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Get by with a Little Help from Your Friends

I listened to my mother.

I busted through my ancient Little Engine that Could belief. I think I can, I know I can, has reluctantly become I really can't.

I took a cue from the Beatles and pressed send on my email call for HELP!

But at T minus 4 days and counting 'til my departure, I've heard back from only one friend.

I’m a little desperate, a little enraged, close to tears as I stand at my kitchen sink and gaze around at the chaos. I'm afraid to open the pantry doors and face what's inside.

How could I be so alone?

On top of it, I've lost time. So focused on my farewell fiesta I didn’t have the heart to cancel, I made no packing progress at all. Samba joy filling my house for five straight hours, I have no regrets – though I’m beginning to have regrets. The mountains of party trash and recycling require even more trips up and down the garden stairs to and from the alley.

With just 3 days to go, I'm exhausted, ready to give up, when my girls show up – all of them and all girls. Each has signed-up for a 3-hour stint. I love them more than ever and yet worry: Am I really ready for them?

Michelle, sits crossed-legged with me on the office floor as we sort through a double-wide filing cabinet containing the history of SeeChange Consulting since its 2001 inception. An OD consultant like me, Michelle knows my life material. “Communications and Teamwork. Good stuff,” she thumbs through fat 3-ring training and facilitation binders “Bet you have ‘em electronic.” Her bright smile coaxes me to let them go, click and empty, click and empty. “Oh, the proposals,” she sings, "and AU grad school, whoa." She flips through folios of articles by our gurus, Schein, Block, Senge. “Great stuff, all on the Internet." She's right, no question. Any financial files older than five years, my CPA has advised, can go too. “That’s two boxes right there!”

My Brazil crate circa 2006-08 – a jumble of colorful maps and pamphlets, Portuguese language worksheets, photography contact sheets from my exhibitions, spiral bound journals holding saudade secrets – is more difficult. “Look at this stuff,” she marvels when, out of one folder falls a mosaic wooden tribal bracelet.

“It’s yours,” I dangle it in front of her. “As long as I can keep this stuff.”

Eyes gleaming, she agrees, as we proceed to madly rip paper from binders, tear metal rods from hanging folders, turning the chore into a quest, accumulating 10 brimming archive boxes that we lug to her car. She’ll store them ‘til Fort Totten first Saturday and promises to add her own shredding to the load. I feel pounds lighter already. (Now, so does she!)

Later that day, Gigi the Brazilian bandleader breezes in with her signature alegria and a surprise: a strapping coworker from Whole Foods. She’s non-stop chatter over the previous night’s festa, the three-hour set her band played without a break, house teeming with dancers, tip jar overflowing, everyone loco to be together again.

Gigi guides as Dominick and I maneuver the empty double-wide filing cabinet out of my office, down the hall, to the storage room, so I can refill it with the important papers Michelle has let me keep. We sweep through the house identify pieces to go to the staging room. As I bend down, suck in my belly button, and prepare to hoist from thighs, Gigi tisks. “No, Anna, that’s why I bring him to do.” I smile and hug her. “We are too old for this shit, amiga, mulher macha,” she laughs her happiness into my ear.

First thing Memorial morning, Christina the lawyer and Lynn the graphic designer arrive accidentally together. I'm functioning on fumes and utterly distracted because the neighbors have finally come for the sectional sofa and a stranger for the hulking breakfront that I inherited 24 years ago and was convinced would never leave.

“We don’t need you,” they wave me off begin to tackle the entire first floor. I overhear them building and taping-up boxes, the clang of pots and pans as they layer in the kitchenware.

“And what have we here?” From the corner of my eye, as I guide furniture out the door, I see Christina has discovered my lovely but be-damned leaded glass curio cabinets that have stored too much of the past. The two friends ogle over my parents’ wedding crystal, make a toast before wrapping each glass lovingly in linen napkins for which I seem to have a fetish.

The downstairs is done, four boxes filled and stacked; but they are not. In the staging room the dynamic duo assembles the Jenga pieces of metal strewn on the floor into a clothes rack, fortified at the joints with duct tape, and find a perfect corner spot in which to lodge the contraption. I lug coats from downstairs and dresses from upstairs, pieces not chosen for the journey, and they enclose them in plastic. Stepping back, we collectively exhale. Chaos is turning into order.

I think we can, I know we can, has become my new refrain.

Aurelia, my French friend, arrives for her afternoon shift and attacks my master bedroom. We designate three categories:What stays, what goes, and what goes with me. She reclines on my bed and barks out orders – I’m surprised the demure Parisian has it in her. But the situation is dire.

Three hours of minutia decisions later – down to the pairs of sock and underwear I may take, a limit of five pairs of shoes, and, of course, she must allow perfume, one for warm months, another for cold – the Elfa closets are gloriously empty.

Frenchy brushes her hands of the dust and departs with her baguettes for a colleague picnic.

It’s my final day. I say: I think I got this. But Dear Dixie, my CPA, shows up anyway. She’s good with numbers and she’s a powerhouse of strength. She collects, overhauls, and ships bicycles to Africa; she climbs Mount Kilimanjaro and hikes rim-to-rim-to-rim through the Grand Canyon.

If anyone will put me over the finish line, it’s Dixie.

Seated at the only table that’s left, the one on the back patio, we eat a pizza and drink the last of the last bottle of red wine and prepare ourselves mentally for the work ahead. When suddenly, head tilted up toward the shed, Dixie says rather nonchalantly: “Is that a turkey?” I crinkle my nose – I don’t have time for jokes – and follow her gaze up the garden stairs.

Tom Turkey’s no joke. He poofs his barrel body of jewel tone feathers, scoping his snakelike neck, and shakes his gummy pink gobbler like he means business. We watch him, eyes wide, gripping the stairwell railing, whispering so as not to further upset him: “Where’d he come from? How’d he get in here? How’s he gonna get out?”

I’ve encountered lots of turkeys in my 24 years in this town, but never one in my own backyard!

After some anxious pacing, he flaps his wings and, stealthful as a blimp, lifts himself onto the top rail of the chain link fence, tumbling into neighbor’s backyard.

Heart fluttering, eyes blinking with disbelief, I decide (and later read) that Tom is a good omen – a symbol of abundance and, apparently, the need for some balance.

Hard to argue that as Dixie and I enter the staging room and an over-abundance of belongings, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, stares us in the face. If I were alone, I’d crumple to the ground. But with Dixie there, both of us infused with turkey medicine, we kick into action, grunting, as we squat and lift box after box off the floor and into the storage space. The heaviest stuff must go first; the lighter on top. We heave, stack, shimmy and fit things into every crevice, panting, sweat rising on our brows.

Dixie’s a machine, paying no nevermind to her aching, scarred, former basketball star knees.

Three hours later, our voices echo in the empty bedroom, the shiny pine floor strewn with nothing but leftover peanuts, bubble wrap, and dust balls. The storage room is a thing of organized beauty that reminds me of an Amtrak sleeper car – everything secure and in its place with floor space to spare for a routine of yoga!

We smack high-five. All that’s left for tomorrow, Dixie points out, swiping her glossy forehead with the back of her hand, is to pack your car and go.

Mom winks from on-high, proud of us.

The only problem I must face, now, is how to leave these beautiful girlfriends behind.


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