I’m usually a heavy packer. When my mom and I made the pilgrimage from our homeland to Canada, I compressed 15 years of life into two suitcases and a carry-on. As I dragged my suitcases through Toronto Pearson International Airport on that hot July afternoon, I seemed to be handling my baggage well. I declined requests from well-meaning people who tried to help. I walked with my head held high, syncing the sound of my suitcases’ wheels with the rhythm of my footsteps. But my insides never got the memo on packing light. The emotional baggage piled high in my mind and heart resembled a hoarder’s living space: crammed and almost uninhabitable. My body was not a temple – it was a chaotic maze I couldn’t navigate without getting lost down memory lane. My ribcage was crumbling under weight of my past.
I’ve always had trouble letting go – of possessions, friendships, memories etc. Growing up, I was always the “shy girl.” This usually meant an extrovert taking pity on me by adopting me into their friend group and becoming my mouthpiece. Emotional labor was currency I traded in exchange for friendship. I often played the role of pseudo-therapist. This dynamic happened a lot with my male friends. People started trusting me with their truths and secrets because they thought I was less likely to share them. I became their listening ear and sometimes nothing else. I allowed them to unpack and house their baggage in the vacant spaces in my body. I shared their pain. I thought I was being empathetic. But as the person everyone turned to you, I internalized a lot of pain that didn’t belong to me.
My heart has always been the tool I used as my bargaining chip. In the name of friendship, I have pawned my emotional welfare off in favor of an unfair trade. If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, it would be to charge a cover fee at the door of my heart. Reciprocal energy is required upon entrance in exchange for the labor of love. I would remind her that a heart is not an easy organ to replace. She and her baggage are mutually exclusive.
In my early 20s, I began to question how much of my pain was my own/ belonged to me. If your baggage was on a conveyer at the baggage claim terminal at the airport, would you recognize it was your own to claim it? I began reclaiming the pieces of myself I stored in other people for safe keeping. I started learning about healthy relationships and whether or not they mirrored the ones I had in my life. I made adjustments. I learned to balance being my own but also being a friend to others. Today, my baggage count is almost half of what it was when I was 15. I’m more careful about the extra weight I carry throughout my life. I pack light now.