It has 17 pockets. It has specific pockets for a phone, passport, kindle, credit cards, change, chapstick, camera, memory cards, sunglasses, book, water bottle, headphones, pens, and some extra room for something else. It even has a microfiber cleaning cloth with a map of all the pockets and what they’re for printed on one side. I don’t often fill them completely.
I’ve learned that the camera pocket is best for a bandana and earplugs and irrelevant currency, and that if I roll up bills, I can hide them in the pen pockets. I look like a crazy person if I put my wine-bottle-sized water bottle in the water bottle pocket, but it fits. My passport doesn’t feel safe anymore unless it’s tucked into that airplane-marked pocket next to my chest, and while my Kindle can make a strange shape over my stomach and dig into my ribs if under backpack straps, I love being able to unzip that pocket and pull it out during spare minutes in line or while waiting. It’s the epitome of nerdy cool.
When I put it on, I feel the memories of two-dozen trips. I try to wash it every couple months but I still always find some grains of sand and crumbs or crumpled Kleenex tucked into corners, like stragglers from a party the night before.
I’ve thought about getting rid of it. I ordered it after a travel writer recommended it and it became a way to make concrete the dreams I had swirling in my head. Unlike my plans and daydreams and memories, this I could hold and physically point to. This, I could smile at and store in a closet rather than just in a department of my mind. It became a symbol, a sort of promise to myself, a self-declaration of resolve.
Once I heard someone talk about the ability of the human heart to hold multiple and sometimes conflicting emotions at the same time: the ability of someone to stand at a funeral and feel devastation, anger, and joy all at the same time, in the same moment. Or when leaving a community: excitement, grief, and fear running through a person’s veins together, like 3 competing streams, tangling and separating and pulling ahead in turns and sometimes together.
When I first stared at the 17 pockets in my closet, I thought they only brought freedom. When we left the US, I started to notice that the pockets collected other things, too.
On the plane to Europe: freedom and excitement, yes, but I also definitely felt a little apprehension in the change pocket. In our trek in a train across Eastern Europe: exhilaration and also worry. As I slipped my Kindle back into its pocket after an unsettling encounter with a Czech native, I noticed fear and vulnerability coiled around the rest of the feelings and memories from the day. Each time I loaded and unloaded the pockets, I found new things. It was like a wheel of emotions rotating in and out, sometimes collecting, sometimes disappearing, sometimes hiding in a forgotten pocket and catching me off-guard three months later.
For example, after our friends came and we had spent two weeks traveling and collecting memories and laughter together, I boarded the train to go home and discovered I had been carrying enough loneliness, grief, and doubt to supply tears for the entire 4-hour ride home. It had been 5 months in Europe and I didn’t know how long it had been there. Since Christmas? Our last good-bye? Since the first time I processed that I’d left everything I knew and loved? It was crazy how much a stubborn dream could distract from all the emotional weight accumulating in the pockets.
Perhaps that’s what it really is. A lumpy, stubborn dream. Before we left, and before I actually tried it on, it looked so sleek hanging safely in that closet. Untested, perfect.
But the longer I wear it, the lumpier and more complicated it gets. We focus on the potential, perhaps with a little apprehension, until we actually go out and give it a go and have to find where it takes us and what sticks with us once we leave. I’ve found I like it better lumpy because it’s real.
And it’s not all freedom in those pockets, I’ve discovered. For me, it’s been a whole lot of things—conflicting things—imperfect and challenging things, but also a lot of beauty and lessons and growth. All of which sit mixed together in different pockets and also the same pockets.
So for now, I keep the vest. I still love the ritual of donning it before leaving the door and taking it off when I find a home in a new place. I love the pockets and what they can hold, and finding memories weeks later that I’m glad I made and I’m glad are still there, even if they’re heavy or ugly or not what I originally planned. I am learning to love that I rarely find only one thing. That usually everything’s tangled and together and that that’s ok and it’s normal.
That’s what this is. This blog. It’s a sort of like pocket dump to help me sort all of those things out. You’re welcome to join.
And PS, happy birfday! We miss you guys. Xo
Thanks, girl! Miss you guys, too!! <3 Can't wait to visit once we're back!
Jeanne, this is such a beautiful metaphor. I have loved following you on Instagram since you left for Europe and I’m so excited to follow your lovely writing! Happy Birthday, mi querida!
Thanks, so much Alex!! <3 <3 I hope you are well!!
I kind of want one of these vests now….do you remember where you got it? And I love the way you wrote this. Because traveling and life in general are exactly that – a tangled, wonderful mess.
Yes! It’s a Scottevest–you can find them on Amazon or directly from their site. Most have more than 17 pockets now, lol. They are seriously the best.
And thanks so much! Yes, I think they both are, too–messy, but beautiful that way.