The 15-year-decade

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salvador-dali-persistence-of-memory-clocks-meaningDon’t worry, this won’t be one of those look-back posts where I sum up everything that happened to us last year.

Though, admittedly, 2015 was a big year.

But it’s been a big decade, for that matter.

Only they don’t have names for 15-year increments. At least they don’t have common names everyone can use like decade or century.

There’s actually an old name for 15-year cycles that comes from medieval Europe called the indiction and which had to do with a periodic reassessment of an agricultural or land tax.

What I’m talking about is the last 10 years of our lives, a cycle that I can’t quite fit nicely into a decade.

Not without considering the five years I spent in college that led directly to next 10 years. To separate the two into different time periods would be a sin against nature or something similar.

I spent the better part of three years studying at a community college before transferring to the University of Oregon. Meanwhile, my wife and I had two young boys and lived in a single-wide trailer on a small piece of land surrounded by grape vines in the rolling hills of South Salem.

I went to college, because I was bored out of my mind managing restaurants, and as a non-traditional student, the benefits outweighed any counter arguments.

By the time I graduated school, we had graduated from a single-wide to a double-wide to my wife’s grandma’s house, where we lived rent free for a time to a house that we rented for ourselves with money I actually earned from a job I was qualified to do because of my college degree.

It was a substantial five-year period, which, if we lived in ancient Rome, would have been called a lustrum.

But it bled so finely into the next cycle, I can’t rightfully separate the two in my mind.

And so we have the 15-year decade, because it fits nicely into the cadence of our lives, as all things that come in tens do.

We had our third baby, a girl, shortly after I landed my first job, which I didn’t start until two weeks after she was born.

And that’s the last time I can remember stopping to look around and realize where I was in the grand scheme of things. It was a cosmic breath, and armpit moment as the breeze of life whipped up comfortably for a few brief seconds to see where we had come from and maybe catch a glimpse of where we were going.

We settled into a house on 10th street in the hometown I had been fighting to get away from my whole life. We got a trampoline and a dog, I wrote safe stories about city and county government and penned cutesy Sunday-for-Monday stories about festivals and events.

Our kids played soccer, and we had friends over for meals and went wine tasting on weekends back when it was still affordable.

And everything ran together in that way that a gray morning sort of touches down all the colors into drab impressions of trees and houses and cars and roads.

So I left.

I literally seized the first opportunity to flee from it all, from my hometown, from my commonality with people and places I had come to know across the upper end of one century into the beginning of another.

You know the story.

First it was Missoula and love and light and happiness in that northern world I had always imagined as an eternal ice palace.

How wrong I was to judge a place by my impressions. How absurdly unexpected it was to find so much joy in a little mountain town with tall shadows when the sun fell behind the mountains.

Very few places are strewn across the landscape of my experiences so profoundly as Missoula and the people who made it come alive for us.

And then a season of high adventure in Alaska and chasing pirate ships in the Aleutians, exploring glaciers, watching the greatest athletes in the world run a thousand miles across snow and ice while pulling barely alive humans on sleds underneath a burled arch.

Then the big city and lights and noise and food and culture so thick it bubbled out your ears like too much foam in a small space. And little adventures to sun-splattered beaches in Florida and post-Katrina New Orleans and Nashville and Louisville and Michigan and Wisconsin.

And now that indiction has ended, and it’s time to reassess the taxes.

Like all cycles are, really, this one was cyclical.

We landed just a few miles from the space where that single-wide-trailer once sat. If I drew a full circle going from Salem to Missoula to Anchorage to Chicago and back, it would be almost complete, since the red line would almost join up again back here where it all began.

Sort of.

We were volunteering in New Zealand in 2000 when the pull of something more than minimum wage and state-funded health plans and food stamps and WIC milk and tuna started to lead to the idea of schooling, which led to journalism, which led to newspapers, television, and radio, which all led to digital curiosity, which led to social media, which brought us home.

This has been the longest, most-interesting 15-year decade of  my life, though I’m not sure I’ve ever had such an unimaginable unit of time before. I think everything fell into traditional decades and 5-year increments before this one, which just so happened to coincide nicely with the first 15 years of the new millennium.

Our kids grew up right before our eyes, which is why I add the 10 and the five together, because it all happened in such a constrained time that how could they be 17, 14 and 9. It just doesn’t add up.

We made it to 20 years together and now 21, and for the first time in my life, there are no big goals like marathons to run or cities to see.

Just quiet plans to sit on a beach in Mexico or maybe hike up some hills nearby. And to read more books and maybe take up cheese making.

Of course the kids are about to launch, which is maybe why we’re settling down for once, if for nothing more than to provide a steadier platform from which they can jump into their own units of time.

High school is ending for one and beginning for another, but they go by in the blink of an eye, and before long I’ll be writing about them graduating from college.

I don’t feel settled, but I so keenly feel the end of this time period. Even as I sit here in our new house, anchored as we are by a mortgage and verbal commitments and guilt over having moved so often my kids have attended more schools than I can count, I’m pulled by the opposing threads of stability and the unknown.

The armchair and a good movie beckons, as much as the pull to see and feel new things in places I’ve never been.

Maybe that’s all residual, and I’m supposed to feel this way. Like the after-effects of medicine that lasts for weeks after you stop taking the little peach-colored pills.

All I know is that this 15-year decade is over, and I have no idea how long the next increment will be. Which is good, because if I had known too much about how this one would end, I might have tried to influence things my way, rather than let all the other circumstances dictate the here and now.

2015 was the perfect summation of all of its parts. From the poverty-drenched beginnings in 2000 to college and jobs and financial security and gobsmacked back into poverty, or at least the brink, before crawling back onto the relative safety of family-backed financial security, to this point where things feel safe and secure.

Until they aren’t.

But if history, especially 15-year decades, has taught me anything, it’s that everything is cyclical.


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