Two weeks from today, my wife and I will be flying up to Westchester County, NY. We both grew up there: she, her entire life; me, from sixteen on.
A week later, we will be driving up to New England, where we once lived, in leafy Greenwich. I was twenty-seven years younger, then, and believed that my ship at last had come in.
The collapse of the internet bubble put an end to that.
I had stopped drinking from sixteen years, and went to many AA meetings in Manhattan and Greenwich, as I put my life back together: in effect, I went from being homeless and destitute in NYC to owning a million dollar home in Fairfield county and being a C-level executive with offices on Park Avenue, in the space of ten years.
Now I was faced with selling the house I thought we would raise our family in to some obnoxious Latino deejay from the Bronx.
His children would play in the land I had cleared with my own hands.
His wife would swim in the beautiful stone pool my wife loved so much.
I resumed drinking the summer after we moved to Florida. This is a common trope. It usually happens to men who move down to the Sunshine State and find their days empty and their lives bereft of any real purpose or meaning.
It was just after 9-11. Nobody wanted to hire a 50-year-old tech executive with a Muslim name.
The tale of the next twenty years need not be recounted here.
Suffice it to say, a highlight was writing a few nostalgic short stories — two of which were published in an Arab-American literary magazine. Another was surviving a thyroid storm that almost killed me in the Times Square subway station.
Over the years, despite having substantial funds to start with, we became progressively poorer. Nothing was coming in. Costs kept going up. Sky-high personal health insurance, for example, set us back a quarter of a million dollars before we qualified for Medicare.
And nobody really gave a shit.
My drinking was periodic during those years; it enabled me to check out when the present and its realities became too grim to bear.
But eventually, my body gave out. I could no longer consume even something as innocuous as 4 Tall Boys for breakfast without severe adverse reactions. I became fat from beer and Methimazole, and my brain began to slip away into the comforting glorification of a golden past, when I was a teenager, living in a mythical paradise. It was the only way I could deal with the inadmissibility of my circumstances.
Imperceptibly at first, and more obviously so as I got older, I became progressively more embittered.
And still no one really gave a shit, except of course for Mum — from a distance.
After all, when a catastrophe does not befall them personally, many people tend to think of others who rattle on about their troubles as losers doing what losers do: whining, instead of picking themselves by their bootstraps and moving on.
As my mother got sicker, I went up back to NY and tried to console her. She was very far gone by the summer of 2021, and by October, she passed away.
I was happy for her — as she was always in great pain by then, and wanted nothing more to do with this life.
But I was devastated emotionally.
So I busied myself with executor duties for her estate.
By January of 2022, I went from someone who had lived below the US poverty line for a decade to suddenly becoming moderately well-off.
Quite frankly, I had no idea my mother had that much in the till.
Did I experience pretentious feelings of entitlement?
Not at all, in fact.
After all, this was inherited money, not something I had earned. And I had seen too much of how hard things can get when you are down and out to ever kid myself about being better than.
So I kept my counsel, did not not make any sudden moves, and thought about how I wanted to spend the next ten years.
Above all, I wanted no stress.
I wanted privacy.
And I no longer desired to live amongst people whose views I found abhorrent.
Our financial circumstances had dramatically changed, but having money does not mean that much to me personally.
I am not a greedy, materialistic person.
I can in fact live on very little, if I have to.
But I did splurge on a new car.
This was not exactly a luxury, since the Ford Escape we had was over twelve year old.
Having enough of it is useful only in terms of offering options that would otherwise be unavailable.
For example, it means that we’re no longer constrained to living in Florida, as are so many couples who come down here, then realize what a mistake they had made.
But what do to with this new-found financial freedom?
Initially, I thought my wife and I would obtain a D7 visa to Portugal. I have been there a few times before, but the insistence of the Portuguese government to outsource its visa application process to VFS Global made that a non starter.
Plus I wondered if I would ever be really happy in a country where I do not speak the language.
At age 70, learning Portuguese would be no small thing — and Portugal has several undesirable features that would quickly prove tiresome, as quickly became apparent when we spent a month in Tavira in the Algarve, a few years back.
Thus we began thinking more seriously about moving to New England, and in particular, somewhere amidst the small towns of Madison, Deep River, and Chester.
My wife has deep family roots there — the first governor of the state is an ancestor of hers — and I have always loved the space and privacy of back country living and in fact do enjoy gardening, perhaps on an acre or two of land that is ours, to do with as we please, without needing to seek approval from some imperious HOA architectural board.
We are now booked to stay at various hotels in the area in mid July. The first one will be in Madison, at the Scranton Seahorse Inn.
Perhaps the opportunity to buy a decent house in the area (at a fair price) will present itself, as interest rates continue to climb, and the stock market continues to tank, and the job market gets grimmer, and normalcy descends on the hitherto overheated real estate market.
If so, we shall go for it: given everything you read about in the papers nowadays… it seems prudent to have a safe house, if you will, in the nutmeg state, in case the country loses goes, well, nuts.
As for Portugal and the rest the EU, so long as our health holds up, we can always visit.