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Heavy Luggage

Seven pounds of chocolate is enough

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Grant and Daniel would not have been at all surprised to hear that Cheryl wanted me to haul her an actual iron safe all the way to Nicaragua. They remember, for example, the last time she came to visit me in the States. She showed up with no driver's license, no credit card and no cash -- but at least she had eight heavy hammocks with her, the kind woven with wood frames and bulky macramé. "Can I borrow some shoes?" she asked as we waited for her hammock-laden luggage, which appeared an hour later in the off-sized luggage area, "and, you know, clothes and stuff?"

Thus commenced the visit during which Cheryl moved into my life with all her heavy luggage and, in short, shit on my head for six solid weeks. For example, one of the first things she did was commandeer my eBay account. To this day, I still get e-mails from merchants hoping to reach her with the latest features of the Waring Pro 1800 Watt Industrial Deep Fryer. It now has a breakaway cord, I'm told, better to keep from killing yourself horribly in a grease fire, and "it's on the heavy side, but shipping to Nicaragua won't be a problem because didn't you say you have a sister who works for an airline? All she has to do is ... " (delete). So a safe is nothing.

"You just like to complain," my other sister, Kim, always says in regard to my gripes about Cheryl. Kim is the one who arranged the trip to Nicaragua for our family, hauled her husband's grown son out here all the way from Geneva, Switzerland, too, because family is important to her. She is always doing that -- making sure we all keep in touch and are abreast of each other's lives. If it were not for her, I'd probably be living in some kind of self-inflicted witness-protection program, wary of retrieving my daily paper in case relatives are lurking in the bushes wanting to reattach family ties.

Sigh, it's a heavy yoke to have inherited. My own mother completely cut herself off from her six siblings by the time I was 5, and any memories I have of them are murky and include aftershave and wing tip shoes. She lived within 10 miles of her brother during the last decade of her life, completely unbeknownst to him. I'm not surprised they didn't run into each other, either, seeing as how he was a respectable retired Navy man whose wife hosted zippy pool-side appetizer soirees, and my mother was a furloughed weapons specialist whose favorite pastime was stealing patio furniture and digging through dead people's estates.

Eventually, my mother became a junk purveyor and went into business with her best friend, Bill, a homeless, paranoid conspiracy theorist she met at an auction house as they haggled over a box of broken ceramic beagles and tattered throw pillows. Later, Bill used my Social Security number to open a business account at a San Diego bank, then he used the money he earned from that business to move to Central America to open a bar and later a small hotel in Nicaragua, where he promptly had a heart attack.

That is what led my sister Cheryl there, and that is where she remains to this day, a year after Bill's death, happily hosting the other ex-pats at a corner bar called Zoom's. I really thought I'd get away with never having to go there, but she won't move home, so my sister Kim arranged for this family trip. But before we leave, there is the list of provisions we must fill, as to hear Cher say it, she lives in a country where supermarkets are stocked like looted convenience stores.

"I have so little problem saying no to the safe," I tell Kim. "I've already got seven pounds worth of chocolate I'm lugging over there. Why don't I just put a handle on my house and heave that over while I'm at it?"

Kim herself is a notoriously heavy packer -- she has one suitcase that is bigger than my bathroom -- but she says she's working on that. When they visited me last New Year's, they were one or two suitcases shy of the usual barge load they bring. I must say I was proud of her, as my motto regarding packing for a trip is, "Put everything you can't live without in a pile, cut it in half, then pack half of that and you'll still have twice as much as you need."

Because I hate to check luggage, or luggage in general for that matter, or just haul heavy crap, period. Maybe it has to do with all those years working on the plane, dealing with people's panic as they swear they saw their bag left on the tarmac as the aircraft backed away from the gate. I swear those panic attacks were more from the fear of letting go, as though even as they were leaving they saw some of themselves left behind. Not that they were wrong, but whatter ya gonna do? No matter how heavy your luggage is, what could possibly be in there that can't be replaced?

"Bring the safe," Kim implores me, her love for her sisters heavy in her voice. "I ain't bringing no safe," I laugh.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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