I pull my monster of a suitcase up to the taxi stop in central Aix-en-Provence, scanning the cars and faces for a host family I have yet to meet. I exhale, lean against my luggage, wonder what the passers-by make of it. Was I a frequent shopper? No, though when packing I am prone to ‘just-in-case’ syndrome. Immigrant? No, though it would appear that I’m carrying everything I own. American? They could have guessed. Despite the ease with which I attempted to wheel it over, the thing is actually packed solid, far surpassing the 50-pound weight limit that would have applied had I come by plane to France.

I meet eyes with an elderly man at a café who raises his eyebrows as if to say, “vraiment?” -- “really?” The man laughs. Fair enough, I think, a good third of the objects I carry are not things I need, t-shirts and memorabilia whose time has past. Memories, expectations, shampoo and books. Between a great summer at Cambridge University and a semester at the Marchutz School of Art, my suitcase holds what I am not yet ready to let go of. Photos. Postcards. Cambridge sweatshirts, shot glasses, mugs once filled with coffee late nights writing papers. Vintage copies of E.M. Forster novels from Ye Olde Bookshoppe. They rub against unworn jackets and an empty journal, a French-English dictionary, dreams yet to be realized, fun yet to be had.

I scan the taxi stop. A woman opens a car door, looks at me, smiles and approaches. “Bonjour!” she says. “Bonjour!” I say. My host mother. She must have recognized me from my photo. “Je m’appelle Kate.” “Enchanter,” she says, “Nice to meet you.”

I drag my suitcase to her car a few meters away. The trunk is small and so she helps me load it into the back seat. Yes, it is ridiculously heavy, I try to say, smiling. With the bag resting beside me I exhale, feeling the weight released from my arms. My new home is just a drive away and I can’t wait to unpack. 

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