Ad Astra, Per Aspera

As of right now, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room of my new apartment in Lawrence, watching Lunopolis on Netflix and writing this. I’m by and large finished setting up my apartment, aside from some wall decorations and clocks I still need to take care of. Right now, I feel very comfortable and relaxed, ready to tackle whatever awaits me in Lawrence and at KU. The path leading up to here, though, was much less relaxing. In fact, it was downright intense and grueling at points.

The actual act of packing everything up in the first place was rather time-consuming, mainly because I had a lot of stuff to get together: clothes, books, mattress, couch, computer, desk, the works. In the days awaiting the move, my dad and I managed to get everything I needed into a single 6’x16’ trailer and the bed of a pickup truck, miraculously enough. We strapped everything down beforehand as best we could with trailer straps and wrapped it all three times over in polyethylene sheeting.

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The top of the packed materials is in fact level with the top of that ladder, which is full-sized.

Despite his very vocal insistence, I did not bring my cat to Kansas.

Despite his very vocal insistence, I did not bring my cat to Kansas.

The idea behind all of this was to minimize risk as much as we could, because unlike so many times before, handy, do-it-all Dad couldn’t make the move with me. Business was beginning to pick up again at the family bowling alley, and my move was happening on a Saturday, our busiest day of the week, so he had to stay behind. That left only my mom and I to move everything on our own, plus my brother, who promised to join us in Springfield, MO to help on the second leg of the five-hour drive.

I spent the rest of that weekend saying my goodbyes to friends and family in town, which left me feeling very wistful and sad, more than I was anticipating. I don’t think you ever really know what you mean to people, or what they mean to you, until either you or them leave for good, and then there’s this sense of tragedy involved, because the departure is supposed to be permanent, or semi-permanent. I’m always going to have ties to West Plains, no matter what, because my family lives there, as do some very dear friends, but the intent is to make Lawrence, and wherever I go after it, my home, on my own. And so, goodbyes were said, and many long, emotional embraces, and that Saturday morning I left town in my Camaro, following Mom as she drove the truck and trailer by herself.

That was when things started to fray a bit.

Driving as fast as we did, with as much stuff as he had on the trailer, stacked as high as it was, the plastic started stripping away from the trailer. It did not hold up as well as we had hoped it would. It peeled off like string cheese, flapping in the drag of the trailer down the highway like tendrils of an angry jellyfish. It came off in flakes, floating to either side of my car while I rode behind Mom. We called Dad and he said there was nothing we could do; we’d just have to hope that the straps would hold everything down. So, we stopped, cut off the excess plastic so it wouldn’t be a hassle, and drove off down the road.

Except then we had to stop about ten minutes later because my driver’s side window wouldn’t work. My AC sucks, and it was a hot day, and my Camaro turns into a dutch oven on hot days, so I rolled my window down. It wouldn’t roll back up. We stopped, then, and messed with the door and the window until it rolled back up (it hasn’t worked again since then, which is just marvelous). I rolled my passenger side window down, and off the highway we went again.

But then we had to stop in Rogersville, ten minutes or so outside Springfield, because one of my boxes was about to fall out of the trailer. The only thing holding it in was the plastic wrap, which threatened to give at any moment. At that point, I was really worried, so Mom and I pulled over in a school parking lot and I drove across the street to an O’Reilly’s, where I bought extra trailer straps. Mom and I discussed the possibility of driving back to West Plains at that point, so I could try and drive up to Lawrence with Dad on Tuesday. That wouldn’t have worked, I said, because I had things I needed to do in Lawrence starting on Tuesday. She said we’d just have to suck it up and try to make everything work, and stop worrying.

It was at that point Mom sliced her hand open with a box cutter.

It was purely an accident, something that happened while Mom was trying to cut the trailer straps out of their packaging. The card backing the straps slipped in her hand, and the point of the box knife dug in and out of the fleshy part of the top of her hand, between her thumb and forefinger. It left a flap of skin shaped at an acute angle and a sudden oozing of blood.

I felt horrible. I felt partly responsible for what happened, because I insisted on getting extra trailer straps to shore up weak points on the trailer. I had insisted on continuing the move to Lawrence. Mom also felt horrible, for obvious reasons.

So, I made the trip to a local Dollar General to grab a bottle of super glue, some gauze and bandages, and a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. My brother, Graham, was waiting at the trailer on my return. We made the group decision to keep going, no matter what, and not to freak out about what might happen on the move. Like a pro, Mom patched up her cut with the super glue, and Graham and I strapped the trailer down as securely as we could.

From that point on, the move went much more smoothly and less stressfully. The new straps on the trailer held securely. Not a single physical article fell off the trailer. Not a single tire blew. Not a single car cut us off. We just rode on in a chain down the highway.

I made a playlist for myself, for the journey to Lawrence (yes, I make playlists for shit like this). When we crossed the border into Kansas on the highway, The Chemical Brothers’ “The Test” played on my stereo: “Am I coming through?/Am I coming through?/Is it sweet and pure and true?”

It turns out we came through the move better than we thought we would three hours earlier, in the school parking lot in Rogersville. Mom’s wound did not get worse, and when she saw someone at an Urgent Care clinic in Lawrence a few days later, they said she’d patched it up rather well, all things considered. We got everything moved into the apartment in less than two hours, and as of now everything of importance is put together and unpacked. There’s a few boxes left to be thrown away and a few wall hangings left to set up, like I said at the beginning, but the move itself is over. What blood was spilled in the process is already healing up.

The hard part begins now, I think. This is the first time I’ve truly lived on my own. Yes, I was often living on my own when I was in college before, but I lived in residence halls on campus. I didn’t have to worry about getting groceries, or paying utilities, or keeping up with monthly bills. I have to do all of that on top of school now, all by myself. School itself isn’t going to be easy either. It’s a PhD program; half of all PhD students don’t get to the dissertation phase (my statistics might be bad there, though). It’s going to be a tough five years, with lots of work involved. As comfortable and relaxed as I feel right now, there will be hardships and difficult decisions to make.

What I’ll do in those moments is think of the long drive up here, and the flapping plastic on the trailer, and my mother driving on with her makeshift first aid on her bleeding hand so I could come here to Lawrence for a fresh start. I’m not going back on any of that. I’m going to honor those difficulties by tackling my own and aiming for the better things that will hopefully result. I’ve never been a quitter, not even at times when I’ve felt most stressed. It’s not a quality that runs in my family.

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