Remember that first place we lived in Columbus, love? The one in that narrow three story walk-up in red brick above the print shop, and we were on the second floor. It was almost in an alley, that one, amidst a short stretch of blocks that were nearly forgotten in the mile between Ohio State’s campus and the run up of High Street. Across the way was The Goody Boy diner, that relic of the 40’s still, against all odds alive, and manned by that strange Albanian man with his crooked nose who was forever getting into fights, but had a certain fondness for you. He’d always be talking Red Wings and pour, unprovoked, straight vodka into our cups instead of water on the occasions we’d resort to having dinner there. Surely, that was not legal. Still, it was a sad day when, having landed in jail for some rather grisly offense or another, we were told, he was gone and it shut down.
That was our first home, with way too much clutter and way too little space. How you cleared out a collection of hangers and drawers to make room for me there, and lamented the entrance of all my ‘girl things.’ Still, when I think of happiness, I think of Sunday dinners in that loft with Nathan and Tanya or parties with Amelia and the crew, bricks warm, beams exposed, bikes hanging from a hook in the corner. Your car was broken into three times, once through the sheet metal, the windows untouched, but we got used to that. And in the winter you refused to turn on the heat, in a months-long fit of miserliness. I waged that battle daily, as cold is not my forte, but there was that one night you convinced me to sleep with you on the couch, in layers of clothes and literally hats. Under piles of blankets, huddled together, we were warm. That couch was a triumph in and of itself. Longed after and seemingly unattainable for years, we purchased it with our wedding money and it has been our very favorite thing ever since. Even if it’s so deep my feet barely dangle off the edge, you were right, it was worth it.
I used to cry when we’d board planes destined back to Ohio, but truth be told, we were happy there. Life was so simple then. We stumbled into the best group of friends, beer was a dollar more often than not, and we saved one whole paycheck every month. Our rent was $670 for heaven’s sakes.
Remember the day we moved to Chicago? How the movers didn’t show on account of the fact that there was a Buckeyes game that day, “sorry ma’am.” How with your broken back and N&T’s heroics we carted all that furniture down the stairs and into the truck? How we left grateful but ready and barreled down the road. (mid)West bound.
We lived with my parents in the suburbs of that very windy city, home, for awhile over the holidays while we looked for our own place. That 5am train ride into the city, grey and frigid in the dead of winter really took the life out of you, but most nights there was a homemade dinner and most certainly a bottle of wine and we enjoyed my parents’ company and went to bed early and settled in to that cozy room downstairs. Until we felt like we were turning mid-life too, and then we had to go.
When we moved downtown it was St. Patrick’s day in the city. We hired people who showed up this time and made them try two different times to fit that couch inside, four charming stories up, poor things. Large as it was (almost a bed really) it couldn’t take that old building’s narrow doorways and sharp turns and it ended up trapped in the back room. Instead of my office it became The Couch Room. We set down the boxes and went out for a drink. What can you do?
Remember the kind of space we had in that place? The bay windows and the hard wood floor that slanted down, so that if you set the office chair just so it would roll from one side to the other clean? And that one night while I was out of town, you brought in the Ralph Lauren Home designers that you had befriended and they moved every stitch of everything we had around so that when I came home, my desk was by the window now. That was a bit presumptuous, but thoughtful really. Then there was that time that we got robbed while you were sleeping, and they took our TV but left the computers mercifully…that was less of a good surprise. The neighbors we had in that building downstairs were as blonde and blue eyed as American pie. And we’d watch the ivy grow and fail out the bedroom window in the seasons and go to sleep under the blinking of the Hancock’s red top lights. How we’d watch the church services let out across the way at Holy Name cathedral where I had been a flower girl for my aunt some 20-some years prior. And on days that it would snow we’d go sit in the pool room at the Peninsula just to warm up. Emily and Simon lived a mere two blocks away, Katherine and PKS had that amazing place with a view of the lake, and epic dinners with friends became out pastime there. Remember that night the blizzard came? Like idiots we picked up Bonnie and Orlando and drove out into it to see the cars stopped and burried on Lake Shore Drive. How we nearly got bowled over by gusts, Lake Michigan crashing against its borders, as we waded through drifts of snow waist deep with ski goggles on to protect against the biting wind. You sir, learned what it meant to be a regular, and got to know every last bar tender at RL. I took classes at the Alliance Francaise across the street in my spare time and trained for my first half marathon out on the lakefront. The Bears were always on on Sundays in the Fall and I never missed a family party. I know we had that desperate itch, to get elsewhere still, but life was very good there wasn’t it, love?
