I took this picture five years ago today in Salem, MA with my fancy Nikon DSLR. I was walking my dog, Addie, around our yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in my black yoga pants and long down puffer coat, my boots crunching the frozen grass. When I stopped to take this shot Addie leached forward to smell something and the camera nearly hurled out of my hands. My body surged with agitation; why couldn't I just take a picture of this beautiful light without also nearly breaking my $600 camera? Why was everything so hard? When would everything stop being so goddamn hard all the time? I had no business owning a $600 camera. Less than two months prior, the four of us (me, my husband, Alma at 6 months old, and our dog) were living with his brother and wife in their cozy but tiny home, with their two small kids and dog. They’d invited us in as a way to get back to the east coast after an ill-advised six-month stint in Colorado. We arrived the last week in August, two days before my 32nd birthday.
They’d given up their bedroom to us on the second floor where their kids also slept. Alma’s crib was set up in their closet. They slept on the pull-out couch in the living room of the first floor. When the bed was pulled out it took up the entire room, so anyone who wanted to get to the kitchen had to climb over the corner of it and the legs underneath. The humility and kindness of it all was crushing.
It was a clown car scene – four adults, three children, two dogs, and one billion ounces of life force packed into that 1,000 foot home. We tripped over each other a lot. The kids had a ball.
One cold fall night we’d all walked to a neighborhood party with the kids my husband and d I stayed behind after the party ended. We drank Absolut and Sprite and Absolut and Ginger with the guys who hosted until we were both smashed and stumbled back late into the house. We were loud stumbled around the kitchen - I think I tried to make tea. When we woke to the morning routine, I was filled with crippling dread and my husband didn't remember much. We said we were sorry but I never got over it myself – the lack of respect. I felt like a teenager again: embarrassed, selfish and self-righteous. Weren't we allowed to have fun? Shouldn't we be able to blow off steam after the past six months of insanity? I was not a teenager, though. I was 32 with an MBA and a husband with two big degrees and a six-month old baby and we were both unemployed and lost as fuck.
One morning toward the end of the two-month stretch there, I checked our bank account and we had exactly $110 in it. Total. Our phones were ringing constantly with 800-numbers; we’d stopped answering. Bankruptcy was a foregone conclusion, we just had to make the phone call to a lawyer and get the process moving. My husband started working at Whole Foods a few weeks prior just to get the energy moving in the right direction, to send some kind of signal to the universe.
$110 and I had no idea what to spend it on. Food? Diapers? I remember thinking I wanted a pedicure. Wine. Should I take it out of the bank in case a bill got processed and we were over-withdrawn? I closed my eyes and squeezed my fists together tight. Alma was sitting beside me on the bed, rolling around making baby noises and I thought, FUCK. NO.
This was not happening.
I spent four hours that day on the phone with some woman at the Massachusetts unemployment office. I’d filed a few weeks before but between two states and a bunch of extra paperwork, we’d got lost in the process somewhere and I’d about given up. I paced outside behind the house on the phone, watching my flip-flopped feet take step after step on the hot black driveway, willing this woman to please, please, please make a miracle happen and help get this processed. Before we hung up, she told me I’d receive a check in the next few days for six-thousand and some dollars. I cried.
Shortly thereafter, we moved into the yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in Salem. It was October, Halloween month. I got a couple good consulting gigs and my my first regular yoga class on Monday nights at the YMCA down the street. He kept looking for jobs and worked at a place for free for a year, until he got a paying gig. He hated both. Things blur together after that, but the photo was taken about a month after we’d moved in, in November of 2009.
I remember looking through the lens of my camera and feeling the stark juxtaposition of the gorgeous, glowing dusk light on those tree berries against the heaviness of what we’d gone through and were still in. How much I hated him. How much I loved him. How grateful I was to be back by the ocean, and how desperate the winter already felt. How madly I loved my daughter, and what a burden she was, too. How life-giving the cold air felt in my lungs, and how trapped I would feel when I walked back inside.