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My miserable sensation: Standing somewhere in the world, and realizing that I might be standing there for the last time in my life. Something about this moment of closure makes my skull ache. What I feel is equal parts panic and preemptive loss. I wish I were just talking about big life junctures here—you know, a final wistful gaze out onto the pale Mongolian steppe, a last glance into the home of an estranged lover. In practice I am talking about, like, checking out of a Best Western. Just leaving a hotel room, I'll dawdle, run a second and third sweep of the premises, not only to ensure that I haven't abandoned a stray sock, but also to try and capture some mental snapshot of what it was like to be alive here—even if being alive here mostly involved forking slop out of takeout containers or falling asleep as Jalen Green went 2-of-12 from the field or fiddling fruitlessly with the thermostat.

Planes and trains also trigger this sensation in me, to say nothing of rental cars. (I paired to the Bluetooth; we really had something there.) It's as if I don't register my life as real unless I take that final moment to internalize those places where I have lived it. I feel like I must stow all those perceptions away in some dented file cabinet of the mind. Savvy readers might have guessed that this particular psychological disfigurement makes moving out of a home a dicey proposition. However—no, yeah, you're right: It is more or less like being flayed alive.

Leaving an actual home brings with it a paralyzing range and depth of feeling. I sense, especially since the pandemic, that I've been living with a feral attitude, as if I am in an episode of Alone that happens to be situated in my own home. Mission-critical items got smuggled away into obscure caches. Sofas have been made to withstand mileage their creators never dared envision. Vegetables have been carefully fermented for the winter months. Every part of the home has its function. The less I was out in the wider world, the more I was developing this deranged emotional mapping of the inside of my apartment, refining my opinions on the tactile quality of the various pull-chains on the ceiling fans. I've been deeply in these spaces. All that freight would just weigh me down even more once it was time to go.

Moving out of my apartment of two years was the major task of last week. I don't mind lugging the stuff up and down the stairs of a walk-up—that's just a decent sweat, and an opportunity to dissociate from the many other things beating on the door of my consciousness. It's the packing that I can't handle, the feeling that my roots burrowed into the crevices of this space must be abruptly retracted in the span of a few days. As our life was shoved into boxes, I relived so much: the strange concessions we've made to the dimensions of the apartment, the jury-rigged solutions that could never make sense in any other home, the memory-trigger ticket stubs and luggage tags of the last year, the boxes we hadn't even unpacked in the entirety of our time in this apartment. (I'm a hoarder capped by the limited dimensions of urban life, and by the scouring eye of my wife; I am thankful for both.)

This time we had professionals do a lot of the moving, which brought on its own suite of emotions: It's embarrassing to have other people move your crap; one should be able to manage all one's own crap; though now that they're doing it I wish they were moving my crap much more carefully; I am powerless without my crap; only after all this crap is swept out to sea will I be finally liberated. After they loaded up the truck, I realized just how many unaccounted-for, loose items were still scattered around the home, and as if partaking in the lamest possible Herculean labor, I spent the next several evenings ferrying the leftovers to the new place in phases, racing to beat the end of the lease. As the apartment emptied out, I savored the usual belated and irrelevant moment of appreciation, where I realize how large a space it was, however small it felt when it had to contain my whole life.

When it came to the final sweep, I was inordinately thorough, opening and reopening cabinets and closets I'd just closed, in case some family heirlooms had somehow appeared there since I last checked. The last precious object I plucked off the ground, barely rescued from the vacuum cleaner I'd been operating with my other hand, was a small stone mushroom that Patrick had left in the apartment after a visit. Before leaving he'd furtively stashed it on our bookshelf, which I now looked up at, only to remember the overconfident handyman who'd installed it (backward), only for it to shear clean off the wall within an hour after he left, keeling over the center of the room, its tomes ready to concuss us, our laughter springing from exhausted delirium and some place far beyond self-pity. My eye drifted right of that bookshelf to the nail on which we'd hung the garlands from our wedding, its blooms since sun-dried to a softly rustling crisp. In this style, with one steady roving glance across the apartment, I could chain together the recent substance of my life, clocking every site of celebration, mourning, bickering, illumination.

Now I'm settled in the new spot and doing fine. In truth, these smaller moves are manageable, compared to the big bad one that wrapped up a few summers ago. That was my parents' departure from my childhood home, the final slash severing both my protracted adolescence and my cherished relationship to the Garden State. As my dad sought to fulfill his tropical destiny, they headed to Florida. I lost a leafy suburban refuge easily accessible by NJ Transit. Clearing out my old bedroom, I went through the contents of my childhood cabinets, allowed each piece of plastic to transport me faithfully to the corresponding phase of my youth, advocated for the historical preservation of select pieces of garbage, and let a decent amount disappear into the dumpster in the driveway loaded with aughts-era debris. In those last few days, every time I walked out of a particular room in the house, I scrubbed through its site-specific two-decade highlight reel, and that's the home I summon in my mind's eye whenever I hear "home," that I am walking through even as I write this sentence.

While the house was prepped for sale, the walls were painted a post-human gray that grated against the warm tones of the wood but was supposed to be more neutral, and thus appealing for prospective buyers. I felt I could never trust someone who was not repulsed by that gray, but whatever, it wasn't intended for me. In fact, there was an unintentional benefit for me: an immediate layer of emotional distance, as it no longer felt like the place that had made me feel safe and happy, but instead an uncanny AirBnb-core simulacrum of it. By the end, I was ready to let home go, or at least thought I was. I had my parents sit on the front steps for a last photo. With the phone in my hand I was ambushed by an instantaneous mental montage, laying out the full sweep of their immigrant life—the gamble inherent, the compromises and rewards, the walls raised up from dirt, the kids around which it all turned—and suddenly I was managing a molten feeling in my throat. For a few minutes afterward I wept, as we took the long drive back into the city to my apartment, which isn't my home anymore, either.

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