David is doing Portuguese Duolingo on his phone. A word that keeps popping up is amargo. Bitter. He can never remember if amargo is sour or bitter.
“Amargo is bitter,” I said. “There’s another word that means sour. It’s something kind of like that ama…ami…something.”
I looked it up: agrio. Agrio is sour, but oddly, the word for bittersweet in Portuguese is agridoce, a contraction of sour and sweet, rather than bitter and sweet. It’s the same in Spanish–agridulce.
Bittersweet is my predominant emotion right now. Everything I do thrills me, but there’s a hum of melancholy underneath it. For example, I feel giddy with accomplishment when I lug an trunk up 3 flights of stairs to a colleague’s office. I drop off the trunk and walk back across campus with $20 in my pocket and a sinking sense of loss in my stomach.
I bought that trunk at the Target in Brooklyn shortly after I moved into my studio apartment in Park Slope. The apartment was tiny, but it was my first apartment all to myself. Rent alone ate up one of my two paychecks each month, and left me very little to work with when two thirds of my other paycheck went to my student loans from NYU. Still, I loved my tiny apartment with a brick wall on one side. It was so compact that I could sit on my couch and put my feet up on my bed.
When I moved in, I didn’t have a coffee table. Unlike Manhattan, Brooklyn had a Target, which felt like a good enough justification of my choice to move there. The day after I moved in, I rode the subway to the Target on Atlantic Avenue and bought the dark-brown woven sweetgrass trunk. I put a tray on top, and I stored my extra sheets inside it.
I was happy with my purchase, but everything in New York City exacts a price, so I had to carry the trunk home on the subway, sweating and huffing. Stuffed inside it was a new quilt for my bed and other Target impulse knick-knacks. By the time I got to my 4th floor apartment and set the trunk in front of my couch, I was swearing and my hands were blistered.
A few weeks later, I got a puppy. It was the summer after my first year of teaching and I had two months of summer break ahead of me. I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I’d always wanted a dog. I rode the Long Island Rail Road out to the North Shore Animal League. None of the grown dogs seemed like a good fit, and the puppies had almost all been claimed. I wandered into the sick room for recovering puppies and found a little black and white guy rolling around happily in his cage. I was told he was recovering from a dizzying list of ailments: upper respiratory infection, vomiting, diarrhea, a heart murmur, and anorexia. I signed the papers, waited for them to call my reference, and the adoption was approved. Papers signed, I asked the vet tech about how to get the 10 pound border collie mix home to Brooklyn. “Most people drive here,” the woman said. I had taken the train. When I told her this, she offered me the boxes that they send cats home in, and I loaded my puppy in.
During the train-ride through Long Island, I decided to name him Django, after Django Reinhardt, the 1930s jazz guitarist who escaped the Nazis and lost a bunch of fingers. Despite this, he was still the best guitarist of his age. I transferred from the LIRR to the subway, and rode to my stop in Park Slope. When I stepped onto the platform, I tripped on my own feet, and the box went tumbling out of my arms. It landed with a thud on the concrete. “Oh god!” I screamed. I scooped the box up, ran up the stairs and down the 5 blocks to my apartment. I raced up to the fourth floor and set the box down and opened it. Django emerged, dragging his back legs behind him. “I broke his legs!” I screamed. Then he yawned and stood up, on all his legs. He had just been stretching in that bendy puppy way. His fall onto the subway platform left no lasting effects.
In that first week, Django chewed on the corner of the sweetgrass trunk from Target, and I practiced my firm, dog-mother “No!” It worked, and he didn’t chew it anymore. After he’d overcome his anorexia and finished his meds, he started running crazed circles around the coffee table in a fit of puppy glee.
In 2011, we left New York carrying with us our bed, the trunk, and tons of books. I was five months pregnant with our first baby, and we bought a bungalow with a fenced backyard. Django ran in the backyard and the trunk served a variety of purposes over the past seven years, from holding blankets and rarely used winter sweaters, to the Halloween costumes of our first child, our second, and our third. This spring, as we began shedding belongings for this move, I opened the trunk and gave away the old Halloween costumes and the sweaters–definitely superfluous in Brazil. Now empty, I carried the trunk out to my car, and emailed the faculty advertising a $20 trunk.
The next day at school, as I set the trunk in my colleague’s office, I felt a pang. I almost told her I’d changed my mind–I couldn’t sell it. My ten year old dog had chewed that corner as a puppy, then run hyper laps around it. 6 months after I adopted Django, my boyfriend and I kicked our feet up onto it on our magical fourth date. (Reader, I married him.) What will I do without that trunk?
It’s taken six months to understand, but I’ve learned that what matters is the memories, not the trunk. I’m not giving away the memories. I’ll always have those. Isn’t it good I had that trunk when I did? That it served me so well?
Thank you, trunk.