Ariana Rodriguez

How to Pack a House

Grab some boxes that are the right size for your stuff. Start with the small things on your bureau—framed pictures and snow globes. Wrap the snow globes in newspaper otherwise they’ll break and your mom will look at you with that look she gives you when you do something you shouldn’t.

Pack up the books on the bookshelf, but don’t make the boxes too heavy. Pack up the videos in each room and take a few that you might want to play. Pack up all the movies and keep your favorites handy so you’ll have something to watch. Don’t forget your CD’s. Distraction is everything.

Pack up all of your clothes, separating them into piles—jeans, shirts and sweatshirts. Then separate them into seasons—summer and winter. Soon enough, thinking in seasons, not days, will become a habit.

Ask your mom if she needs help packing up any other rooms in the house. If she says yes, help her. If she says no, still help her because she really does need all the help she can get right now.

Ask your siblings if they need help packing their things. Make sure they know how to separate out what’s important, what we take with us. Talk to them about starting over in a new place and let them know it’ll be okay. They can text their friends. Maybe even Face Time. There are new friends waiting in the next place, the next school. Wherever that might be.

Ask your dad if he needs help, because you know that he won’t be able to tell the difference between objects that feel the same. Be his eyes.

Pack a bag of essentials—some clothes, your phone, your phone charger, your ipod, at least one Coca Cola, Cheez-Its and Scooby-Doo fruit snacks. Your mom will have anything else that’s necessary.

Grab some pillows and blankets so you can sleep anywhere you go.

Don’t forget to grab your special doll from Aunt Maria because it’s the only thing you have left to remind yourself of her.

The movers will take everything. Make sure you stay out of the way. Stay close in case they have questions about which location the stuff is going to.

Your mom will look at you with droopy eyes. Same way she’s been looking at you for a week now. Look back at her and straighten up, tell her that everything will be okay. It will be okay, sooner or later.

Wait for your mom to come back from the social services people with good or bad news and be prepared for both.

Your mom will tell you that the office wants all of you to stay in Springfield, but Dad’s doctors, mom’s job and TJ’s physical therapist are all here. She’ll tell you that she has to go back tomorrow with letters from other people that will prove that all of this is true. Then maybe they can find a place closer. She will bring the letters in the next day and they will tell you that they have found a spot in Saugus.

Go with your mom to meet the lady who is taking your dogs for you. Say goodbye to your dogs and let them know that you’ll be with them again soon. When you walk away, straighten up, bite your lip and keep your eyes wide open so that nothing spills. You’ve never been away from your dogs for a long time before.

Drive home, sit up straight the whole way. When you get there, ask your dad if he has put the eye drops in his eyes yet, even though you already know the answer is no. Since 2004 when he slipped on the black ice on the roof, he’s been left with only one working arm. You and your mom take turns being the second arm, pretending you don’t need to be.

Then it will be time, and your mom will drive to the spot in Saugus. Everyone will get out and bring the things they brought along. She’ll tell you that you are sharing a bed with your sister and she’ll tell your brothers that they are sleeping in the other room with the separate beds because she knows how your brothers are with sharing things, especially with each other. Ask your sister if she needs help. Ask your brothers if they need help, too. Help them.

Enter the room and put down what you have in your hands. Lay the pillows down and smooth the blankets you’ve brought over the bed. Get ready to go to sleep because tomorrow is another day.


The next day you go with you mom to look at an apartment. Although the walls are yellowing and the wood floors are black, the owner will say it should be ready in about a month.

Drive back to the shelter with your mom and take time in the car to tell her that the apartment will look nice; tell her that it’ll be perfect—just because she needs to hear something positive. Say whatever she needs to hear. Her shoulders are slumped and she’ll look back at you and smile.

“I hope so, Ariana. We need this.” And you do. Every blackened board of it.

Ariana Rodriguez

Ariana Rodriguez was a student in my first year writing class in the fall of 2014 at Salem State University. She arrived a week late to class, telling me her family was recently homeless. They were living in a motel that had been converted to a shelter just off the highway in Saugus. When I gave my students the task of writing an instructional essay, this is what Ariana composed. I have tried to stay in touch with Ariana, but she has disappeared from the Salem State University’s registry.* Ariana is a gifted student, with the courage and strength of a samurai.

*Before she disappeared, she gave me permission to publish this essay, which I hope in some small way might further help her and her family out of their recent financial crisis.