I don’t usually write a farewell letter to a year, although I have, for the past five years, done Susannah Conway’s Unraveling the Year and Find Your Word workbooks during the holidays. But 2016 contributed so to my already sunny disposition that I felt the need to give it a final kick in the ass on its way out my door.
I really don’t know where to begin. There is the obvious: the country’s political division, which we’ve turned into a contest of morals and ethics, as if those things even belong in the same conversation. It astonishes me that people think so black and white in this area. One side is so good. One side is so bad. I don’t understand it. I see gray in deciding what I’m going to wear to work every day.
Then, there are all the deaths of folks I grew up watching, listening to, and reading. And a person can’t forget the steady stream of new stories about the scams, the thefts, the new ways people have thought of to screw each other over. The violence in cops killing people, people killing cops, men killing women, women killing men, mothers killing their children. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.
But, 2016 got personal.
In March, I had to let go of the majority of my possessions. I thought I was doing pretty well at this, until that time of the night when you lay your head on the pillow to sleep. It was at that moment each night that the inventory checklist in my head started at the beginning, as though it hadn’t been gone through the night before. The furniture I had loved, my grandmother’s chair, an autographed book, just the right lamp. And the pictures! I had the forethought to get important papers and anything related to Spawn when I escaped in January of 2015, but I had left the rest so it wouldn’t be noticeable to him. Near as I can tell, there are now three pieces of evidence that I existed before age 27.
The plan all along was that I would get everything in 2016. But when the time came:
Him: What do you plan to get?
Me: Well, X and Y and Z.
Him: Those aren’t here anymore.
Me: Where are they?
Him: Donated. Given away. Sold. Thrown out.
Me: WHAT? What about the stuff in my mother's cedar chest? The photo albums, the…
Him: That stuff has all been gone for months.
Me: Where did it go? You told me everything was there.
Him: You need to get your story straight. I told you time and time again that I got rid of this stuff long time ago. I got tired of looking at it.
Me: You got tired of looking at stuff INSIDE a cedar chest?
Me: What am I going to tell Spawn? I wanted him to have some of that when I die.
Him: Tell him his mother didn’t care enough about him to get it.
I could write a book.
Come to find out, he had thrown everything out a year before during a rage when I caught him in his 3,987th lie. (He raged to punish me for his behavior. It’s too much to write in this note to 2016, but it’s a mental illness that I’ve forgiven him for. I’m still working on forgiving myself.) But I never had a chance to get my things. And he lied for all of 2015 that I did. I cut my losses on anything that remained just to avoid any further contact. I couldn’t get a straight story about what was left, and I was convinced that had I arranged storage and gone there with a truck, he would’ve called the police claiming that I was stealing his stuff just to fuck with me. (In this situation, he would’ve won because he’s a firefighter and unless a person knows him as anything else, he is considered to be among the pillars of Pennsylvania.)
I had to choose my own peace. It was the right decision. I only second guess myself when I lay my head on the pillow every other night now. And I have come to think of my life as before and after. It’s weird how this seemingly tiny blip in time had such an effect on me. I’ve seen stories, of course, of people who have lost everything in fires or floods, and I feel that. Though, I also feel like I participated. Though, I also know I never stood a chance. Though.... When I think of it in my mind now, I think of it as “the big fire”. Before and after “the big fire”. It helps. Some nights. Tylenol PM helps on the others.
Soon after, the friendships started to dissolve.
A person I considered to be a pretty good local friend seemed to find a lot of humor in this situation and liked to bring it up for discussion every time we saw each other, to a point of berating me in front of others. I even got a birthday card about it.
In August, came the Kessler Boulevard storm that knocked out power to my little house for five days. The coolest day that week was 97 degrees.
I lost two friends, and my landlord lost his mind.
First, the more casual friend. We used to watch The Bachelor together each week over the text lines. The storm came through on Thursday, I believe. That Monday night:
Her: You watching tonight?
Me: No, the storms wiped me out. I still don’t have power.
Her: Oh, no! I drove through there on Friday. It looked bad.
The following Monday:
Her: You watching tonight?
What is up with the people I know?
Next, the better friend. We spent time together. We liked each other. We supported each other. We knew things about each other. You know, friends. In a Facebook message:
Her: How are you doing?
Me: Not so good. I’ve been without power since Thursday.
