I woke up on the first day of 2008 under four layers of blankets, with dim grey winter light filtering through the Roman blinds on my north-facing windows. My head ached with a champagne hangover and my stomach gurgled angrily at me, upset with too much alcohol and too many emotions. Too much uncertainty. Too heavy a secret.
This morning, the last of 2008, I woke up to bright sunlight sneaking through the cracks of the wooden blinds in my bedroom. My body was warm, well-rested, still limber from last night's yoga class. My arms looked brown against the white sheets. I woke up 971 miles south of where I began the year, and I hear you all asking:
How did I get here?
The journey of 2008 began in the last months of 2007, or actually, much earlier than that, if we consider how long I'd been in one place. I'd been running a company with my husband since 1998, though he only became my husband in the year 2000. Our business was a service business, one linked to the unique institutions of Washington, DC. When I started working with the business, we were living right outside the city limit, in Silver Spring, MD, but we bought our house in DC a few months before we married in 2000. We bought the house in 2000. The year after that, we got a dog, a very, very bad dog. I had my 27th birthday on September 11, 2001, and well... you know. For some reason, the awfulness of that time combined with the fact that my grandfather had just died, the first of my grandparents to go, made us decide that it would be a good time to have a baby. I got pregnant at the end of October that year. We found a new home for the vicious dog and adopted a sweetheart of a lady rottweiler from a rescue group. I was pregnant. I had a cute little belly. I felt kicks. I was in my second trimester on the day before Valentine's Day 2002 when it all ended, when the baby died, when I spent the worst three days of my life in the hospital waiting for my lost child to leave me. We grieved. We tried again. By Easter I was pregnant again, scared and hopeful and getting bigger by the second. I was huge at Christmas, due on New Year's Eve, and almost two weeks into January 2003 I delivered our son. He was perfect, healthy, and alert. He stayed that way. By summertime of 2003 I'd made new friends in the neighborhood, awesome new friends, all first-time mothers with babies about the same age as my son. My friends and I started a playgroup and made even more friends. In 2005, I convinced my mother to sell her house in the suburbs, and we bought a house together just a few blocks from my own. My mother lived on the ground floor, and the top floor became the new office for our growing business. This was the perfect setup, we thought, because my mother would be there to watch our son and the new baby we were going to have, while I worked just a flight of stairs away. Except we didn't have another baby. We tried and tried, and by the time my son turned three, I had sunk far into a depression. I couldn't understand why my healthy body couldn't give me another child, and was certain that somehow I had been judged and found unworthy. It was a bad, bad time. Eventually I was able to climb out of the hole and refocus on everything that I did have in my life -- my child, my marriage, my body, my business. My friendships, too, with all of my cool mama-friends, though I felt a bit of distance growing as all of them had a second child, a third child, twins. I couldn't moan about sleep deprivation or the agony of trying to get off the last of the baby weight, or spend mornings chatting over coffee at playgroup once my son started full-day preschool in fall 2006. We had our routine then, as 2006 yielded to 2007. School, work, home, friends. But as 2007 wore on, there were rumblings of change. My husband, tired of doing the same thing for over a decade, decided he wanted to sell the business. Our dog died. And then my father-in-law flew back from Florida for Thanksgiving.
My father-in-law had bought a condo in Florida a few years back, in a pretty little town on the Gulf Coast, three miles in from the beach. He spent two winters doing the snowbird thing, then decided to sell his home in the DC suburbs and live in Florida year-round. He was clever enough to sell his Maryland home at the height of the real estate bubble, and he made a fortune. He decided to use some of this windfall to buy a new place in Florida, a larger home in a golf course community in the same town, a mile or two away from his condo. He put the condo on the market, but the bubble had already popped in Florida. At his asking price, the condo sat and sat and sat unsold. The condo was still fully furnished, down to plates and towels and soap, so it saw use a few weeks of the year when friends or relatives would come to visit. But my father-in-law was stuck paying property taxes and utilities and insurance and condo fees on a home that was only used for a few weeks out of the year. He made a decision, flew to DC, and made us an offer. If we would agree to move into the condo and live there for at least a few years, we could have it at a price that we just couldn't refuse.
We said we'd think about it.
By the time he made us this offer, my husband had already decided to sell the business, and had put the word out among our competitors that he was interested in selling. A larger company expressed interest, and in early December my husband met the owner of this other company for dinner. Over dinner, my husband mentioned that we were thinking about moving to Florida. Florida? Hey! Turns out that the other business owner loves Florida, has a waterfront home on the Atlantic side, and wishes he could spend more time there. He understood the allure of moving to Florida, and made a suggestion of his own. We could sell him our business, turn over our clients, and become employees of his company... and work from our new Florida home.
We liked the sound of that.
