We are going to remember 2016.
We are going to remember it for what we lost. We are going to remember it for all that happened, and for all that we had hoped would happen, but did not. There will be times when the memories will come back to us in waves of pain and anger and utter dismay. We will not be able to forget.
And we should not.
I remember 2008.
I was living in Costa Mesa when January 1st, 2008 rolled around, rooming with a woman about my age, a bartender and a fellow writer. She had been invited to spend New Years Eve in San Diego with one of her regulars, and because we were close friends at the time, she got him to extend the invitation to me. It was, if memory serves (though it rarely does) my first time in a limo.
It was also my first and only time getting V.I.P. bottle service in a club, which we followed up by bouncing from house party to house party with a limo driver who was more than game. It was an auspicious way to begin what would be one of the most transformative years of my life.
In retrospect, 2008 was the year that solidified 10 Cities/10 Years. While I had already made three moves by then, there was still a part of me in that third year that assumed something would come along to get me to stop somewhere. By 2009, I was committed to the project.
The first few months of 2008 weren’t all that remarkable – there was one pretty bad date – but springtime herald a seismic change in the form of a girl. It’s no exaggeration to say that meeting Chandra changed the direction of my life, though perhaps not as much as I changed hers, for better or worse.
Frankly, my life’s course was altered fairly easily in those days. Throughout the project, but most especially in those first four years, I was a leaf in the wind, boundless and subject to whims. Falling in love was both a tether and a weight, which in time would feel constricting, but at first simply felt like security, like a purpose.
When Chandra and I moved to San Francisco for my fourth year, we had only been dating three months, we were madly in love, and a global financial collapse was looming. I’m almost certain there’s no connection.
2008 was the year I couldn’t find work. 2008 was the year that I spent two weeks in a hospital for a medical study just to pay rent. 2008 was the year my hair started falling out. I’m almost certain there’s a connection.
In November of 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States of America, and for the first time in my life, I felt pride in my country.
It wasn’t that I had ever hated America or felt ashamed of the nation of my birth. Up until that point, I had been largely disengaged both socially and politically other than being a fan of Jon Stewart. When Bush won in 2000, I shrugged. When he won in 2004, I was surprised and disappointed, but largely blasé about the results. 2008 was the first time the results of an election moved me.
I had tears in my eyes. Most of San Francisco did, too.
As Chandra, our roommates, and I sat in our living room watching the results come in, we could hear the celebrations in the street. But at the same time, I also vividly recall that indescribable mix of feelings as we realized that, while we had just elected our first African American president – I had voted for a black president – California had simultaneously passed Prop 8, the statewide ban on Same Sex Marriage.
Now I see that moment as a warning, a metaphor for the next 8 years of American history. Each victory for justice, every step towards progress would be met with an equal force of opposition, a step backwards.
The next few years would bring gains and losses in equal measure, often because of choices I made that year. 2008 remains a notable highpoint for 10 Cities/10 Years, but not because it was my happiest year – far from it. In fact, that year included some of the lowest lows of the entire decade, including near homelessness. But surviving 2008 made me conclude that I had to finish the project. It gave me resolve.
Similarly, 2016, a year of extreme lows (with a few peaks), has helped me realize that what I need in my life more than anything is travel. I adore New York City, have thoroughly enjoyed living in Brooklyn, but I haven’t found my final home. Maybe I never will.
Everything about this moment in history feels uncertain, and 2017 looms ahead of us like a dark forest. If someone claims to know what the future holds, expect the tithe buckets, because one way or another, they’re coming for your money.
I hope in 2024 I can look back on this year with the same clarity that I now see 2008. I hope when eight years have passed, I recognize this moment as the point where I made the decision that shaped my life going forward. I hope I’m still traveling.
And, above all else, I hope in 8 years, I can feel proud of my country again.