Leaving Belfast, Part 1: The Things I Carry

“The things they carried were largely determined by necessity…. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Ray Kiley carried comic books…. Necessity dictated.”

Tim O’Brien, from The Things They Carried

For nearly a decade, I have lived out of suitcases and one unfortunate back-pack that has graciously suffered being tied to the tops of school buses and pick-up trucks, stuffed in the belly of trains and dragged down dirt roads, silently keeping company alongside dead goats and live chickens. Throughout my twenties, I have carried most of my possessions on my back. The contents of the bag evolve as the representations of what I hold important or necessary shift with time, location, and my own whims.

While I love my bag, I despise filling it. Packing puts me in either a fugue state or one of irrational anger. I sulk and rant; I find time to clean underneath the sink; I sit and read the classified sections of six-month-old newspapers. Anything not to pack. It feels profoundly demoralizing to see what I own. The sum total of my worth seems entirely incoherent. The ephemeral nature of value confronts me as I attempt to remember why I own what I do and make the trickier calculation of whether these unfamiliar possessions might hypothetically serve me in the future.


I once saved several hundred dollars so that I could buy a place on an Air France flight for a suitcase filled with paper. I thought that one day I might need my notes for lesson plans in French or folders with the grammatical structures of various little used-African languages. To throw them away felt like it would be a negation of my work and therefore an invalidation of myself. The suitcase now collects dust in a corner of my parent’s house. As I’m packing to leave Belfast, I engage in the same debate, sifting through graded papers and notebooks filled with grandiose ideas, wondering if that essay could indeed be adapted for Harper’s or if, perhaps, there are any universities waiting to snap up my plans for the creation of designer masters programs.

My bag is filled with unfinished plans and unachieved goals. My bag is filled with unmet potential and unrequited dreams. The jumble of straps on the outside, whose purposes are still unknown to me after all these years, often feel analogous to the incoherent paths I have taken in the past decade. And yet I know that those straps are there for a reason just as I know my previous actions and choices, seen from afar, form a loosely coherent, if a bit tangential, set of interests and passions that inform my present and inspire my future.

As I prepare to install myself in one single location for the next five years, to bind myself to one person for the rest of my life, to engage in studies that will hopefully afford me a career, my green back-pack and its contents remind me of my nomadic past. It is dirty and mildewed and it should be retired to greener pastures. But the bag and its contents are what keep me tethered to my myriad pasts, they are the trinkets and tidbits of memory and I think I’ll have to carry them with me for a little longer. Necessity dictates.


~ by terrificwhistlers on July 1, 2007.

One Response to “Leaving Belfast, Part 1: The Things I Carry”

  1. Beautiful!

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