This has been an unusually big year for me. Many people have made an investment in me and are therefore shareholders in my life. Following the tradition of Warren Buffet and Harper’s Index here’s what you were a part of this year:
A summary; the year by the numbers
Friends who housed me while homeless from December through March: 6
Yoga classes I’ve attended at the studio literally right down the street: 0
Times I had to stop on a walk or on the bus and lean against something because I was so sad I couldn’t breathe: at least 15
Roommates I have in my expensive San Francisco apartment: Fucking zero
Dates with Alex before I had to admit to myself that I had, despite my best intentions, fallen very much in love: ~14
Times per week I went to therapy during the divorce: 3+
Times per week I go to therapy now: 1
Lyfts per week I took before dating Alex: <1
After dating Alex: 3–6 (we do stuff)
Days I spent in Africa climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or in the Serengeti: 15
Number of lions I saw: 49
Number of them that were awake: Hardly any (they’re as lazy as housecats)
Duration of my relationship with Christine, in years: 11
Months after divorce to when I took a vacation from work: 7
Number of people on video drunkenly singing a dirty version of 12 Days of Christmas at my apartment this December: Like, 10 (it’s hard to remember that night clearly)
My placement in the rankings of “best dancers” at this year’s DYCO: 1st
Minimum number of times I’ve bragged about that to Alex: 7
Times I tell every story, according to Alex on our 6th date: 2+
Minutes it took me to find the closest taqueria to my new place: 2
Times I tell every story, according to Alex on our 6th date: 2+
Frequency I wish I had a safe home somewhere with a mom and a dad where I could curl up and recover for as long as it took: Every day
Beers it takes before I start to tell you all my secrets if you ask: 2
Number of times I did Capoeira shirtless in Alamo Square park during peak tourist season just to show off: Probably 6
Paintings I created in my new apartment on my new easel: 21
Number of them I thought were even decent: 0
Number that I hung up for display anyway: 21
Days of advance notice that Alex gave me before taking me on a 5-day trip to Banff, Canada: 0
Massages I ever let myself have prior to 2015: 3
Number that I’ve had this year: 7
Number of millions of dollars that I made in the Square IPO: 0
How proud I am of the company anyway: lots
Amount I used to depend on my friends for support: low
Amount I do now: high
Summarizing a year
Good stories are about the details. The little grains of memory that you rub through your fingers and feel against your skin. Trying to tell everything in a year would require either violating that key principle or writing a goddamned novel. There are three themes of my year: My marriage ended, I began living as a single man, and I fell in love. I’ll tell you a story about each.
The last day
On the second day of June I opened a heavy wooden door to a small office. Lisa, a lawyer and our divorce mediator, smiled and welcomed me in as if I were there to talk about something delightful like an upcoming vacation. She always had a way of making it seem like life might go on even though she worked in a room built to end relationships. The office contained a single meeting area with a large oak table and I took a reclining chair at one side. Four legal pads lay in front of my and the three other place settings. I struggled to think of a use I could make of a legal pad. Perhaps if I wrote “Everything is finished” on one then it would be more official on account of the paper being all extra tall and legal-sized. I drew a circle instead and then I drew a few more all around it. The door opened and the love of my youth entered wearing a flower print blouse and gray pants. She was polite to Lisa but the tenseness in her face and in her step told me she was extraordinarily anxious. I drew another circle on my legal pad. Christine sat across from me but offset slightly, facing Lisa. Her eyes glanced at our mediator and then down to her own pad of paper. Her eyes followed her hands down to her bag as she set it on the floor, and then took in every detail of the room save for the fact that I was present in it. I tried not to look at her, either.
“My associate, Brian, will be joining us today to notarize the marital settlement agreement.” Lisa was still relaxed and smiling as she ushered Brian into the room. Both Christine and I welcomed him and tried to put him at ease. We may not be able to talk to each other or even acknowledge the other exists but our character is unchanged: We’re both wired to make someone feel supported even in strange professional contexts. Lisa walked us through the plan for alimony payments and division of stock options. We looked at calendars and did math. We tried our best to understand the agreement. I tried to pretend I wasn’t suddenly very uneasy to have not engaged a lawyer of my own to look over the documents. I tried to remember the name of the lawyer that Christine’s parents had bought her. Probably David something or other. There are so many Davids. “What happens next,” Lisa explained to us calmly, leaning against the table and trying to diffuse the tension in the room. “What happens next is that we’ll file the agreement with the court and four months from today it’ll be final and you’ll be legally divorced.” Both Christine and I had our hands in front of us counting off the months on each finger. She was the first to groan and lean back in her chair. “What? What did I say? Did we forget something?” Lisa asked, suddenly much less calm.
