at the closing of the year
Even more than usual, the last New Year's Eve of the '00s is cause for retrospection, and I can't help but think back 10 years ago to when the calendar digits rolled over to 2000. I spent New Year's Eve 1999 with my first wife, not realizing that it would be the last one we'd spend together. We had just moved into our new house a few months earlier, a 1,900-square foot house within a couple of blocks of the beach in Half Moon Bay, California. I was working at Excite@Home, where the stock price had fallen in recent months, turning what had been my $4 million net worth into something considerably lower. Still, we held out hope that the decline was just a temporary slip, and not the dot-com bubble bursting as some hushed hallway conversations speculated. We celebrated with two black cats and no kids, and had no intention of trying for children anytime soon, either because neither of us felt mature enough, or because deep down we felt the cracks in the foundation of our marriage. Overall, it was an exciting and scary time, and I was torn between feeling like I had accomplished so much and being afraid that there was so much more I was missing. With the new millennium starting (hush) it seemed everything was on the cusp on big changes, and so was I. I just didn't know how, or when, or where.
Ten years later, I'm sitting in the 700 square foot apartment that I share with Amy and Sofia in Barcelona, 6000 miles from Half Moon Bay. Tonight, as with last year, I'm staying home to watch over Sofia and her nagging cold, while Amy is serving the revelers in her restaurant with her mom and brother. Both black cats are gone now, but Amy's cat is still here, curled up under one elbow as I write. My job, while in many ways similar to what I did in Silicon Valley, is with a company of 15 people instead of 3000, and involves working to improve the lives of people with visual disabilities. A net worth of seven digits (or six for that matter, and five may even be pushing it) seems like a distant memory now, and in almost every measurable way my life has changed since then. Some of these changes have been bad, others have been difficult but ultimately for the best, and others have been obvious improvements. Not all of them have been voluntary (even the impetus to move to Spain was born out of a chance encounter with U.S. immigration in Vancouver) but looking back now, it was clear that 10 years ago I was ready to make big changes, even if they required a few leaps of faith.
In the intervening ten years, I've gotten divorced, gotten remarried, had a baby girl, traveled much of the world, from Hawaii to Egypt to Japan and a couple of dozen countries in between, lost 40 pounds, regained 20 of them, and found more than a few gray hairs and lines on my face. I've relearned one language and made my first steps in another, and I've seen both my native culture and my adoptive one from an outsider's point of view. I've learned that nostalgia is a mixed blessing; that forgiveness is sometimes hard to find, especially for yourself; that small chance happenings can change the course of your life; and that the most important things often happen when you least expect them. None of which is to say that I've gained great wisdom, though, since above all I've learned that many of the things you think you know at 30 no longer hold true when you're 40, and I'm not naive enough to think that the process stops there.
Tonight my daughter kissed me goodnight as I was putting her to bed, and I whispered "Happy New Year, sweetie," to her as I tucked her in, already asleep. Sometime after 1 am my wife will come home and we'll wish each other the same before getting ready for the short flight to Athens tomorrow morning. It may not be the biggest blowout party imaginable, but as ways to mark the milestone go, it's not bad, either.