Negotiations moved slowly. When I woke on New Year's Day, I was hopeful that it would work out, that we'd get to move to Florida, but I was uncertain. The night before, at a neighborhood party down the block, I'd talked about our plans to sell the business, but didn't breathe a word about Florida. I didn't want to burn my bridges. I was afraid that if I told my friends, they'd start to shut me out, and then what if it didn't work, what if we wound up staying? But the secret weighed on me. We were serious about it; a few days before Christmas, my husband had flown to Florida and turned in his DC driver's license and acquired a new one with the condo's address. Of course, at that point I hadn't even seen the inside of the condo; when we'd gone to visit in early spring 2007, we'd stayed in the new house with my in-laws. But sight unseen, I still knew I wanted to move if I possibly could. I love hot weather, hate the cold. I adore the beach, and oddly enough feel more comfortable and confident about my body in a bikini than I do in a full set of clothes. I've always dreamed of living somewhere near a beach, some place with warm breezes and palm trees... I just didn't know it could really happen, so soon.
Last winter and last spring were hard. We visited Florida in late January, and I spent ten days living in what would become my new home. I loved it. So clean, so modern, so open and airy and bright... and oh my goodness, the master bathroom. After living for years in a 1930s home with a tiny, 1970s-brown bathroom, a bathroom built in this millennium was a revelation. Double sinks! Huge walk-in shower! Separate little room for the pooper! It was hard to leave the condo (and the warm weather) behind when it was time to return to DC. Meanwhile, the business sale negotiations were moving so slowly, I often thought that the deal would fall apart. But then suddenly, it was done. A few days before my husband's birthday at the end of April, we shook hands with our new boss, signed some papers, threw some clothes in a carry-on bag and boarded a plane bound for the corporate retreat in Miami. When we returned, we started working in the DC office of our new company, and we started planning in earnest for our move to Florida. And yet I still didn't tell my friends about the move; keeping the secret had become second nature, and I was still afraid of having everything crumble at the last moment.
If I'd thought that early spring was hard, late spring and summer were even harder. We were working 50 hour weeks, with a half-hour commute each way, and preparing for our move. As much as I wanted to move, I dreaded it, too. I hate moving, and we'd been living in our house for eight years, eight years during which we'd acquired a LOT of stuff, including a small child. Our move was complicated by the fact that we weren't just moving from one house to another; we were moving into a fully furnished house, which meant that most of our furnishings didn't need to come with us. We were also turning our old office space, the top floor of my mom's house, into an apartment for us to use when we are in DC, so essentially we had to pack up two residences and move twice, into the DC apartment and the Florida condo. It is unsurprising, in retrospect, that during this time period I lost more than ten pounds and had a cold develop into a lingering case of walking pneumonia. But like all challenging times, eventually it ended. Early on the morning of July 15, we locked the door of our DC apartment/mom's house/former office, walked to the Metro dragging our wheelie carry-on bags behind us, rode to the airport, bought doughnuts, got on a plane, and flew to Florida. To our new home.
Since then, we've settled into our new home and developed new routines. My son gets on the bus each morning and rides off for a day of first grade, and I settle in at my computer for a day of work. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to yoga class. On the weekends we go to the beach to have a picnic dinner and participate in a drum circle. We have a favorite sushi bar, where we find ourselves at least once a week. My husband goes fishing. It still sometimes strikes us as odd that we live in a tropical climate, near the beach, but most of the time it feels normal.
The biggest challenge we've faced down here is that we've had trouble making friends. As in, we haven't made any friends. At all. One of our old buddies from college lives in a larger town about half an hour away, so we hang out with him every so often. I chat with the other two moms at the bus stop, but thus far our friendships have been limited to that morning and afternoon waiting for the bus time. But most of our social interaction is with family, with my father- and mother-in-law, and with my husband's sister and her husband, who moved here two years before we did and now live a mile away from us. It's hard, because we work at home and thus aren't meeting our peers at the office, and because I send the kid off on the bus and haven't met the parents of his classmates, and oddly enough, the PTO doesn't send out announcements of when it holds meetings. They took my $10 and my contact info and... nothing. So no new friendships made at school, for me or the kid, who is a bit of an odd duck out in his classroom. I'd hoped that I'd be able to find "my people" by being a regular at yoga, or at the drum circle, but for the last six months, nope, nada, no one. Finally, though, in the last few days I'm seeing rays of hope that we will actually make friends here. I finally met the young woman who lives next to us, and she's introduced me to a few other young people in the condo complex. Last night I struck up a conversation with a couple at yoga class who had just joined the gym the day before, and discovered they also have had trouble making friends because they, too, work from home. Very promising. And best of all, we've been invited to a New Year's Eve beach party tonight which I am very, very much looking forward to attending. Finally we have had people acknowledge that we are the type of people you'd want to have at your party. You'd want me at your party, right?
So that's the tale of 2008, all 366 days and 971 miles of it. Who knows where 2009 will take us? Stay tuned to find out.
I wish you all a fantastic New Year's Eve, an amazing 2009, and if you wake up on New Year's Day with a hangover, I hope it was worth it.