Remember that day you found out you got the job? I don’t exactly, but I do remember that we had 2 weeks to move. Out came the boxes, out went the news, my family was none too pleased but we were beside ourselves, eager. You rented a truck and Genna connected us with her friends who miraculously had a room and an air mattress available for two weeks. We left our stuff in Chicago and flew out to New York. Remember how we tumbled onto 6th street close to midnight with mounds of baggage, thwarting all the coaxers into the Indian restaurants that consume that row? How Kate left a dinner early to meet us, we found out later, and once inside we dropped our bags and went out walking and landed on a stoop some hour or so later with a slice of pizza and ridiculous smiles on our faces, exhaustion in our eyes. Genna drew boundaries on a map of Manhattan with the names of neighborhoods where we should live, and gave us a good pep talk when the prospects of habitation seemed decidedly slim. We lost the battle of July to a less than 1% vacancy rate downtown and a stubbornness to find just the right place. Instead that first spot ended and we found ourselves homeless for a few days, so we checked into a hotel with a pool, and you found a one eyed artist on Craigslist who had a cheap place in East Village to sublet while he was out of town. He wore an eye patch and pink high-tops with something obscene stiched into the sides and his place had no AC and no sink in the bathroom. It was exactly as strange as it sounds. We lived there for two weeks and I lasted long enough to witness a woman deficating in Tompkins Square Park and then I had to go.
Remember our place in SoHo on the corner of Thompson and Grand? Where we were situated directly above the Cafe Noir, a rowdy spot run by a merry band of Frenchman and international migrants on the regular. How the music would run until four a.m. and we’d awake to people on the corner yelling for a cab or the garbage truck coming crushing all the glass? How when we opened the windows in the summer the music would flow in, just as it did through the walls in the bathroom strait up from below, and we’d pour a drink and feel like we were there. For whatever reason I had always wanted to live above a bar.
Remember how there were absolutely positively no amenities there and I worked at a desk we could only fit in the closet (a space that they had once considered a bedroom, no)? And we were still a slave to our rent. No dishwasher or AC or laundry. How we’d send it out or later haul it weekly to the laundromat and I Hated that treck with a capital H. We got to know the doormen at The James across the street, and the old cronies on the corner and I developed a mutual regard. They regarded me from their perpetual perch on the stoop nearby, I regarded them from the eastern windows in the mornings in my robe getting coffee and awkwardly waved hello. Our Super was always smoking out front with his golden lab, monitoring the neighborhood and complaining about the bar.
In the winter the heat hissed in through the radiators until we were sufficiently steamed. But everything fit in there like a glove, including the table that your brother made and our couch, which cleared by an inch.
Then one day they raised our rent by $1,000 a month because some schmuck in the 4th floor agreed to pay, and we said so long to Ro and Suzanne and Ernie and Rose, our neighbors who having been there 30 years in one case and 71 in the other, lived next door under the safe harbor of rent control. How they must have watched that neighborhood change…
We moved further downtown, in the shadow of the World Trade Center practically, near TriBeCa and closer to the river. Took over the lease of one of your colleagues, and unpacked within 2 days flat, as if it were a race and not a box was safe. The Olympics were on that summer and in that building it felt like we finally had some space. With everything comfortable and situated, you and I gradually spent less nights out and more nights in. We got used to having the water as a form of companion, steady outside. The way it would glow pale in the morning and fall dark at night, the skyline of New Jersey illuminated and surprisingly grand. I had always wanted to live up in the sky so the 28th floor suited me just fine. I set up my desk by the window and traced the paths of the boats that trafficked the Hudson during the day, and you shortened your commute to work to only a block away. That building was full of children, chalk full, like we’d suddenly grown up and were suddenly behind. But I relished the four corners of an in-unit washer dryer, impossible luxury that it was, and a normal human size refrigerator and a dishwasher and elevator and gym. We’d gone from ammenities Siberia to ammenities heaven and I could hardly believe my luck. You were content in the evenings to smoke your pipe and walk to the harbor, and most times when you’d ask me, I’d go with you there.
