Shelli DeRobertis 9:19 p.m., May 22
Seventy-eight months and change.
That's how long I've lived here, in this apartment. Apartment #235.
There won't be a seventy-ninth month.
I agreed to her terms. I had nowhere else to go.
There is much I could write about the following five months with her; and someday I will. Seven years later, I am still processing the experience. It wasn't good. For now, however, I will limit my commentary to this, a general statement on motherhood:
The truth is, most mothers are so in name only. They aren't in spirit. There is a huge, huge difference between the mother who is so by necessity of the choice of giving birth; and those who transcend the necessity and Actually Become one. In over a quarter century of teaching, tutoring, and coaching, as well as my own first-hand experiences, I have seen nothing whatsoever to contradict my convictions. Affection is not love. Discipline is not love. The pain of childbirth is not love. And so on. Very few human beings truly love; therefore very few mothers are worthy of the title. My adopted mother was; my natural mother, most sadly, was not.
I moved to a large apartment building just a block from work. I paid the security deposit; paid the first month's rent; settled in.
I knew nobody down here save my work colleagues. They all had entrenched lives away from work, of course, and so my off-hours were spent entirely on my own. Those off-hours were cashed here, in Apartment #235, or at the beach, or, perhaps, at a local coffee house. I saw nobody. I didn't date. My weekends were spent lost in the cinema; I always felt a huge pang of loss followed by dread when the credits rolled with the last film each Sunday. Loss because I love the cinema; dread because work was hell. Apartment #235 made it all easier. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I had a home.
I practiced lots of tai chi. The artform long since turned out to be a godsend; I suspect it always will be. I practiced while watching the sun set. I went to the beach and practiced more. My art improved. Lots.
I've always been a frugal person, and so didn't indulge too much in luxury items. I didn't buy furniture, didn't even buy a used sofa. My old computer sufficed just fine for all my writing needs. I saved cash for a ten-day trip to Vancouver, BC, which I took over Christmas of 2002 (by myself, of course). I spent cash at local eateries. The counter help at my favorites haunts got to know me quite well. I was making a little more than $44,000 a year; my lifestyle saved me over half of my monthly paycheck. I tipped big. It felt really great.
He showed me the readings on the monitor. Said: "You've got a problem."
I told him work was a little stressful. We talked a while about work, what it means to do the right kind of work in life. Then he said: "You've got a choice; you need to make a choice. Continue on as you are--and be dead in five years. Or not. Choose."
I left, deeply shaken.
In July of 2003 I took another trip, this one just up the coast to San Luis Obispo, where I stayed at this exquisite French-themed B&B for five days. I did little else there besides window shop, drink lots of java at any number of coffee shops, eat extravagantly, and sleep. My room was so beautiful I can still smell it, can still see it plainly in my mind's eye six years later. They'd turn my bed down at night, put a mint or two on the pillow, put on classical music in the little boombox next to the queen-sized bed. Complimentary wine at sunset. A guitarist strumming downstairs in the courtyard as dusk deepened into twilight. Breakfasts to die for. I cried when I left Vancouver, second home it will always be to me now; I cried just as hard when I got on the train back to San Diego that early morning in San Luis Obispo. There is a magic inside all of us; if we listen to it, truly listen to it, it will guide us to those things and places and people we need the most in this world; these in turn will provide for us those things and places and people that will enrich our days and bring deep sleep at night. I had listened to that magic--and it took me to San Luis Obispo and that amazing bed and breakfast.
I was going to need it. Because I had decided to quit my teaching post and strike out on my own, once and for all. I was going to save my life. I had chosen.
When the cash ran out, I stopped eating, sometimes for days at a time. My very highest priority was Apartment #235. I knew what homelessness was like: I vowed never to return to that abject state.
I lost weight.
And I did what I was supposed to do. I wrote a novel.
But it wasn't enough.
Without telling me, the landlord had tacked on new late fees. I was almost $80 short. Desperate, I called a friend who then fronted me the cash. The landlord warned me that my credit rating was getting hurt by paying rent late; if I tried to move, it would be difficult. No one else would take me, he warned.
I walked away from him half scared to death.
The months came and went. Always I was late--usually very late--with paying the rent. A few times I paid it with just three minutes left in the last possible hour of the last possible day in which I could pay.
But pay it I did. All of it. Every month. Without fail.
Segue to this January, the last day of which is today.
Of all the difficult months to find money, this one was the toughest. And that's saying something. A few clients dogged me; a few others simply disappeared; a couple of others ran out their accounts and chose not to re-up.
My best and dearest friend moved in with me a year ago; she too struggled hugely with making any money whatsoever. As the end of January loomed and not a penny of rent was gathered, outright panic set in for both of us. I'd been here before, in this situation, many times--and always survived to see the next month free and clear. But this time has been distinctly different. There's been a taint to the poorly concealed mendacity others have showed me: phone calls not being returned; e-mails not being answered; short responses; lies; avoidance; even sneering glee in the hope that I was about to fail.
It's been different. And the rent money never came.
Desperate to get help, several days ago I called a low-cost legal clinic based out of the University of San Diego. A day later--yesterday--an aide called back. We talked. My eyes were opened.
It turns out I've paying far more than what is legally allowed in California in late fees. And for years. Worse, I never signed a new agreement acceding to those late fees. At the bottom end, I've overpaid my rent to the tune of nearly $800. At the top end, that number approaches $2,500.
In other words, this month, January, has already been paid by my hard work long since passed. And possibly February and March, too.
But my days here in Apartment #235 are at a close. As I write this, me and my roomie are boxing stuff up, gathering it, preparing it for a move uptown. I have been extorted from; my trust in the management company is now nil. They are a faceless bunch--as all corporations are--and, as such, refuse to see my side of the story: the human side. I owe no rent. They owe me three months' worth of already-paid apartment living. No deal.
Time to move.*
I will miss this place more than I can put into words. My apartment: Apartment #235.
What we are and who we are is intimately tied to place and to what we put into that place. Attention. Time. Love. Authenticity. Joy. Sorrow. The place comes alive--or not. It depends, ultimately, on Who We Are.
Most people--and nearly all Americans--couldn't care less about place beyond the utilitarian, financial, and status-seeking or -producing aspects of it. They live where they do because the schools are such and so; the mortgage (or rent) is such and so; the place has two bedrooms, two bathrooms; the neighborhood is high-end; the neighbors are white; the corporates they work with or for approve; and so on. If they "love" a place, that's how said love is defined. Which means it isn't love at all. But this is no surprise, since authentic love, as I have written before, exists in very few. One's living space is as alive as you are. But you are likely dead--and thus, so too your so-called living space.
Apartment #235 is alive. It is deeply, deeply loved. It saved my life: one, from the gloomy streets of Greeley, Colorado; and two, from the vile clutches of a hateful woman who can only call me son because I came from her womb, and for no other reason.
She didn't want me in the first place.
And so I leave here with a very heavy heart. I want this little apartment to know how much I truly love it. Because I do.
The radiance of the passing day, one of our very last together, filters through my grief.