I don’t remember much about the famed TV series ’30 Something’ because I was too young to give a damned about 30-somethings when that aired. I can imagine, however, that it was about the great friends and greatest disasters that visit you in your 30’s, like the Ghosts of Christmas Past in ‘Scrooged.’ At certain points of my 30’s I recall thinking about that show, simply because of it’s title and popularity – and wondering what part of my life would emulate something worthy of a script for TV or other more novel-esque re-enactments. To the best of my knowledge I never identified a single event while living my 30’s but now I know precisely what it is.
The other night my wife and I were discussing the gritty details of yet another divorce that thankfully doesn’t include us. I am a spectator, she is a pillar of support for the wife in this particular case. We have known this couple for many years, living out the hey days of our 30’s in Providence, RI with them and becoming so close we envisioned owning a commune with them someday. Hell I’d still do it if he didn’t turn out to be a conniving methamphetamine addict who I am reluctant to see again. The commune would have involved a third family – a total of six adults, five kids and plenty of dogs – preferably somewhere on the coast of New England. We were sincerely the best of friends in a small community that fostered idyllic child rearing.
Providence was never a place I figured we’d stay for long. It was a stopover from our departure from Manhattan once a new baby and a desperate need for more space dictated a move. We didn’t want to go south to Philly and Long Island is best suited for Long Islanders. Boston was no bargain and the surf nearby was garbage from what I could tell. Providence checked a lot of boxes but I am certain it would have never been a candidate had I known that was where Lloyd and Harry started their ill-fated adventure to find Mary Swanson and return her briefcase. It was only after we moved to Seattle that I realized the truisms of that movie were spot on, despite our having thoroughly enjoyed living there.
When you’re raising a kid in any community it becomes obvious who the other first time parents are. You see each other in parks, farmers markets, playgrounds, school orienteering, grocery stores – there is no escaping this reality unless you parent from the couch. Judgments are quickly formed as we learn how to be parents without losing whatever level of cool is left at that point. We yearn for friends and will go out of our way to find similarities that most likely aren’t there, except that everyone collectively got knocked up about the same time. I look back on some of those early conversations and wince at the naivety, but never with the group that came to be known as MoHartWheels. It was the only judgment free zone I felt safe in, free to be myself as I was at home with my wife and daughter. I cherish my wife because she is the only person I ever felt comfortable enough to reveal myself too – with friendships we have a tendency to withhold a lot of that material, and rightfully so. But with this group I wasn’t a dominant or a shadowed figure, but rather a true equal among my peers. It felt wonderful to find that intimacy with other adults and we spent many nights and days together watching life grow up around us.
I am a restless person by nature. I haven’t lived in one city or town longer than six years since I left high school, including Tacoma, WA; Columbia, MO; Seattle, WA; Healy, AK; Anchorage, AK; Unalakleet, AK; New Zealand; back to Seattle; Walker, MN; New York, NY; Providence, RI; Rumford, RI and finally Seattle for the 3rd time. This all happened from the time I was 18 until 39, so roughly 20 years on the move. It’s not hard to imagine lessons learned are easier to implement in a new town, and by the time we hit Providence I considered us to be fairly savvy at making friends. That of course didn’t stymie our restless nature, and ultimately we decided to relocate from Rhode Island to Seattle where we’d hopefully grow some deeper roots in the mountains and sound. The decision to leave Rhode Island wasn’t a difficult one, especially after we had endured multiple miscarriages and narrowly lost a bid for a home on the water in Bristol that would have realized all of our dreams many years ahead of schedule. The rate of loss for us seemed unshakable and simply moving across state lines to Massachusetts would never provide enough distance from whatever omen we’d been enshrouded by. Public schools in Providence were on the deplorable scale and private school tuition was staggering. We were in love with the local real estate and our new found friends but something kept beckoning us west.
One evening just before we moved out of our condo on Cooke Street I struck up a typically long phone conversation with my sister in Seattle – “why don’t you guys come out here?” It was a novel idea, one that I hadn’t floated since we became equipped with child. So I passed it along to my wife and surprisingly she was game to check it out – she’d only been there once on a college search with her Dad and then once again back in 2000 just after we moved home from Europe. Two weeks later she was on a flight from Boston to Seattle to explore the city, real estate, weather, etc. To my absolute relief she loved it, even in the dead of winter when Seattle dishes out impressive levels of moisture and darkness. We were going to take I-90 west all the way to I-5.
