“What are you gonna do?”

Last week I read a New York Times piece from 1988 about transiency and apartment living in New York City, and no-lease, four-roommate apartment turnover. The Times spoke with an aspiring actor who lived in at least seven different New York neighborhoods.

”Moving, to me, is no big deal,” said Mr. Gandolfini, whose calling is the theater but whose living comes mostly from bartending and construction. ”I have a system down. I throw everything in plastic garbage bags and can be situated in my new place in minutes. Without my name on a lease, I’m in and out. I have no responsibilities.”

I kind of got a chuckle out of the quote from James Gandolfini. But I thought of it again Friday night as I stacked boxes and bags in my living room and wiped sweat off my face.

Once upon a time I had to help a friend of mine clear out the apartment that she shared with her then-boyfriend. We had to do it at a certain time of day, during a certain day of the week and we had to take as much as we could in a certain number of hours – because we knew that it would be before her emotionally abusive boyfriend would return and do who knows what to her. And each time I packed a box or a bag into her car or into mine, I thought, who does this? Why does it have to come to this?

Thursday afternoon, the two people I helped Friday evening faced the same window and the same set of circumstances. They basically had to clear out everything of theirs in the matter of five hours, whether it was moved into storage or packed in boxes, suitcases or garbage bags, and leave the premises of a place that was no longer safe or healthy.

Then, as I took what seemed like the umpteenth set of bags through the rain and into the house, I realized something: this was transience. These people had been in an abusive relationship, at the hands of their own blood.

Frankly, I didn’t have a choice but to take in people whom I care about and people who have provided me with opportunities, and, when I needed a home, a place to stay. I didn’t like having to take those bags into my house, because of what they stood for. I didn’t like having to hear what brought them to that point and to my house, because of all the pain and manipulation that preceded it.

But at its basic level, the situation came to this: People I love needed help.

But, like Tony Soprano said, “what are you gonna do?”

The answer is easy.

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