The other day, I was looking online at apartment prices throughout the country. I’m not expecting to move anytime soon- quite the contrary. I just like researching overpriced neighborhoods, to make myself feel better about what I’m paying to put a roof over my head. Out of morbid curiosity, I checked the prices of the last apartment building where I lived in California. By coincidence, the exact unit that I had lived in was up for leasing, complete with a picture of my old balcony, pictured below. As I stared at the picture and thought back to that time in my life, which ended up being critical beyond words- although that never stops me from trying- I broke down and cried. The fact that the price had gone up so much in the two+ years since I unceremoniously left didn’t make me feel any better. Well- maybe a little bit better. But overall, I just found myself overcome with feelings of sadness, frustration, and a touch of rage at what should have been.
Even though I wasn’t really surprised by this wave of emotions, as I’ve been dealing with them since the concussion I suffered in that very same apartment, I was curious about the specific reason(s) that this picture triggered them so strongly. Ironically enough, these memories of my last days of California has me struggling with a future trip to Long Island, which will be very short, but I expect to also be quite emotional, as well.
My history with Long Island dates back to the day I was born, but it’s primarily the most recent years, spending time at the house that my sister and her immediate family reside in, that I have such strong emotional ties to. This is also pretty ironic, considering that I didn’t spend THAT much time there. However, similar to my time in that last apartment in LA, it’s how I spent my time there that makes my emotional reaction so strong. Incidentally, I hadn’t spent that much time in my last LA apartment, either, only living there for eight months. (Even without my accident, I only would have been there a few weeks longer, as I’d signed a lease for a much cheaper, less comfortable studio a few blocks away, to save money for the future. Whether that was the right decision or not, I’ll never know. But I digress.) I can honestly say that the first seven months in that apartment were probably the best of my life- not because of any specific event, but just because I was feeling as confident about myself and my future as I can recall. (For more on that, click here.) By extreme contrast, my eighth and last month there was, by far, the worst month of my life, at least up until that point. Given how broken up I got when recalling my time there, I don’t know what I was reacting more strongly to. Was it the enjoyable but (in hindsight) deceptive seven months, and the false optimism that it gave me? Or, was it the terrifying final month, one which I could feel my life and sanity slipping away, without any plan on how to get them back? The answer is probably somewhere in between, but to what percentage of each I have no idea.
Getting back to my sister’s house in Long Island, though, I am doing my best to not think in those terms. My niece Ilana is being honored for her hard work in recovering from her injury, and believe me- she deserves it. As a brain injury survivor AND caring uncle, I practically feel obligated to attend this event. However, being back there at the house where my “Uncle Scott” identity was so closely tied, it’s even more difficult than thinking about my old apartment in LA. For one thing, when it comes to California, I can just shut down the web browser and turn my mind back to the present day. But in the case of Long Island, this IS the present day! (Well…tomorrow, specifically.) Also, unlike my apartment and the two different phases (great seven months, awful final month), there are actually three different time periods that stick out in my mind.
The first, “The Golden Era”, is everything prior to my Ilana’s brain injury. I can’t recall anything in my life that had come so easily and brought me such joy, than just being an uncle. While I knew it wouldn’t last forever- kids grow up, of course- I was traumatized (along with the rest of my family) when the joy got cut short, with Ilana’s encephalitis and subsequent acquired brain injury in April 2015. With that, began “the second phase”. I was still very happy to be an uncle, but it was no longer a carefree experience. Staying in the same house with Ilana, not knowing what her condition would be or how I would be able to handle it when I woke up each day, took a long time to adjust to. Fortunately, Ilana improved considerably over time, and I actually took a sense of pride in sticking with her through the tough times. In fact, I actually increased my visits to Long Island after she got sick, overcoming whatever fear I had of not being able to handle the challenge- a challenge that, at the time, was easily the biggest of my adult life.
It wouldn’t last. Barely two years after her brain injury came my own, and I wasn’t nearly as up for that challenge. As my psychological condition continued to worsen, my sister’s house was the first stop I made after leaving California, leading to “the third phase”, which ended up lasting nearly three weeks. Spending most of my time locked in the guest room, looking out the window in terror as if observing a world that I no longer belonged to, I wanted to escape by whatever means necessary. I don’t know how much Ilana noticed, given her own issues, but my nephew Evan, normally very enthusiastic about having me around, seemed increasingly uncomfortable. (Kids can be very perceptive.) The whole situation had me literally screaming in tears, and the last time I saw the house, it was on my way to a psychiatric hospital in Manhattan.
That all happened nearly two years before I ended up typing this, and a whole lot has changed since then- thankfully, almost entirely for the better. As mentioned before, I’ve managed to build a new life for myself, and have written pretty extensively in this blog about the adjustments I’ve made. (Feel free to check the archives.) Nevertheless, the trauma of it all still haunts me, and the more a setting reminds me of that trauma, or even (especially?) the good times before I had to deal with it, the more difficult it is for me to cope. (This blog post here specifically addresses that.)
One of the reasons why I’ve been able to have relative success in the life I am building is that by living in a New Jersey town where I have no previous history, I have been able to avoid the burden of dealing with old memories. But regionally speaking, I’m pretty close to a lot of places that have a fair amount of personal history, and it’s almost certainly counterproductive for me to purposely avoid them. Hopefully, by confronting one of the most challenging places that can be found east of the San Andreas fault, I can start to work on “the fourth phase”- one which is tied more closely with the life I’m trying to build now, instead of the one that I was forced to leave behind.