The Way it Used to be. And Now.

"This building's new and this building. This building didn't even exist when I lived here. There was nothing, here. Just sky and the view to the ocean. It's changed. It looks so different now."

For Hal it was a homecoming of sorts. And for me, an introduction to his past, an opening of locked doors with scratched-out peepholes.

"So this is where you came from," I said.

"This is it. Except it's really different now. So different."

It was the first time Hal was able to show me his old life. When we met there were no photos in shoe-boxes. No albums or files to prove his past even existed. Where I am a pack rat when it comes to memorabilia, keeping boxes of papers and photos, folders full of old notes, proof of history, keepsakes, Hal has kept nothing. And so for many years, I quietly guessed. Filling in the gaps of his stories and retellings with my own assumptions and images and characatures. Adding contrast, shading in the skies, exaggerating characters-- creating cartoon-like life.

Hal moved from Miami to L.A. four years ago. It was his 29th birthday the day he arrived. It was also nine months before we met. He left South Beach for personal reasons. He couldn't be there anymore. Too many demons and so... the city of angels. The city of independence and fresh starts and gambling with dreams. There was nothing more to lose, Hal said. He sold every item he owned, pawned his watch. Sold his car. Keeping only what he could fit in the trunk of his rental. It was what he had to do to start over. To look ahead. To focus on change. To create a new life for himself. Independent of anyone he had ever known. From scratch.

When we met Hal was unemployed. Sleeping in a kitchen pantry of a house some college friends of his had rented. He converted the pantry into a bedroom, just large enough to fit a mattress, which we slept on with our feet against the small screen window, its view overlooking a pool freckled with June bugs.

We weren't supposed to become serious. It was a fling at first. He didn't want a girlfriend and I was fresh out of a relationship. We wanted to have fun. He had just arrived. Didn't want to be distracted. Wanted to do what he needed to do. To find himself. "I'm new here."

But sometimes it helps to have someone. "Every gambler needs a lady luck," I thought. But I waited until the time was right to say so.

A gambling man can be incredibly romantic. He was to me and I think in a way, to him as well. Free of possessions. Responsibility. No boss to answer to. All the room in the world to be selfish. Leaving the past to pursue a future blank and unknown. A canvas without so much as a fingerprint... But all that changed months later: Gambling was no longer an option with a pregnant girlfriend and suddenly the wildness of the west, the pool of independence had to be covered. The closet with the mattress against the window no longer sufficed.

Los Angeles became a place to settle down. Get a real job. A job that would provide for us. For our future child. And though I have written at length about how hard it was for me at first, I've left out the fact that it was even more difficult for him-- seeing the canvas suddenly paint itself. Three silhouettes and an electric fence and the reality of having to suddenly support a family. Yes, I was working, then and still am. But I'm not going to try to pretend it is I who brings home the proverbial bacon. I could still gamble with a pregnant belly. I would still be able to pursue my dreams as a stay-at-home mom. To write.

Until this past trip I had never been to Miami or even Florida. I never had any desire to go. My entire life I had imagined Florida as a place where the elderly went to die, flamingos in lawns and all that. I had figured Miami to be some shitty LA knock-off, where Ricky Martin a la Menudo dined with Vanilla Ice in fake Versace. Fake Gucci. Fake everything.

Sunday we spent the day in Miami, in South Beach, Hal's old stomping ground with Hal's old friends. Former life. I have never lived anywhere, as an adult but Los Angeles. A brief stint in London, but Los Angeles is a large part of my past. My old life is LA. My old life is also in boxes in the closet. Under the bed. All over books and blogs. I have no secrets. No mysteries. Hal on the other hand...

Crossing the bridge I found myself suddenly surrounded by my husband's past. The place that helped define him. The place that pushed him away. To me. The place that influenced him quietly and probably still does. In a way. Because that's kind of the way things work. Nothing is ever really forgotten. Memories don't just disappear. Not all moments can escape.

And for an afternoon two very different lives overlapped.

