father rented a house in a neighboring town. My sister and I would go back and forth. A couple of years later, my mother left the apartment for a rental house in another town, and my father rented the same apartment vacated by my mother.
When I was six, my mother, my sister and I moved our things in with my new stepfather, into a big newly built house. My father died that same year, and my mother and stepfather cleared out the apartment that had been one of my two homes for three years. I remember trying to save all I could get away with.
When I was nine years old, my mother, my sister and I moved to France to start anew. We packed up what we could fit in a few suitcases and a big trunk, and headed to Paris. We travelled a bit, stayed in hotels here and there, and finally settled in an apartment in a Paris suburb, near the school my sister and I would attend.
We stayed there a year before returning to the US. We moved in with my Grandmother in her house in a small, rural town in the mountains of Colorado. The following year, we moved to another Colorado town, where we rented a log cabin-style house.
We stayed there for just over 3 years, which up to that point was the longest time I’d spent in any one residence. Part way into my freshman year of high school, we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. We got rid of lots of things, put some into storage, and moved over with little more than a few suitcases. A few months later, it was back to the mainland, where we settled once more in California. A couple of years later, my mother married a Frenchman and moved back to France. It was the spring of my junior year of high school, and I moved in with a friend’s family for a couple of months to finish the school year. That summer, I moved to France with a few suitcases, though I recall I had my mother’s full sterling flatware set in my carry-on bag.
The next year, I headed back to the US for college. Over the 4-ish years of college, I lived in 2 dorms and 4 apartments. I also had a semester studying abroad in Brazil. If I’d had a car at that point, I could easily have fit all my belongings into it.
In addition to the homes I lived for stretches of months or years, there were more temporary places. Hotels or friends’ homes for a few days here, a few weeks there, filling in the gaps between moves.
How can I count the places I’ve lived? 5 US states and 2 other countries? (Do I count differently the times I moved back to a place after moving away? That happened twice. Unless you count coming back from Brazil, then it was 3 times.) Was it 15 towns, or do I count those other transitional towns? (There were at least 2.) Was it 9 schools during K through 12, or do I not count changes in the same district? (That happened once.) There have been 8 different houses and at least 11 different apartments. (And that one apartment where I lived twice.) Or do I just count the number of times I packed up all my belongings? (Because I doubt I can figure that one out.)
When I was 24, John and I moved up to Massachusetts. When we moved out of that apartment, four years later, it was the longest time I had ever been in one place. Amazingly, that was 10 years ago, as of last month. In May of 1999, we bought our house. That was the last time I moved.
I’ve been in Massachusetts for 14 years now, in New England for nearly 20 years. I never imagined myself staying in one place for so long. (And I never imagined how much stuff I could accumulate.)