(continued from part two)
I just woke up one day and said, “This is not a life.” Carrying pepper spray to simply take out the trash, wondering if everyone would survive the night, locking and re-locking doors, returning home at the end of the day to a gloomy shadow of a life once loved. We packed in haste. I think I packed the living room books up while on the phone with our real estate agent, trying to get some sense of what to do. We had purchased at peak market so we couldn’t yet sell, and couldn’t now rent it out for obvious reasons, but couldn’t afford to run two separate households either. We just couldn’t do it anymore, even if it meant giving the house, in essence, back to the bank.
All our permanent storage and non-necessities were left, boxed neatly on the first floor. Everything we needed for day-to-day living came with us in plastic crates, labeled with packing tape. Kitchen basics, clothes, toys, crib and diapers. That’s pretty much it. My wife just went to task somehow, motivated by finally having a concrete exit plan, even a bad one. I was falling apart. She found me sobbing and angry in the kitchen, emptying out the cabinets I had once so proudly and happily organized. Pot racks and cooking supplies arranged just so, in the nicest kitchen I’d ever had, now being tossed carelessly into boxes and taped up for no known destination. She grabbed me and said (in a very long list of the smartest things anyone has ever said to me, all uttered by my wife): “This is the end of his life. This is it for him. He’s going to die here or somewhere else, but he’ll never do anything else. WE are going to move on and out, and someday this will be a blip for us, and all the amazing things we do will shine so bright, it will obscure this and we’ll hardly remember it. This is not our end. This is our beginning.”
We packed a rental truck and moved the plastic crates and their simple contents with us for the next three months, between a few vacant homes and a sublet. I lied to the owner of our sublet about our reason for needing it. Our story just sounded so crazy, I didn’t trust a anyone to believe it. We couldn’t find a place that would allow us to keep our dogs, and were very much on the verge of losing them. For weeks, they stayed behind at the old house while we moved around, the poor things listening to the screaming and banging all night, shaking uncontrollably in the morning when I came to feed and comfort them. Our sublet was dirty and depressing. I spent hours at the laundromat washing baby clothes because the laundry area in the house was flooded. I got into a car accident. The baby stuck his finger in a door and it was nearly severed. Things were awful.
Here’s where people rallied and I make the point about functional homelessness. We had jobs, stability, friends, family, incomes, support, therapy, doctors, childcare, HELP. My mom was an hour away and we always had her couch to land on. Our friends came up with a solution that would prevent us from losing our dogs to the pound. We always had somewhere to crash, and offers of love and financial and emotional support. It was incredibly lonely, but I cannot fathom having survived it alone. In fact, I’m certain that I would have ultimately lost the kids and the dogs and our whole life and ended up broken on the street if that hadn’t been in place. Seriously. I don’t know how homeless families make it. My wife has spent her career supporting them and I feel like I’m just beginning to understand what they go through. There’s no way to explain the experience of that kind of loss while you’re holding your baby in your arms. Something so basic as housing and a way to prepare food should never be in question.
We searched frantically for a permanent rental in which our lives would return to normal. We looked EVERYWHERE; at crazy 3200 square foot homes in Pittsburg, crappy Edwardian studios in Berkeley. I really didn’t care where we landed – our priorities had changed so much! No longer was I concerned about walkable cool coffeeshops or organic produce nearby. I didn’t care what my neighborhood said about me anymore. I just wanted safety, to have my family in my arms, and to not jump at shadows anymore. We walked through a spacious rental in Alameda and submitted our credit report the *day* before our short sale process began to show. I don’t recall much about seeing it because my mind was spinning at the thought of finally having a permanent place to live.
Tonight I write to you from that very island home, where we landed last April. Most of the boxes are unpacked and we’re just at the tail end of selling our old house. I’ve never lived somewhere like this- spacious and new, lots of white. The kids roller skate in the neighborhood after school and neighbors come by with bottles of wine to share on summer nights. There’s someone up the street who sells Tupperware (not ironically!), but two people off my block who are also making records. I’m still working out the details of who we are in this new space. Some things we carried over from our old life, and some were destroyed forever. We changed. My optimism, once boundless, is now capped, but I’m much more grateful for friendship and loyalty, and astounded that we are still together. We are still together. This is our beginning.