Back in February, I submitted this story to the CBC Nonfiction Prize. It didn’t get selected for the longlist, but, fear not, you can still read it. Enjoy!
I don’t have a presence in this apartment. It’s all downstairs, in storage. When I look around, all I see are things that aren’t mine.
The six-floor elevator ride down to parking level one is enough time for me to run out of patience and stop holding back cuss words. Before the elevator doors open, I’m swearing out loud. As I step out, I just nod to the people waiting to get on.
To see me today, you’d never guess that I was once excited by the idea of having a storage unit. My previous apartment was full of things I wanted to keep but didn’t use regularly. Now, these things fill a three-by-six space in a storage room on parking level one.
All of me is there, in that eighteen-square-foot space. The concrete floor is a reminder of how cold the storage room is.
The light switch is never in the same position as it was the last time I was down here, even though the lights are always off when I walk in. There must be another switch somewhere. The lights take a second to flicker on, but the space is still poorly lit when they do.
As soon as I see the padlock that keeps the gate to my cell shut, blood pushes through my veins faster, I stand more upright, my fingers curl, and I shake my head as it hangs half-heartedly from the top of my neck.
Opening the gate is a challenge. I can never remember which is the mailbox key and which unlocks the padlock keeping me from my things, my things from me. Is it the one with writing or without?
Once the padlock has been unlocked, the box whose corner has been resting in the southernmost corner of a diamond on the gate starts its descent. To stop it from hitting the floor, I should manoeuvre such that I open the gate, catch the box as it’s falling, and protect it from the concrete floor with my foot. Instead, as the gate swings open, the cuff of my jacket gets caught on the roughly filed latch that holds the padlock that is currently pinching my ring finger into my pinky. The bones of my forearm don’t bend. The bottom corner of the box hits the floor first.
Which box is it in? It’s got to be here. I searched the entire apartment. Wait, is it in the cupboard above the fridge? Why do I have so many empty boxes in here? I need to come down here one day and get rid of this stuff. When the hell did I last use this?
When I want to be, I can be really organised. If I were more organised with the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have all of this here.
My summer tires are stored, stacked four high, on a dolly that I never returned to E’s brother. They’re right there, as soon as I open the gate, because I access them once a year. Everything else is stored around them.
On top of the tires is a translucent blue box with no lid. Inside, there are Ziploc freezer bags with cables in them. Each bag carries its own type of cable: Apple, audio/video, USB, power. Underneath those bags is unopened mail from three apartments ago. It’d be easy enough to get a cable when I wanted one if there weren’t a gym bag with baking tins in it sitting on top of them.
Where the hell is the lid for this box? Everything is just packed on top of everything else. Getting anything out of here is going to be more work than it’s worth – it’ll be easier to just go buy a new one.
Among the papers, I find a voice recorder from when I feigned interest in a career in journalism. I flip it over and use my thumb to open the battery compartment cover. There’s still a battery inside. When I try to turn it on, it doesn’t. I put it in my pocket. I’ve been looking for this.
If I’m going to get to the box that’s behind that one and underneath that one, I’m going to have to move all of this.
Pulling down the open bags that have been piled on top of the boxes, I cuss under my breath. My muttering becomes clearly audible as something glass hits the floor. The bags won’t sit nicely on the floor without falling over. I lean them up against the storage locker in front of mine. That locker is filled with empty boxes from floor to ceiling. I know they’re empty because no one would store a fifty-five-inch TV on top of an old desktop computer – not at that angle.
I rest two more bags against the same storage locker, almost freeing up the first box that I need to move. In my way is an unfinished self-portrait painting that I started over a year ago, wedged between a box full of empty binders and my summer tires. Because I can’t actually step into the locker, lifting the box, which is resting half of itself on the stack of tires and the gym bag full of baking tins, is nearly impossible. The best I can hope for is to tip it forward and catch it as it slides toward the open gate.
I manage to get my hands underneath it and lift it out. I set it next to the storage locker beside mine. All that storage locker contains is an old Halloween costume, stuffed roughly into its clear plastic packaging. I pull out the unfinished painting from the cell and rest it against the box.
Finally, there’s enough room for me to pull down the Christmas tree in its box, two Nikon umbrella kits, an Epson R1900 photo printer, and two queen-sized pillows. I put them all on top of the box that is against the storage locker that is next to mine.
The next box that I need to lift out is a big one. It’s the one full of empty binders.
Why aren’t the suitcases stacked like Russian dolls?
I don’t want to be down here, sifting through these boxes, looking at all the things that once
occupied decorated made my space come alive. The storage unit is where I put all the possessions that I didn’t give away or couldn’t find room for in the new place. I knew that moving in with E would require sacrifice. I didn’t know it would require a complete moulting.
It took me seven years to put myself together in that old apartment. I’d landed a stable job only the summer before the summer I moved out. The job meant that I could refurnish my place, even get myself a couch. I got the TV package with the sports channels when I upgraded the TV from 24 inches to 55. I can barely keep up with baseball.
Before, I could have all of me on display. The easel reminded me that I enjoyed taking a painting class. The 27-inch iMac reminded me that I used to enjoy photography. The bins of Lego reminded me of how much I enjoy building with plastic blocks. The typewriter reminded me of how I like to write. The bookshelf reminded me that I like to read sometimes. Nothing was out of place, except maybe the dishes which should have been washed and put back in the cupboards.
Everything, all of it, is in storage now.
When I moved out of my old apartment, a former neighbour saw my dad and me carrying the bookshelf out to the furniture disposal and he asked if he could go shopping. My dad became a used car salesman who specialises in household goods that are at a 100 percent discount, free delivery included.
It’s a long ride up from parking level one to floor five. I hope no one gets on at the lobby. I just can’t handle anyone right now. I’m hot. My neck is sweating. I didn’t find what I was looking for.
My interests are different now, anyway. They’re more in line with the space that I have available to me.