“October second.” Christine said.
“October second.” I echoed.
“Great,” Christine continues, “we’ll be divorced one day after our ninth wedding anniversary.”
In the middle of Discovery Park in Seattle there’s a Native American cultural center. It’s a large wooden building with a view of the waterline and large green grass fields and a giant hand-hollowed canoe in it that a wedding party could fill with bottles of alcohol if they so chose. I never saw the canoe — nobody told me where the liquor was at my own wedding. Perhaps they thought I’d planned it all and would know where everything was. Perhaps they thought I was the adult man that I appeared to be. Not the boy two years out of undergrad in a rented tux who’d spent the whole previous night marathoning Battlestar Galactica at home by himself terrified to face the next day.
The first day of October in 2006 Christine and I married. Nine years later to the day I was on the phone with my sister letting her calm me down. “It’s official tomorrow, sis. Tomorrow it’ll be kind of like it never happened. And today feels like the worst anniversary in the world.” “Don’t think about it, Jack. Just don’t think about it.” My sister always was the pragmatic type. “I think about everything, sis.” “Then think about how young you are and how much more there is ahead of you. Heck, I brag about you to my friends all the time. You’re gonna be fine.” I appreciated the reprieve from misery that the single phone call gave me but when I hung up I was in an apartment by myself. Alone on my own, last wedding anniversary.
Me, by myself
I watched the gray Seattle skies from up high as my plane lowered to the SeaTac runway. My first trip north in late 2014 was because my dear old friend David Lowe knew I was in trouble and bought me a ticket up to see him and stay at his home with his family. After that the excuses became rapidly less serious until I found myself booking flights just to see if my friend Abby had hung any of her hats on her boyfriend Carlos’ walls as decor like she had in her old apartment. One trip was entirely just to dance at a fundraiser in Ballard. Another was to try some more cocktails at Witness on Capitol Hill. As friends got used to me visiting they stopped asking what the purpose of the trip was and I stopped bothering to invent reasons. As the plane hit the rain-soaked tarmac and bounced a little I reached for my phone and turned off airplane mode. This one moment was proving to be the hardest to get used to. Losing a spouse? Sure, that’s tough. Losing your home? Ouch. Your kitty? Actually, I kind of despised that cat. Cotton was as soft as her namesake but as cats go she was in the tenth percentile of worthwhile.
No, losing all those things was hard but the hardest part of divorce is the moment your airplane lands and you realize you don’t need to text anybody. Nobody’s waiting to see if you made it safe. Nobody’s checking the flight to see if it exploded in midair and they have to begin grieving. Nobody is thinking about you. I put my phone away and considered what would happen if, instead of taking the light rail into Seattle, I just booked myself another flight out and to some other, exotic destination.
Nothing. Nothing would happen. My friends would be bummed I’m not stopping by but they’d adjust. My instagram would be full of photos of me doing ridiculous things in tropical locations. People would comment on my posts saying they’re jealous with a smiley face but they’d feel it inside with a frown. And I’d be just another happy-looking person far away without the cares that people carry. I’d be free of the burdens that other people have of kids, family, relationships and commitment.
I pulled my phone back out and started texting everybody.
“Hi, Madelin, I just wanted to tell you that I love you and your friendship is important to me even though you live in NYC now.” “Carlos! I’m gonna catch the light rail and hope to see you tonight!” “Corinne, I’m coming to Seattle but I’m sorry I don’t have time to drive out to see you this time, sis!” Grateful for modern phone plans that don’t charge me half a buck with each message I grabbed everybody I could think of and told them I adored them and that I need them in my life. There’s no loneliness quite like landing at an airport and realizing nobody cares that you’re safe. There’s no point to tropical paradises when you’re alone. And even the fog of San Francisco or the overcast blanket covering Seattle is a tropical wonderland when it’s full of people who give a damn that you’re still breathing.
Let’s keep it casual
In June the Bureau of Fearless Ideas held a dance marathon fundraiser in Seattle. I’m a big fan of dancing, writing, Seattle, and effective non-profits so I flew to Seattle to participate in this event independently, of my own accord, and entirely unprompted.
