I don’t have the best track record when it comes to packing. I typically wait until the last minute, grab whatever toiletries and seasonally appropriate apparel catch my eye and shove everything into the nearest tote with a functioning zipper. Sometimes, I forget my toothbrush. (Sorry to anyone who’s unknowingly shared theirs with me.) And eye-care accessories. (Thank you to anyone who’s sacrificed saline solution for my sight.) But one item reliably makes it to the Airbnb, hotel room or friend’s uncle’s cabin where I’m spending the weekend: a pillowcase — that is, a standard non-silk, non-nice pillowcase.
Why does a pillowcase get preferential treatment over travel necessities? It's not because I’m paranoid about invisible fluids or vermin lurking on foreign linens. I trust that other people can gather bedsheets, pour detergent into a small, sticky compartment and turn the washing-machine dial to “warm.” I’m sure the pillowcases at rented and borrowed houses satisfy my high standards: not smelly, clean-looking. The issue is me — me, my lingering eye makeup and my desire to avoid leaving the wrong kind of lasting impression.
I rarely go to bed without washing my face. I have a well-stocked arsenal of makeup remover, cleansing wipes and stupidly expensive proprietary oils whose names I can’t pronounce. And my eyes certainly look makeup-free after I scrub my face and pinch my eyelashes to unearth flecks of gunk. Even so, I inevitably wake up to traces of makeup that surface overnight and cast off just enough color to render a crisp, white case un-crisp and not-quite-white.
Yes, I know what you're going to say, and I have bought makeup that purportedly doesn’t smudge. Everything smudges. I've also tried plenty of pillowcase-cleaning tricks. Mascara stains might fade, but they don’t disappear. When I’m at home, waking up to a mascara-ed pillowcase is merely annoying. But the prospect of doing so somewhere else, where someone else has to face the tainted pima cotton, makes me cringe. I think about my fated houseguest legacy: pillowcase ruiner. Rather than build a reputation as a lovely conversationalist, or a repository for "Frasier" factoids, or even a forgettable “bronde”-haired woman who likes big dogs and enchiladas, I pigeonhole myself as an agent of bedding destruction.
Earlier this year, I realized that bringing my own pillowcase on trips would soothe my anxiety and solve my problem. Knowing that I’d be burying my head in my own linens, I could spend less time in the bathroom fretting over charcoal eyeliner. And I’d be able to sleep in a comfortable position, rather than spend the night trying (and failing) to stay supine or using my hair as an itchy pillow-face barrier.
Traveling with a pillowcase in tow worked — until my piss-poor packing skills came back to haunt me. I remembered to take a pillowcase with me, but I started forgetting to bring it home. I wasn't just leaving behind ruined 'cases. I was leaving behind ruined 'cases that didn’t match the sheets and were clearly BYOPs. Not only am I a pillowcase ruiner to some bed-and-breakfast proprietor out there, I’m a neurotic, absent-minded pillowcase ruiner. It might be a damning label, but I suppose it's accurate. “Lovely conversationalist” is overrated anyway.