It’s one of the two hottest days of summer; I’m sweating liberally as I trip down the curved hazard of a
stairway from the apartment to the moving van outside, carrying one of what seems like thousands of boxes
still piled in the hallway. Scraping my elbows on the choppy plaster walls again, I’m thinking I’ll be quite happy
when this process is over.
After dropping the box in the van, I head upstairs to grab a small stack of books still sitting on the bedroom floor.
Devoid of furniture, the bedroom looks twice the size I thought it was. I’d spent the past two years storing my
belongings in an overnight bag, having invaded only the bathroom with permanent souvenirs of my existence
– a toothbrush, some facial soap, a perfunctory box of tampons. I felt a small cramp of nostalgia, realizing that
only within the past couple months had I finally been allowed to call this place home. This apartment, this
bedroom, was my medal of honor for the past two-plus years.
I first saw the apartment on our second date, when Ezra took me up to his apartment to ply me with Bombay Sapphire… and then he promptly fell asleep as we sat on his futon watching a movie. I thought it was cute, so I sat there, watching the movie alone, sipping my gin as he slept with his head on my right shoulder. Ezra had only been living here a little over a year when we’d met. He had the second floor of a hundred year old house, and I was charmed with the wood floors and high ceilings.
It was cozy and cluttered, yet spacious. The windows came to annoy me with their inability to keep out the frosty
air in the winter and the persistent rattling of the old glass when the trolleys and large trucks passed, but they
were tall and wide and kept the apartment bright. During the winter we learned it helped to seal plastic over
the windows to block the drafts, replacing the sound of rattling glass with rattling plastic.
The door to the apartment was a thin, wooden door, with a gap large enough for kittens to shove their paws under,
as the cats in the apartment next to us often did. They always made me late to work. The little black and white paws
darting out to find a playmate were too hard to pass by quickly. Eventually, when I got keys for Ezra door, I’d search under
the gap for lights or listen for the television as I approached, an indication that he was already home and not stuck late at work,
which he usually was.
I always felt like I was taking risks with my life when I stepped out onto the back porch that opened up off of the kitchen. Noting that it didn’t appear to be in the best condition, I was afraid the decaying wood might collapse off the side of the building if I made too sudden a movement – like California, breaking off the continent if it gets hit with a big enough earthquake. Nevertheless, I sat out there often, tending to our little city-garden – morning glories lined up in pots around the edges of the porch, clinging to old beams for support. (Or maybe they were trying to hold the porch up for us.) It was an
unexciting view back there, the backsides of other houses, other broken down porches, and power lines.
The kitchen was eternally filled with unwashed dishes, piles of junk mail, unopened bills, and had a mysterious
odor coming from the sink. The bedroom was filled with empty drinking glasses and piles of clothing – his, that he
never put away, and mine that I had left there, sick of lugging the same sweaters back and forth several times a week. The living room was filled with more dishes, more clothing, various items that could never find a home anywhere else.
I hid in the bedroom, the only room that had an air conditioner, during the summer. As much cold air as those
windows let in during the winter, they turned the apartment into an easy-bake oven during the summer, trapping
hot, wet air and smells of the city (along with those smells of unwashed dishes) for three months. We always threatened
to clean, but we never did. (I did not officially live here, so I refused to take responsibility for what accumulated during my time away.) We were always in each other’s way in this three room apartment. It was cozy.
On a quiet night, I could pretend that we weren’t in West Philly, but instead lived in a small European town, or somewhere
like Soho or Greenwich Village. Most nights, though, the noise drove me mad. Along with the windows, the walls
didn’t block a single outside noise. The trolleys were the worst offenders – they rattled and screeched and sounded their horns like foghorns in the night to warn double-parked cars out of their path. Trying, and failing to fall asleep, I heard the trash trucks and the occasional visit from the fire trucks (which always turned out to be unnecessary), their red lights spinning into the bedroom for what seemed like hours).
Then there were the neighbors. They called to each other, fighting up and down the block. They gathered in clusters along
the sidewalks at three am, making a horrible racket with their stories of the night out. They played music I didn’t like, as
loud as it could go – hammering, angry rhythms. Sometimes they settled arguments themselves, sometimes they involved the cops. Whatever it was, we heard every word. Sometimes it sounded like I was spending the night in a war zone. Sometimes it felt like it, when they talked to me in threatening tones while I walked to my car in the morning. I had to be sure to smile correctly, to say hello in a friendly enough tone of voice to avoid further harassment.
Ezra wanted to move, and I wanted him to move. After two years, I got sick of struggling to find a good parking spot, of having to ring the doorbell to be let into the apartment of someone I had been fucking no less than 15 times a week for two years, where I spent most of my free time. I wanted a key to that hot, loud, messy apartment. I was exhausted and felt I lived out of my car; I always had to be sure to be prepared to sleep overnight, but never had all the things with me that made me feel like I had a home. “Home” was my parents’ house, home was where I slept alone some nights, home was where I was when I longed to be in the city.
I was finally granted a set of keys, and a few months later I was allowed to change the location that I called “home”. Now,
shortly after that, we are both changing where we call “home”, moving to a quiet suburb of the city where people play music
at respectable levels and neighbors watch out for each other. I scoff at the people in this quiet place who complain about the lone trash truck that comes by once a week at six in the morning. The house has a dishwasher, two floors, and many
rooms. I can safely walk around at night. We can open windows, the air is fresh and smells of Carpenter’s Woods two blocks
Now the bedroom in the apartment is empty, save for a bookshelf or two that we will carry out to the truck. I’m surprised at how big it seems. Looking around, I remember the first date, the first kiss, the first “big relationship talk,” the first plea for
more nights together, the first fight, the first time I wanted to walk out and give up, and the first time I knew I
never would. Wandering into the kitchen, I see the pan I always used when I was feeling adventurous enough to make crepes. They always turned out spongy, like pancakes, but he ate them with fervor every time. I throw the pan into a nearby box,
so I can continue to make my un-crepes at the new house. Usually we were lazy and woke up late on weekends, then we
would walk the few blocks to get an espresso and scrambled tofu omelets with spinach and cheddar at the Campus
But mostly I remember the first plea for keys, when I met him late on a Friday night at a local bar where he was attending a very quiet and tame bachelor party for his business partner. I met him there because I couldn’t just go to the apartment to wait for him unless I felt like sitting on the porch steps until 1 am when he would arrive home and let me in.
“You know… this would be a lot easier if I just had a set of keys.” I was timid. He laughed, calling me sneaky and brushing me off.
Two weeks later, as I was sitting on the futon watching tv on a Saturday afternoon, he’d come over to me and dropped
something small, hard, and cold in my lap. Two things, actually – a key to the door of the building, and one for the door
to the apartment. I looked up in surprise.
“You wanted keys, didn’t you?”
“Yeah… but I thought… ok, thanks.”
Trying to be funny, to lighten the mood of this small gesture that meant something huge, he added, “Now you can have
dinner ready for me when I get home on Wednesday.”
I waited until he left the room to victoriously string my new keys onto the ring with my others.
[ in progress ]