I always figured I'd hate Miami. But I loved it. Maybe because I got to see it with Hal, his old home, sniffing the trail of his former life. Like spending the day with an ex-girlfriend. Asking her questions. Trying to organize clues. What was it about this place? Who did you used to be? How have you changed?

I suddenly found myself in the shoebox I had been searching for since we met three and a half years ago, under the bed. The past. The life before me. Before us. The people he lived with and stayed up nights with and chased mirages with and experienced with. People suddenly among us. All three of us. How strange it must have been. And yet, not at strange as I supposed.

And the whole afternoon I kept looking at Hal, wondering if he could have ever believed in a million years he would leave what he had once called home for long enough to one day return... With a family. A wife and a son: his proverbial winnings. A very different kind of jackpot than the one he set out for not so many years ago.

"What did you think?" Hal asked as we were leaving.

"I loved it."

"Yeah, but it looks so different," he said once more, the city receding in the rear-view mirror of our rented Nissan Altima.

Except this time he wasn't just talking about the change in the skyline.

"I can only imagine," I said.



Anonymous | 5:25 AM

It's sort of like a triumphant return - he left needing to get the hell out of Dodge, left with nothing but that trunkful of stuff, and now he's coming back with a gorgeous family, a great life... I'm glad you had a good time, and from your pictures it does look lovely, not like the old folks' haven I've always imagined it as.

barbara | 8:00 AM

if hal started a blog, i'd totally read it. thanks for writing about him with such love.

Anonymous | 10:52 AM

This was such a beautiful post. I believe that true revelation comes when you the world through someone else's perspective.

Anonymous | 12:45 PM

Thank you for the wonderful post. Your words are beautiful in so many ways.

Anonymous | 1:30 PM

wow, this is such an interesting post. very well written...

clueless but hopeful mama | 7:56 PM

A beautiful love letter to, what sounds like, a wonderful man.

ImpostorMom | 7:32 AM

Isn't it interesting how life just sort of happens. You know like you said that Hal probably never imagined when he left Miami that such a short time later he would have this family.

Yet, had he not had that drive to get away and be somewhere else that family would not be. I think about this sort of stuff all the time, especially now when I look at my son and think about the decisions I've made in my own life and how they have led to where I am now, to who I am now- mother, wife and everything else.

It's is nice that you could get a little glimpse of Hal's past. For me, it always helps to see that I think to understand the present sometimes. Beautiful post. (as always :P)

BOSSY | 8:12 AM

Bossy and her husband suffered similar whiplash as they were quickly thrust into Responsibility after an all-too-brief carefree beginning. Not that Bossy would trade now what seemed to align so perfectly. Much like your case.

Glad you had fun. Miami is not Florida. It is Miami.

Scar | 11:28 AM

i love it. and you and the family. I'm glad you guys had a good time.. Archer is getting so big!!

Green | 1:46 PM

In the four years I lived in S. Florida, I went into Miami three times. I hate Florida, and since moving to SF have only been back once, and that week was literally one of the most difficult of my life.

But it's not about Florida, it's about me, and the people I was with, or the fact that I didn't have people.

Everywhere I go, it's about who I'm with. If I go to a shit hole with someone I love, it's fun. And if I go to the most fabulous place with someone I hate, it's awful.

It's about the company, not the location.

Anonymous | 3:40 PM

everytime I read your blog I just want to cry. your words transcend the most insane feeling throughout my body, the are incredible. i love you tons

Anonymous | 6:41 PM

your posts are always well written, some are more thought provoking than others but this one...this one was so, just, there are no words to describe it. it really hit home for me because i feel as though i've already lived a thousand lives that my husband will never know. he grew up in one house with the same parents all his life. there is no mystery there. but he will never see inside my box. how very lucky you were to see inside hal's.~jjlibra

Julie Marsh | 5:30 PM

Fascinating. You, Hal, your histories - both separate and together.

I was never a fan of Florida either, but I loved South Beach (traveled there twice on business - would love to return for pleasure).