For as much as we ardently loved it, New York had a dark underbelly to it though. It fed you from one hand and we thrived as individuals, and with the other (the long hours, distractions, the constant onslaught of other people and plans, the monthly bank account drain) it quietly made its effort to put fissures in the team. We started to become aware of how exquisitely difficult it would be to stay and grow up and stay intact. And also how painful it might be to leave. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it felt urgent and distant all at the same time.
In July you forewarned that a year from now life could look very different, and nothing was certain in my job or yours. Quietly, we started making wild contingency plans. If it all went to hell, you were looking at boats, had narrowed it down to one in particular and a slip in New York. You figured we could live there, put everything in storage and sail, monetize the venture somehow, charge people for day trips or something like that. I liked the idea myself, but dreamed of spending a few months in India instead, picking up an idea I had that had grown 7 years old and turning it into something real. It felt like last call and we might get to be reckless one more time before real things bolted us down. But then there was also the possibility that things would go well and these years would pay off…that the suits would stay on.
It felt as if we were in line for the diving board, and the months were the people ahead in the wait, but one way or another we were about to take a determined step and spring off into something soon. When you came home to tell me the news in October, you caught me at my desk still in your blue robe. It is not the way I would have preferred to be found so let’s imagine instead that I was looking good. How do you feel about California? you said as casual as anything. And in December we booked tickets to San Francisco.
Looking for apartments there, I began to believe that it’s true what they say, that old adage about New York. Make it here, make it anywhere. You go through the fire and begin to expect the worst so that everywhere, anywhere afterwards feels decidedly more rational and spacious and affordable and honest and easy outside by comparison. And also stingingly, a little lack luster, it’s true. Mainly cheaper though. We began to prepare ourselves to be weaned off the drug. The premonition being that it would be a malarial infection, that city, the kind of affliction that settles in your blood and lies dormant but lasting, not fatal but latent in your bones. Primarily though we were grateful for the days, and to have lived them as fully as we knew how, at late night parties or friend’s houses watching bad tv, at underground bars, at some ill-advised clubs and loud rooftops that made up for it with a view, cocktails at speakeasies and openings at art galleries, afternoons at museums and walks in the park, quiet streets at 3am in West Village walking home and stops at NY pizza places or taco restaurants very late, searching for cabs and riding the subway and out.out.out and also at home.
On our second night together in San Francisco, we walked from Bush to Chestnut taking in the taste of this new place, trying it on, deciding how it fit, attempting to avoid the very steepest hills. We bought a tall bottle of red stripe - that beer that always makes me think of the beach - and two coffee cups from some deli down the street. You poured it, until the bottle was empty and our innocuous cups were full of lager and foam. We walked, naming the neighborhoods you knew as we passed, and my legs feeling like they had marched a half marathon that day. Earlier that afternoon I had taken a trolly then tried to walk around, to scout out the place, for where we should live. At first it was ok, but near Lombard street something awful hit me in the gut and I felt myself breaking inside, and dialing, when my sister picked up I started to whimper. I knew what this was, was pathetic, and honestly it was going to be so great. But it also was going to be so lonely for awhile, wasn’t it, in this place where there was so little I knew. And it was happening so very fast wasn’t it, even though the question had been posed and I, pros and cons carefully weighed, had actively witnessed myself saying yes. But now, physically here, the reality amplified and all of the sudden I felt so very, permanently far from home. Even in this, the best case scenario, the decision felt right but didn’t yet fit. That night as we were strolling near Pacific Heights it came upon me like a wave again, and you tried to cheer me up like a champ. I knew I was being irrational but that didn’t really help. I wondered what corner of this place could be ours, as we had done one night in New York City, and came up empty, and took another swig. There are limits to my ability to cope with uncertainty it seems. They sneak up on me. The beer did its trick though and we decided it was all going to be fine.
So many walks I’ve had with you around towns we’re about to know, feeling homeless at the time, have ended that way. Feeling hopeful and punch drunk. Typically, I decide to trust you, and it always turns out fine. In fact, more often than not, I’d say mighty fine.
When you proposed one day years ago in Maryland near the bank of the Chesapeake Bay, you promised me adventures down on one knee. And adventures there have most certainly been.
The next morning we found an apartment by the bay, with odd little chandeliers and retro green tiles in the bathroom and a pocket kitchen with the original fridge. We signed the next morning and began plotting where to put the couch, and on New Year’s Eve we moved in. Of all our homes, I actually think it might fit here the best. What do you say?