More than a decade ago now, I lived for a year in Las Vegas. I hated everything about it. To this day, if anyone asks me about Vegas, I’ll tell them: “it’s great for a weekend, but anything beyond that, and you’ll start to feel your soul seeping out of your pores and dissolving like sweat.” There was no naturally occurring grass. There were no real trees. Almost every person in Vegas is a transplant from somewhere else, and you can’t help but question their motives for staying because after you’re there for ten minutes, it becomes apparent that there isn’t a single person in the vicinity who isn’t possessed of a laundry list of vices and/or psychoses. I’m a Midwesterner; I needed trees and grass and people who could at least pretend to be decent.

I lived in two houses during my year of hell, and although I hung a wall full of family pictures in one of them and crocheted a king sized blanket in the other, somewhere inside I knew that I was better served to keep the best parts of myself packed away, unexposed to the harsh conditions of either the desert heat or my undeniably transitional, escapist and ill-advised relationship.

It didn’t help that there never seemed to be room for me in our lives. When we moved into the second house, I had to move the ex’s stuff out of the closet in order to put my things in. It’s a unique feeling, folding another woman’s clothes into boxes.

When I left Las Vegas a few months later, I had to lift the box lids to identify which things were hers and which were mine.

My short-term mother-in-law stood at the door with me just before we departed on the morning I went back to Illinois. She hugged me and told me she hoped that I’d someday find what I was looking for. I remember just hoping that one day I’d stop moving packed boxes of god knows what back and forth from one side of the country to the other. I knew I was a homebody even then. A homebody and a nester, actually–living out of boxes is against my nature.

It’s almost fifteen years on, and I can say with a great deal of certainty that I’ll never again allow myself to remain in a place (or a relationship) where I feel compelled to keep who I am packed away and hidden from whoever might be looking…myself included. Life is way too short to be dishonest about something so fundamental. Unpack, I say. Unpack and smile and revel and remember and live while the livin’s good.