This happened 10 years ago at this time of year.
We called it a trial separation. I took my brother’s couch while she stayed with the kids in our home. Ten days later, she said she didn’t want me back. My brother walked the line between helping and enabling, and stepped off on the side that said I’d have to go.
I landed at an extended-stay hotel, newly built but already reeking of the cigarettes and the sweat and the dank of the transient, with a faint whiff of ammonia and eucalyptus from scant cleaning efforts. I dropped my bags and walked the ten paces around the room. Turned on all the lights. Turned them off, then all on again. The room still dim, the lights straining at the shadows left in the corners.
The chair and the bed did little for the pain and stress gathered in my shoulders. When it was on, the heater did little but argue with the TV, drowning out whatever program was doing its best to distract me from what I didn’t want to think about, not drowning out my neighbors, their loud sex, the fellow cursing from foreplay to finish.
Twice after the office closed my keycard wouldn’t work, the all-hours number went unanswered, and I slept in my car in the cold in the parking lot. Twice I arrived minutes late to pay the rent, and they had already thrown away my food and put my belongings in storage. Grace was sparse and uncommon.
Meanwhile, I paid the mortgage and cable and utilities on a house I’d never live in again. My credit card paid for this room. I stayed just four weeks before finding a scuffed, dingy apartment that cost less than half. The apartment where the insomnia found me, the tears, the agony. In the extended-stay hotel, there was little room left to feel anything at all.
Thanks to my friend Christopher Newgent for helping me say this.