“Honey, I’m home”. It’s a joke I’d sometimes tell myself, out loud, while returning to the one-room “Fortress of Solitude” tucked into an oak woodland of Carmel Valley. The joke would bounce off the cold masonry walls as I flicked the tuner and amp switches on, and KRML would crackle through the speakers to provide a human voice. Calling the accessory dwelling unit the Fortress of Solitude was its own joke, since I don’t wear tights, have x-ray vision or leap buildings in single bounds. It’s important to keep a sense of humor, lest the absurdity of it all weigh you down.
Four years in one room. Thank goodness for the tuner, amp and turntable, the picture window framing the wild tangled oaks, and the family pics. It wasn’t home, but it was bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, music room, library, exercise room and storage room all in a hundred and forty odd square feet. Except for the first weekend after the accident when movement was essentially impossible, I left the Fortress every single day, only returning after dinner. It wasn’t home, it was an outpost.
If you do the math, that’s four figures of walking down a dark path into a dark room. Honey I’m home may have been dark humor, but it lightened the load.
Living alone, you’ll tend toward a single pattern of activity. When there’s no one to introduce a new word, much less a new idea or activity into your day, there’s considerable inertia toward doing what worked yesterday. The yesterdays pile up and, soon enough, you’re Bill Murray hitting the alarm clock at 6:00 AM with Sonny and Cher playing. Every … single … day. I recognized this early on and decided on trying new things and setting good health habits into the mix. Hiking, exercise, fruit, vegetables, grad school … that kind of stuff.
Another thing I did was make the bed every day before I left. That was a new habit, and there wasn’t any reason to do it, except the reasons. Nobody would visit the Fortress, no one would see the bed. But I made the bed before I left each day, without fail. This never happened, but the setup to the honey I’m home joke was Marcia would be there when I arrived. I made the bed because it was theoretically possible she’d fly cross-country and find her way to the outpost on any random day. I made the bed knowing that wouldn’t happen. I did it anyway. Because if it did happen, or if I fell off some mountain to a kinetic halt and my one room stuff had to be packed up, I didn’t want anyone – her most of all – to see any disarray, any sign of fracture.
You make your bed, you lay in it. That was a Dad-ism; one which I thankfully didn’t hear too often. If anyone knew that sometimes your metaphoric bed gets messed up no matter what you do, (tuberculosis) it was Dad. A good lesson to learn early on. So the bed I made of leading local government transparency includes laying in five years of jokes told to no one while the fourth largest newspaper company in America does what they can to keep jurors from hearing the truth. As beds go, it’s a little lumpy.
The one-room Fortress has given way to the three-room One-ga-low and the bedroom is now just bedroom and exercise room. The path to work has shortened and the day ends not in an oak woodland but on a modest street in a modest city with a hopeful vision. The hundred decision days of city managering in a pandemic are anything but monotonous. There’s to-do lists made late at night and waking as the problem-solving that passes for sleep results in an answer. There’s getting to work early to get a jump on things and a bit of a detour from the healthy diet trail. And in the spin of it all I notice the bed’s not made.
It’s a fissure, and it stops me dead in my tracks.
The crack in the armor gets mended promptly. The joke I tell to no one requires set-up, and all the lumpiness in the world ain’t gonna stop me from telling it to no one, or saying it for real.