We're leaving in four days, and the mound in the bedroom as been steadily growing until it's almost the same height as the bed. Roughly measuring four feet in diameter, the mound is in danger of blocking access to the bathroom and closet, and has provided a definite hazard in the middle of the night for quite some time. I vacuum around it carefully; it may topple over at the slightest touch and I don't want to have to figure out the complicated engineering equation my husband has used for its creation. As it is, the mound teeters dangerously when teenagers drive by, the bass from their car stereos thumping so loudly that pictures shake on the walls. I've become afraid of this pile of stuff, afraid it has developed a heart and lungs and will reach out a shirtsleeve to pull me into its shadowy depths. For this is no ordinary mound. These are the items, carefully chosen and lovingly collected, that my husband plans on bringing with us on our trip.
My husband is not like other men. In many ways, this is a fine thing. He buys his own clothes, cooks better than many women, and knows more about my hormones than I do. I never have to explain how to interpret bra sizes or justify spending money on pedicures. He understands these things. I used to wonder at this but now have to admit I enjoy it thoroughly and even take it for granted sometimes. He still has his testosterone-fueled incidents and amusements, like Die Hard movies with surround-sound and the occasional fine cigar, but I've learned to appreciate these man moments all the more since he buys me flowers on a regular basis. All in all, he's a great husband and makes me very happy.
But he does have one flaw. He packs way too much for trips. We took our first trip together when we were still dating, a weekend trip to the mountains. We left Saturday and came back Sunday, meaning that we were spending one night at a hotel. One night away from home. I brought a little overnight bag filled with one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, one nightie, one pair of underwear, and various toiletry items. I think I might have brought a book, too, just in case. He picked me up and there were two suitcases in the back of his truck.
"Whoa," I remarked. "How long are we going to be gone?"
"Just one night," he said. "Why?"
"No reason." I paused. "You have two suitcases?"
"Yeah," he said. He actually looked sheepish. "I tend to over pack. I'm sorry."
Over pack? The man brought three shirts, two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and an extra pair of shoes. I know because I snooped when he was taking a shower. He also brought a portable cd player, lots of cds, massage oil, body lotion, crackers, cheese, salami, olives, wine, champagne, grapes and chocolate. Yes, my man was prepared for anything, except that he forgot the corkscrew and we had to push the cork down into the bottle of wine in order to drink it. But we had a wonderful time and I just figured he was nervous. After all, I forgot my toothbrush and had to use a washcloth to clean my teeth, so how could I be critical? It was our first trip together, after all.
My second initiation into Joe's packing eccentricities occurred when we went on a cruise together. It was a mini-cruise, really, just five days and four nights going up and down the California coast. We definitely had to bring more clothes this time, not only for varying weather and temperatures, but to fulfill the requirement that passengers "dress" for dinner. I admit to filling a suitcase with dresses, shorts, tops, sleepwear, swimwear, shoes and a sweater or two. It was April, after all, and it could get cold. Or, it could be warm, you never know. Even with all my stuff, it didn't compare to my husband's pile of stuff for sheer quantity. When I stood in the bedroom doorway with my mouth open, he looked at me and smiled. "I pack like a woman, don't I?" he asked.
"Do you really need all that stuff?" I asked.
"I don't want to forget something I might need," he answered. "Do you really need all those books?"
Uh-oh, the dreaded books question. I wondered when that issue would surface. I actually do need a lot of books when I'm traveling. Not only am I a fast reader, I panic if I happen to find myself out of reading material. This has happened to me before and it is not a pretty sight. If I'm out of reading material I am forced to buy Danielle Steel novels at the airport bookstore because that's the only book on the shelf I have not read yet. Then I have to actually read this horrible stuff and am further compelled to groan loudly every ten pages or so and loudly complain that this is the most horrible book I have ever read. Or, I am reduced to reading books over people's shoulders and asking them to hurry up and finish so I can have it next. In other words, I become a most annoying person to travel with if I am out of reading material, so it behooves my traveling partners to accommodate my need to bring bunches of books on any trip. Even if that means an extra suitcase that's a little heavier than the rest.
"You know I need all those books, honey. You are avoiding the issue. Look at this: you have eight shirts. We're only gone five days, including the clothes we'll be wearing the day we board the boat. Do you really need EIGHT shirts?"
"Yes, I do. Do you really need four pairs of shoes?"
"Well, those sandals are for the day trips. The athletic shoes are for exercising. The dress shoes are for dinner, and the beach shoes are for the pool."
"Okay, and I need all these shirts. You get your shoes, and your giant bag of make-up, and your 24 books, and I get eight shirts."
"It's not 24 books."
"How many is it?"
"It's only 10. Nowhere near 24."
"Ten books? I'm bringing two. And who's carrying your suitcase with all those books?"
I decided to quit talking about the eight shirts.
Now we're going on a long trip: 11 days and 10 nights in the Cayman Islands. We're renting a house that's right on the beach and we have nothing planned except for swimming, eating, snorkeling, boating, walking and spending time together. In other words, nothing planned except for doing whatever we feel like whenever we feel like doing it. If we go out to dinner, it will be one of the little cafes on the island. I'm bringing shorts, t-shirts, underwear, one sundress, three swimsuits and a hat. No make-up but lots of sunscreen. A journal to write down our adventures. Two extra pairs of shoes and a toothbrush. Oh, and some books. I haven't counted them but there are quite a few. Good thing we're checking our luggage.