The liquor store was just a couple blocks from my house and the man helping me was familiar. We had exchanged pleasantries the few times I'd been there buying wine, or the odd bottle of Baileys.
This time, he was handing me old shipping boxes from a top shelf in the back of the store. He asked if that was all I needed, looking down at me from the stepladder as I stood surrounded by six large boxes.
I smiled and assured him that yes, this was perfect. He wiped his hands on his dusty pants and helped me stack the boxes inside one another so I could carry them on the short walk home.
I had one foot out the door when he hollered at me, face somewhat incredulous: "I can't believe that's all you own." Then he grinned and waved, leaving me to stumble the few blocks north to my home of four years. The Calgary condo that was slowly being divided into boxes and suitcases for my journey to British Columbia.
I arrived home and ascended to the tiny unit I shared with my younger sister to continue sorting out my worldly possessions, and my mind, as I prepared for the change of city, scenery and life ahead.
The man's parting words awoke in me a thought I hadn't considered: Was this all I owned? Suddenly, looking at the clothing, shoes and dishes piled in my room, I noticed that my existence looked very, very small.
I took a quick inventory: one decade-old but immaculately running vehicle; two bikes, one for racing and one for commuting; a box full of old journals; three suitcases of clothes; and a few random kitchen items, including four plastic bowls bought several years ago on a trip to Florida (because of the cartoon monkeys and birds on the inside), an assortment of mugs and espresso cups, a food processor, a slow cooker and a serving bowl. That was it.
I walked out of my room slowly into our small living room. A few hours ago, I'd felt proud that everything I owned could fit in my jeep for the trip to Victoria, where I was moving with my boyfriend. But now I felt humiliated. At 27, I had friends with husbands, babies, houses, cars, skis, snowmobiles, boats, lakefront second properties and expensive jewellery. My life fit in the back of my car. This was all I had? This was what I owned?
I eventually continued to pack, still pouting at my situation. I was missing many of the possessions commonly associated with living in a home. I didn't have a piece of furniture to my name, not even something as small as a lamp. I could feel hot tears of disappointment and sadness welling up in my eyes. How could I not be bringing anything with me? How could I not have accumulated the necessary "stuff" to live? How could I have failed so terribly that six empty boxes once filled with bottles of cider could bring me to Victoria?
As I sifted through drawers, sorting and emptying, I came across a small pile secured with elastic, marked "Important documents." My current passport was sitting on top, but underneath was my old passport. I sat on my bed and opened the blue booklet that had taken me around the world since I graduated from university and went to work for an adventure travel company.
I ran my fingers over the pages, the back half of the passport crinkled and gnarled from when I was caught in a hailstorm on Harding Icefield in Alaska, trekking with my passport at the top of my sack.
I traced the outline of the stamp from Latvia, remembering the day we arrived by bus to be held at the border while guards with AK-47s went through our backpacks.
The stamps from Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela triggered memories of the heat and the staggering poverty.
Every stamp into California made me smile when I thought of how often I had played and worked in that state, my American home away from my Canadian one.
I grinned at the Ireland work number that allowed me to wander in and out of the country without excessive questioning. I thought of the summers and falls there, and the torrents of rain, the cliffs and greenery.
For an hour I worked through the passports, love swelling my heart as I reflected on the past five years of work and travel I had enjoyed.
I hadn't a lamp, a bed or a desk to my name. But as I set up a new life in Victoria with the man I love, there will be new memories, new circumstances and new things that will come to live with us. Soon I will own many of the things I don't now. I will accumulate slowly and intentionally, enjoying the exciting process of setting up a home.
I went back to packing, my spirit rejuvenated. My work and play took me around the globe for days, weeks and months at a time. I saw many sights, lived vibrantly and laughed plenty. I cried, was sick, experimented with food and language, experienced and lived in many places. Those memories are sacred, unmovable, unchangeable and permanent.
This is what I own.
Holly Higgins lives in Victoria.