The act of relocating is either loathed or embraced – you cannot embark on such an adventure without a strong opinion about your destination, and that will of course determine your mindset. Thankfully we had never been told where to live and it was simply a function of where we wanted to be – a freedom so few realize until they are on the backslide of life. As stated before, this was my fourth time moving to the Pacific Northwest, the third time I was to call Seattle home. We were giddy to the point of obnoxiousness and suffered from shortsightedness and blind ignorance. Seattle’s real estate market had undergone a terrific boom over the past decade and homes were nearly unattainable, but our desire to live there and to start a new life for ourselves was so pure and honest that I knew it would all work out – call it a last ditch cavalier move to bid adieu to my tumultuous 30’s. We didn’t have a house, or a neighborhood or a school district yet, but we were taking off for Seattle.
Our friends were not pleased. The news was unsettling to the group and it caused us to latch on tighter to the time we had left. We cooked up epic lobster feasts, smoked tobacco from a Tunisian hookah and drank fine liquor that was acquired in Mauritius. Our kids were the best of friends and required little supervision, leaving more time for unforgettable conversations while the calendar allowed. Our final supper was the penultimate event of my 30’s – it was the only going away party I ever allowed to be held in my honor, and it was a simple and sweet affair. Nothing crazy happened that night – everyone behaved themselves, even the kids. Our truck was packed for the cross country haul, the other car had already been shipped west and the moving trailer with all of our belongings was locked and ready for transport. The only thing left was to say goodbye, which I always found easier after I had left. I had spent all of my 30’s on the East Coast and this final evening was honestly one of the happiest I can remember.
If we hadn’t left Rhode Island it’s unclear what would have become but it turns out we started a bit of a mass exodus. Shortly thereafter one of the couples spontaneously moved to Grass City, California – which only triggered a downfall for that family, hence the big D mentioned earlier in this story. The other couple held on for a couple more years but eventually moved to Miami, a place neither of them seemed to have on their radar but was ultimately selected for a job change.
With all three families now segregated to points afar we maintained vigilant communication. The MoHartWheels text thread on our iPhones was rich with history and memes and well wishes. It seemed inevitable that such a dynamic group of people would be forced to separate someday but that didn’t soften the indignity. We still secretly wished they’d all move to Seattle so we could start that commune on the opposite coast, but those far out dreams were dashed as details began to emerge from that sleepy town west of Tahoe. Turns out sobriety from alcohol was a thin veil for the husband of that family. Methamphetamine was rampant in the area and it was a cheap alternative to the cocaine habit he’d been hiding from everyone. It was devastating news to all of us who thought he had been 100% straight with us, as we had been with him. And those two little boys were now facing a different life entirely. It was a stark reminder that life is riddled with unforeseen pitfalls and nuances. My shock developed into anger from being lied to by someone who I felt incredibly close to – like discovering the sick truth about a priest or scout leader. The trifecta was forever severed, ushering in a new era of gossip and unbelievable latest developments from their shaky outpost.
On a recent solo trip to California my wife made plans to visit the other wife and her two boys – but altered her itinerary once she learned the husband was not only staying on the property he was told to leave but he was refusing to unbarricade himself from the garage. The stop was verboten as we simply feared for her safety. Apparently his drug addled state has developed into full-blown paranoia where he’s holed up for days in his garage office, fearful of boogeymen that he constantly scans the security cameras for (never mind his wife and kids would be the first line of defense in that scenario). I can’t even begin to imagine what their daily lives are like now, and I don’t really want to know.
Our 40’s have been less interesting but more rewarding. We are more cautious about who we become friendly with, and I think that is the prevailing behavior among our peers because I have never felt so judged by any group of people. But our daughter is growing up fast and is honestly more fun to hang out with so that’s become a wonderful and fruitful distraction. When we do encounter someone we feel a kinship to we secretly keep our fingers and toes crossed that they love lobster and wouldn’t mind knowing us for who we truly are.