When the lights go off
It was early March, and it was bitingly cold. I was wrapped up in all my fluffy clothes, but being overdressed wasn’t the only reason I could barely move. The back of the van was chaos — the kind of chaos that comes with upheaval and imperative action. There were boxes stacked on boxes, a set of summer tyres wrapped in loose plastic, and a bicycle hanging from the ceiling. A roll of carpet and a couple of hula hoops moved about, shunted back and forth as I needed access to different spaces. My clothes rack had transformed itself earlier in the day, from a cute golden curtain rod to a twisted metal sculpture. Somehow, it still held to its hooks in the ceiling, and somehow, the clothes were all still attached. It really added to the look and feel of van madness.
I had a light in the back, a little battery-powered magnetic strip slapped up on the ceiling. It lit the mess well, and I set to work on emptying boxes and organising space.
That was when I started finding things that I didn’t realise I had — things that I thought were in storage in Helsinki, things which really had no place in my van life.
I found 4 matching coffee cups. Great if you’re expecting extra guests; I was not.
I found 2 old hard drives. The one loaded with movies and series — a pre-Netflix relic — was almost useful, if I had power to plug the thing into.
I found a large green glass vase. It is as beautiful as it is totally impractical in a moving vehicle.
Each successive find made me feel darker. Storm clouds gathered over my head, and it seemed like the light in the van was being sucked out as my mood got worse.
No longer willing to discover what useless item I’d find in the next box, I crawled up onto my couch. Without enough clear floorspace to roll out my swag, the couch was my bed and my island. I wrapped myself up in a few more blankies, and pulled my soft toy dog Murphy over for a cuddle.
I peered out thru the curtain, into the driver cab and across the carpark and road down to the harbour. It was too early yet to go to sleep.
I looked back at my sea of stuff. Nevermind the items I’d brought along by accident — all the intentional things were feeling a bit overwhelming in the moment. In the dull light I could make out a collection of Asterix books in Finnish. Three teapots. A writing desk. A wood post from a broken chair. A wall clock that didn’t tell the right time. Two pot plants. A toaster. Four kilos of honey. I was surrounded by so much stuff, and it felt oppressive.
Sunk in my puddle of despair, I cast out a tether to keep me from sinking further: I put a spark in my pipe, and sent some Tony O’Connor thru my headphones.
As I listened to the tracks of Mariner — an adventure story if ever I heard one — I had a little cry.
I was so far from where I’d grown up.
I was so far from my family.
What the hell was I doing, in an overstuffed van in the middle of Sweden?
Why did I have so much useless shit with me?
What on earth was I going to do next?
As I contemplated my situation and wallowed in my misery, the gloom in the van grew even deeper.
In fact, it was almost completely dark now.
As I peered thru tears towards the back of the van, the light diminished another few shades.
It was a surreal moment as I teased apart imagination and reality… then it clicked that the batteries in my strip light had been draining.
I hadn’t noticed the gradual change — I’d just allowed it to feed my mood.
I sat in the near-darkness a few moments more, thinking about how fucking silly the situation was.
I was far from my home and family, but I was surrounded with photos and music and tokens from the people who loved me.
I had an awesome van that was keeping me safe and dry, and enough clothes and blankets to keep me warm despite the subzero temperatures outside.
I would have time later to organise my things. The extra stuff that I’d mistakenly brought along, ah well, I could give away or stash somewhere.
I was doing exactly what I wanted, and I had everything that I needed.
I even had fresh batteries for the light.
As I leaned into the cab to fetch them, I noticed the sunset sky reflected in the side mirrors. A different kind of perspective shift.
It was beautiful, and it was perfect.
I cuddled Murphy close and we watched the sky change colours in the mirror.
When the lights go off, you can turn them back on — or look for another light elsewhere.
I could be miserable anywhere, and I could be happy anywhere.