In many ways, the high point of my year happened as late as Wednesday, December 29, because it was on that date that I fully unloaded my toiletry kit. You see, I became separated from my wife in mid-July. She told me, “Either you leave or the kids and I will leave.” Not wanting to displace my two wonderful girls, I left. And for the next five months I served varying tenures in friends’ guest rooms and couches. There are many tales to be told by unpacking that one simple sentence, but suffice to say that I was taken in by good and generous friends, who enabled me to have a roof over my head at night and a hot shower in the morning.
I essentially lived out of a Rubbermaid container during that time, carrying a seasonal selection of my wardrobe along with my toiletry bag wherever I was staying. I was home often to spend time with my kids and was able to replenish, replace, and launder my clothing. But I had never fully unpacked my toiletry bag. I took out my toothbrush and toothpaste, my shaving cream and razor, my comb, cotton swabs, and deodorant as I used them, but they always went right back in the bag.
Ultimately, I reached a point where I had exhausted my supply of free beds and couches to sleep on, and despite the fact that I could ill afford an apartment in greater Boston while also still responsible for all the expenses associated with the home I was no longer welcome to live in, I realized I had to find my own apartment. I needed the stability and certainty of knowing I had a place to go, and I needed my own space – needed to reclaim my right to privacy. So I started looking.
I looked at standalone units, rooms to let, ad shared situations, until finally I found a two-room studio three miles from my house, reasonable rent, all utilities included. I spent my first night here on Wednesday, December 29 and while I had no furniture (I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor), I went into the bathroom and, after a good scrubbing of all the surfaces, unpacked my toiletry bag.
It seemed not to be a big deal until I actually did it. And then it occurred to me that I was holding an empty toiletry bag that I had to store, as opposed to carry around with me. My deodorant had its own place where it wasn’t in anyone’s way and didn’t have to be moved or removed. Unexpectedly, emptying my toiletry bag became a new definition of “Home” for me.
And so it is that as 2010 ends, I chart a new beginning – uncertain, as all new beginnings are, but with some hope. This has been, after all, my annus horribilis: my horrible year. It was a year that found me squirming whenever a friend’s Facebook status included the phrase “Life is good.” You’d be surprised how many times that phrase is used in people’s Facebook status updates. I’m glad that my friends’ lives are good, don’t get me wrong, but that is a phrase I have never had occasion to use. I don’t even know what it would feel like to put that out there. For me, life is often slow torture. It’s often hopeless. It sometimes even feels futile. There are good moments in my life, but they are snapshots, frozen in time, with no sustaining resonance. A fun time with friends or my children lasts only until the next fight with my wife or phone call from a creditor.
In a year like this, acts of kindness and generosity stand out like a beacon in the storm. I have been very fortunate. At my job, the people I work for and with have been very understanding and sympathetic. I often gets calls or emails from friends and family “just checking in” to see how I’m doing. Those friends who gave me shelter obviously have had an impact. I’ve been taken to dinner, had drinks bought for me, and gotten far more free advice than I ever could have afforded and know I never can repay. It has been made very clear to me who my friends are, how many I have, how wonderful they are, and how lost I’d be without them. Following a holiday season when I received no presents, facing a New Year’s Eve when I will share no midnight kiss, it is clear that they were the gifts and blessings I needed most and am so grateful to have gotten.
One gift that I know awaits me at some point in 2011 is my divorce. It will be bittersweet, I’m sure, but that legal act will finally cut the tether that has kept me moored to the ground. At this point, after this year, I feel there’s no place for me to go but up. And while January 1, 2011, is in many ways just another square on a man-made instrument for demarcating time, for me it is a sloughing off of dead skin, a rebirth of sorts, or at least a chance for positive change.
So may it be for me, so may it be for all of us.