17 dresses & a food writer's library.

As my summer in Yangon winds to a tidy close and I pack my single suitcase for my time-undetermined return to the states, I hold my breath to digest the timely news that my most valuable possessions have in fact been declared dead. Gone with the wind. Vanished without a trace. Missing forevermore. In the chaos of graduation week, my pre-summer move-out and move-on to Myanmar included packing three cardboard boxes filled to the brim with my life as I knew it. Its contents were to be shipped in the caring hands of UPS to my family’s home in Southern Illinois. Two made the long and apparently arduous journey, split in two at the sides and spilling out with my life contents upon their arrival. The third, most densely packed, and most intimately valuable box was not so lucky.

At some inauspicious point along its unfortunate trajectory, the third box ceased to be traced, and nothing more can be done to retrieve it. Perhaps my precious treasure chest imploded into oblivion and has entered an alternate dimension. Or maybe it exploded into infinity, leaving its mark of scarves, pages, and foreign jewelry scattered sloppily about the Midwest. Uninsured, in the eyes of our delivery service, my treasure chest is worth an offensive offering of $100 - barely a tenth of the actual value, and infinitesimal compared to the inherent worth in my eyes.

Regardless of whichever universe my contents now exist or whatever unsatisfactory settlement deal arises, I can gaze freely into the silver lining of the life lesson of losing everything. The upshot is that I am forced to be freed, forever a roaming nomad. It is impossible to be attached to something that no longer exists. It’s as if the universe is urging me to wander, to travel, to live my life across borders, to value experience over items and people over property, to keep only my heart on my sleeve and a phone in my pocket, to live out of my suitcase at least a little longer as I experience the wonders of the world.

Yet before I retreat into my abrupt and unwanted yogic wisdom of non-attachment, I’ll take a brief moment (or two, or ten, maybe over dark chocolate and a tissue box) to be materialistically human and mourn my loss: My entire food writing library and textbook collection that I acquired during the two eye-opening years of my Harvard Master’s degree – some signed, many well-worn and well-loved; many more favorites of my book collection from home, used in Boston for personal comfort and community education; an intimate diary of my summer in Marseille; countless odds, ends, gems, jewels, and fabrics that could be packed tightly into that overfilled box; and perhaps most precious of the lot: my 17 favorite dresses.

Irreplaceable, pawned from cheap shops around the planet, my most well-loved dresses have memories interwoven richly into their colorful fabrics. Career-altering research presentations. Sentimental family celebrations. Soaring highs of graduations. Beaches of Kenya, where waves crashed to my feet and camels kissed my back. My first trip to Boston, where I swing-danced and was forever swayed by the intellectual splendor of university life. Fragrant explorations of French mountainside village perfumeries. White-knuckled walks through gator country of Louisiana. Fresh dirt-caked nails from Habitat for Humanity housebuilding to contrast the shine of Houston hookah bars. Unforgettable sleepless nights of Niçoise glace, vin sur la plage, and spontaneous roadtrips to Cannes. Bittersweet regret of my wardrobe for the cool air of Ireland as I biked about the verdant dream. Salsa dance to my heart’s full content in the sweet shelter of my hometown.

Waddling broken-legged through Pearl Street on an endorphins rocky mountain high from my first marathon. Urban hiking sweaty-hot miles for unbeatable seaside street food in Copenhagen. Living a writer’s dream of sipping an aperitif Hemingway-style at Les Deux Magots of Paris. Piercing my tongue into the cool sweetness of Marseille’s Vanilla Noire ice cream as hot tears streamed down my face after Nice terrorist attacks. Prancing through the winegrape fields of Saint-Emilion. Tearing up in unstoppable laughter at the London eye, post-Acro yoga jams and pre-fine Indian cuisine. Biking in sunhats and handstanding like a monkey in green parks of Bordeaux. Meditating with a full belly and happy heart under the Southern Illinoisan summer sun in my favorite deciduous forest escape of calm. Dancing through the air on rusty swings tucked away by New England autumn cranberry bogs. Sweeping into my signature warrior pose with a nervous giggle and a grin of focus as I peered down from my urban mountain cliff of Barcelona.

The dresses may be eternally lost, but the memories of each moment within them live on with vivacity in my mind. My attachment to the physical fabrics is liberated, but I hold tight to the life that binds them. From the gaps in my wardrobe and in my empty library, I make space for the new. Rest in peace, my possessions. Your life lived can be cherished as a new chapter in mine, an unfettering of my creature comforts, and an omen to travel on freely forevermore.

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