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17 Pockets

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.

6 Comments

  • Alexandra

    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!

  • Theresa Rivera

    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.

    • Jeanne

      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.

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