Onward and upward

October 2009 023I have always hated this apartment.

My ex-husband found it and I never wanted to live here in the first place. I went kicking and screaming the whole way through finding it, this new, smaller, cheaper apartment than the one we’d been living in for two years. The intention was to save more money – something we were never good at – and eventually buy a house.

But I didn’t want to do that. The way I saw it, our marriage was over and the idea that we should pretend it isn’t, to move into a new place under such a pretense was ridiculous. I wanted out, and this seemed like as good a time as any to do that. But I didn’t get out, didn’t approach him, didn’t talk to him, didn’t tell him I wanted to find my own place and he ought to do the same. It took a couple of months for us to finally part, and eventually it was my ex who left and I stayed here, in this dingy, scrappy apartment with no laundry facilities, door-off-of-the-hinge bedroom, no central air, leaky ceilings, chipped kitchen floors and temperamental heating and electrical systems that I never really wanted to move to in the first place.

I was broke and single for the first time in a long time and moving wasn’t an option. Besides, Glin and I didn’t need any further upheaval into our lives. We had our friends Jenni and Lissette, a big fenced-in backyard in a really nice neighborhood and eventually this shithole of an apartment became the place I called home for longer than I had any place since I lived with my parents in Joliet.  My friend Hoppe mentioned to me last week of the importance of this apartment for me, what it became during the most tumultuous time in my life. It was a cheap, fairly safe place for me to hunker down while the storm passed, until the sun shined again.

And it did. I learned how to truly be responsible for myself, to live in the moment, to not wait for something or someone else to sweep in and rescue me. I learned how to save and budget my money. For years I told myself I was awful with money. Turns out? I’m really quite awesome with it, after I learned how to respect its place in my life. I save, I invest, I budget and I live below my means. I figured out how I liked to live. If you ask anyone who knew me in college, they’d shudder at remembering the state of my car, Elmo, a Geo Metro convertible. I had stacks and stacks of newspaper piled up to almost the ceiling , old fast food bags, cups, straws, dirt, garbage everywhere, really. I was never known for my tidiness, and was a trainwreck with my living space. With no one else to carry the load, and an apartment that’s rough around the edges to begin with, I had to make do. Turns out? I’m incredibly neat and organized. I figured out how much easier it was for me to deal with the chaos in my life I couldn’t control by making my living space one that could serve as a peaceful sanctuary once I walked in the door. As a result, you’d never come to my house with me at the end of a day and find an unmade bed or a sink filled with dishes. I decluttered my home as a way to start decluttering my life and it has served me well.

I learned who I am, what I am all about and what I am capable of here in this apartment. It was the place that gave me shelter and allowed me time to become the sort of person I should have been figuring out years earlier.

The other purpose it served, of course, was as a home for me and my new husband during the very happy first year of our marriage. We’re both writers at heart, so we like that our story includes beginnings at a crappy apartment with a million things wrong with it. Scott has forever been on me to quit complaining about the place where so many happy memories were made, where, when we’re visiting on the north side, we’ll most likely drive by slowly to see what they’ve done to the place.

We’ve found a very cute, very lovely bungalow on the south side of Chicago, in the heart of the Beverly neighborhood. It has hardwood floors, all of the original woodwork, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a long driveway, a two-car garage and a huge backyard. There is an unfinished basement, but a screened-in back porch. There is a non-working fireplace but radiator heat and central air. The kitchen is outdated, but we’re remodeling it immediately. The park district just unveiled the new park, with .25 mile walking path, down the street and an independently owned grocery story at the end of the block. We also very much like the bars that are in walking distance. We’ve tried them out already. We can walk to the train from our house, too.

For the past two weekends we’ve been packing up this apartment to move. We don’t have a lot of stuff, but I wanted to take our time, wash everything, toss what we didn’t need and organize wisely, especially since we’ll be living in a remodeling zone for a few weeks. I’ve got the kitchen to finish up today, followed by the bathroom. Yesterday we stopped and took a break for lunch and I noticed that I’d eaten my sandwich on the cracked plate. In the years we’ve been dating and married, Scott has forever complained about the plate with a crack in it, swearing it leaked on him. I’ve never noticed it, and as a result haven’t thrown it out. But he’s sworn that the plate wasn’t coming with us, a statement I knew he’d follow through on but refused to give him the satisfaction by throwing it out ahead of time. I think because it was my plate, and I was very much used to making my decisions about my things, that I wouldn’t let it go.

But while I’ve been packing, I’ve taken careful note to throw away the things that are of my old life, the things that have, for one reason or another, remained here, suspending sadder experiences in time, because those things have been a part of me and who I’ve become. If I’m honest, most of that is pride. The rest is just habit. This move is really our first big move together, aside from marriage, and it’s ours equally. There is something very refreshing and happy about that, and it’s a joyful enough of an experience to let go of my pride.

Admit the boxes and cacophony, I called Scott’s attention to the plate, to the crack, and announced it was headed to the garbage can. He laughed and asked the dogs if they wanted to kiss it goodbye – my sister’s dog, Bella, was all over it since there remained several crumbs. Glin started at him blankly as she doesn’t get worked up for any leftover food smaller than a golf ball. Before he could do the honors of slam dunking it into the can, I snapped the above picture and let it go, moving on to bubbe wrapping bar tools and picture frames, all waiting to take their place in our new home.