At LAX, I am known for my baggage, "the little lady with the monster bag," as one funny United Airlines skycap likes to put it when he sees me. I frequently fly home to Miami, and the fact is there's a lot of truth to his joke. Barely 5 feet, I suppose I'm a sight when I appear with my 75-pound (or heavier) suitcase. I've been warned, I've been teased and I've been fined for the extra pounds. And even though I always tell myself that next time I'll pack less -- and do so more efficiently -- my bag always winds up with a fluorescent "heavy" sticker on it.
When I went home for Christmas, my navy blue Samsonite weighed in at 83 pounds -- and it didn't even contain any presents. I had shipped those separately. My problem is threefold: I'm a mood dresser, I'm attached to my many pairs of shoes, and hair products take up a lot of space.
On this last trip, as I held my breath to see if the Grinch would meet me at the curb and slap me with a $75 fine, a man behind me was going on and on to someone on his cell phone about his baggage. But he didn't mean his rolling black canvas Travelpro. He was talking about his ex-wife and their bitter divorce. As he described his loneliness during the holidays, I couldn't help but think about my own emotional baggage, and how our failed attempts at lasting connections had come to be known in such terms.
If I accept the metaphor, does my 83-pound suitcase say anything about the load I'm carrying in my heart?
It would be wonderful to say that I tread through life as lightly as a backpacker through Europe, but it's not always the case. On my good days, I'm positive and able to embrace new people. On my bad days, I see blinking yellow lights and cannot help but respond cautiously.
Emotional baggage, I've come to learn, is not the result of a single heartbreak but rather the culmination of disappointments, big and small, that make up a dating life. It's not the one great love that moved to Italy who leaves a six-piece Samsonite set in his wake but the many others who reject, disrespect or disappoint and create nothing meaningful.
Baggage is less about the ending of a loving relationship and more about the extinguishing of hope. It's about realizing that previous disillusion can make receiving love more challenging than actually giving it.
So, here I am one month into a new year, still struggling to find the balance, learn the lessons and move on gracefully so that my heart can be as open as I long for it to be. I suppose at this rate -- I've been dating now for half my life -- it's going to take a lot to completely eradicate my fear and altogether lose the baggage. But baby steps first.
When I arrived in Miami last month, my precious Samsonite luggage was missing a wheel and was slightly torn on one side. It made me a little sad to think of giving up my long-term companion. In just the last year, we had traveled together to Miami, Atlanta, New York, London, Maui and Kauai.
But no wheels is an absolute deal breaker when you're petite and dragging luggage that weighs close to what you do. So I waited for the after-holiday sales and went shopping with my two little nieces, who picked a slightly smaller Moda model. They liked the bag because of its compartments and the fact that my 7-year-old niece had a great time climbing into it.
I liked it too but was worried my belongings wouldn't fit. Surprisingly, my dozen pairs of shoes, month's worth of clothes and many beauty products managed to snuggle in perfectly. Perhaps this says something about the year ahead; maybe it is possible to lighten the load.
Maria Elena Fernandez can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.