Her: Oh no! Is your landlord helping you?
Me: No. What could he do? He has no power either. It got all of Kessler.
Her: Oh, no! I haven’t watched the news. I didn’t know.
Me: Yea, it’s pretty bad and no word about when power will even be restored.
The next NIGHT (32 hours later):
Her: Shoot. I went into a movie and forgot to message you back yesterday.
I didn’t reply and unfriended her to prevent further messages. So, she blocked me. I’m sure she thinks I was mad that she didn't watch the news.
With friends like these, as they say…..
And then, the landlord. It took all of September for him to replace my refrigerator. It was declared dead by the insurance company at the first of the month, but I can only assume he was waiting on a check before he spent the money. He had a lot of things to take care of as a result of the storm, and I am his first experience with renting part of his property. This house came in the perfect timing for me and I am grateful, but he has no idea how lucky he is to have me here. I am da renting bomb.
In October, the contractors came. Part of my little house damage included the power lines being ripped off. The roof needed to be repaired and the lines more firmly secured. The landlord notified me via text on a Tuesday evening that the workers would come the next morning and need to turn off power for the next couple of days while they worked. I, of course, mentioned the lack of notice and that I worked from home and had no time to make any arrangements for a place to go. I asked for consideration and time. His response, in a text:
Him: Nope. It’s happening in the morning.
Nope? Seriously, NOPE. Exact word. (This repair took 3 days. 3 more days with no power.)
And he’s been mad ever since. For the remainder of the year, this 66-year-old man has been in retaliation mode. I can’t quite figure it out, but I think it’s because he thinks of me as an employee and himself as my boss, and I dared to question his authority? But since October, unless it’s cold or rainy, he is outside of my little house most weekends. Scraping this, hammering that, painting the other. Not only is there no advance notice, there’s no notice at all. If I were a gun-totin’ gal, he’d be dead, because I’ve been especially jittery this year, and it’s a scary thing to see a man’s unexpected shadow or hear him puttering about your periphery.
Also, this year, they tore down Memphis’ Poplar Avenue Sears, the site of the best memories of my mother and brother. Money.
And they closed the retreat center at my beloved convent in Oldenburg. Money.
On a positive note, I suppose, I worked all year. Money.
During my Unraveling ceremony last week, I was hard pressed to answer one of the questions. It asked, “Write about your favorite day in 2016”. I racked my brain for hours and couldn’t come up with one. Not one.
I took a weekend farewell trip to the convent. It was sad, and I was sad. Sister Olga was sad, too, but had the same thing to say about it to everyone who mentioned it: “It won’t be the same, and that’s okay”. She led a class that Saturday called Transitions that focused on liminality, Jung's word for the stuck feeling in those between times when you know change is inevitable but can’t quite cross the threshold. The room was filled with women in their fifties, as one would expect. But sitting next to me was a girl in her thirties, obviously wise beyond her years. I actually initiated a conversation and we were fast friends all day.
At some point, a woman across the room shared a story about not knowing what to do since her mother passed away. It had been a year, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything with her things. There was an entire house full of stuff. Should she save the dishes for her own daughter? Should she donate her clothes? What should she keep? What was okay to give away? She was stuck in indecision. She had been her mother’s caretaker for her final few years and had looked forward, relatively speaking, to the day when she could do things she wanted again. But she just didn't know what to do.
Sister Olga told her a story about her own aunt who had dealt with a similar situation years ago. Her aunt was ruminating about a turkey platter in a box she’d held onto for years. She was saving it for her daughter, but her daughter didn’t want it. And Olga couldn’t understand it. As a nun living in a small, communal space, part of the life is to not live in a world of possessions. Olga made it funny, of course. Shook her head at the absurdity. “She was saving it for her daughter who didn’t even know what a turkey platter was. She didn’t want that thing. It meant nothing to her. Why not give the turkey platter to someone who wants it and who might even take it out of the box!”
I chimed in (and in front of the whole group):
“I’ve had a recent loss of a lot of my things. My grandmother’s this and my mother’s that. And I feel grief, like she said. These are things I’ve carried around from house to house since I was 18 years old, when my mother died and I was the only one to take them. And now they’re gone and there’s grief, but there’s also guilt. I feel such guilt.” To which Olga immediately responded:
“Oh, but the freedom!!”