A woman named Alex also independently, of her own accord, flew to Seattle to participate. On the same flight as me. Sharing a Lyft from SeaTac to the event.
I was dressed as “Yoga Riker”, the impossibly unimaginative outfit consisting of a Star Trek costume’s shirt and some capoeira pants. She was wearing a tank top and body glitter. Her face and arms were covered in so many little sparklies that somebody might think she had some kind of addiction to glitter. That somebody would be correct; Alex lives for the moments where she can throw glitter in the air and smile.
We danced together for the full 5-hour marathon. Independently, as separate people who aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. Then we, entirely as separate individuals, shared a car to a hotel downtown.
The fundraiser was exactly three months after our first date. I remember telling her over drinks that first night that I needed a big gap between my just-ended marriage and any new relationship. A full year of nothing serious was my plan. I told her (almost word for word) “I’m going through a divorce right now so I can’t do any kind of exclusive or committed relationship.” Her easygoing response was “I know that and I understand. I want to focus on my career right now so I’m not looking for a relationship either.”
We got along so well that we went out together just about every week. I didn’t know that there were people like her in this world or I would have been on guard. Not that I have any hope of avoiding the inevitable anyway; it only took a couple months of dating before I realized I’d already fallen in love.
Every week turned into two times each week. Maybe three. I wasn’t prepared for how much she loved me and accepted me and supported me. And I think she wasn’t prepared for how much I was willing to do the same. So it’s true that my year has been one of grieving and healing and self-care and remembering and letting go. But it’s also been one of dancing and singing duets and late-night ice cream and whirlwind weekend trips to the San Juans and crying on the lap of an unexpected love. I find myself appreciated right when I least expect it.
The day after the dance-marathon fundraiser Alex and I walked through Pike Place Market under a vibrant Seattle sun. She wore a cute little hat and a blue shirt tied in front and she bought me espresso at Monorail Coffee, a little cafe nestled in a wall under a maple tree near Westlake Center. We told stories about work and family and her music and my writing and tried to avoid anything that seemed too serious like how we both want kids in the same way and at about the same time. I mean, not that we talked about that. Because we weren’t going to do anything serious, we were going to keep this casual. I needed space after my divorce, after all, and she needed to focus on her career.
I held Alex’s hand through the rain-cleaned streets of downtown until her bus came to take her away. It was hard to let go. I can call it casual, I can pretend we’re not serious, I can tell myself that I need space after one relationship before another. My mind can do many kinds of gymnastics to keep distance between us. But my heart is uninterested in those games and knows precisely what it wants.
My plan to avoid any serious relationship had a core assumption that if I’m in a relationship I won’t grow and develop. What I’m finding is that the parts of me that need to grow are precisely the parts that are only exercised in tender intimacy. What I most needed to learn this year was that if I show my whole self to somebody it’s possible for them to be delighted and want me to be even more of myself. It’s risky but it heals so many old wounds.
Many months later Alex shows up at my apartment with some vegetables we’ll add to the beef ravioli dinner I’ve already started. She puts The Hills by The Weeknd on my speakers and we dance in the kitchen. She pours us each a glass of chianti and we move the dancing to the living room table. The music plays as we share all the little details of life that never make it into status updates or Christmas cards and we scoot our chairs closer and closer together.
I have a new year’s resolution that sounds funny when I say it out loud: I want to string together 365 good days. Most folks, when they hear this, tell me that this has been just how they’ve always lived. Not me. I grew up knowing that I was in a place and a socioeconomic class that I wanted to leave. From early childhood I scrambled to accumulate skills and potential and leverage that would allow me to one day have a big, warm, safe home full of people I loved.
This next year I’m changing course. I’m not trying to lose weight this year or accumulate lots of money or put in long work days to try to impress someone or to pretend I’m feeling okay when I’m not because it would be convenient to seem happy. I’m not going to use my 2016 as an investment towards a better 2018. I’m going to live 2016 as if it were my last year and as if every feeling I had was critically important and each moment was the only moment.
To my dear ones, with gratitude
You are an investor in me and I in you. This is our retirement plan, really: the sum of the people we know and the richness of their lives brought near to our own. When you next see me know that I need you in my life and that I’ve been saving a hug just for you.