saying goodbye to our apartment

For the past two years, Allyn and I have lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I can still vividly remember the day we signed the lease and got the keys and unlocked the front door for the first time, stepping across the threshold like we were venturing into a bright new future.

Our new apartment was small, but to us it seemed like a castle. It was our very own home — a home we would build together. I can remember how excited I was at the idea of regular, everyday life with my sweetheart: unloading groceries in our fridge, cooking dinner in our kitchen, snuggling up together on our couch to watch a movie on a Saturday night {never mind that, when we first moved in, we did not yet have a couch.} All of those everyday-life couple-y things seemed, to me, like miracles. Like gold. Up to that point, our everyday routine meant juggling our lives and our schedules between his place and mine — which wasn’t even really “my” place, as I was living with my grandparents. We drove forty minutes to see each other for date nights and felt lucky to get two days in a row with each other. I treasured the weekends, when I could wake up to his sleepy smile.

Now, I get to wake up to his sleepy smile every day and fall asleep to his arms around me every night. I do my best to remember what it was like before I had this gift. I do my best to treasure it and treat it like the gold it is.

I remember leaving my grandparents’ house on the morning of Moving Day, feeling revved up as I climbed into my packed-up car. I was sad to say goodbye to my grandparents, even though I was so excited to be moving in with Allyn, and even though I knew I could come back and visit anytime. I always get sad at goodbyes, even when they are good goodbyes. My new apartment was only half an hour away, but I felt like I was driving across space-time as I navigated the two-lane canyon road from my old town to my new town. It was a sunny day, a perfect fresh beginning. Rarely in life do we have such clean-cut new chapters, but this was one of mine.

Moving Day was more of an ordeal than I expected it to be. How did we get so much stuff? The movers kept unloading boxes and unloading more boxes. Allyn’s mom and sister came to help, and I remember looking around our new living room crammed with Jenga towers of boxes, feeling overwhelmed yet also thrilled. It was real! It was happening! That first day, we focused on the important things: making the bed, getting our Internet and cable up and running, unpacking our new dishes in the kitchen. Allyson thoughtfully brought us toilet paper and paper towels. I remember scurrying around from room to room, thinking, Our kitchen! Our bathroom! Our bedroom! Our balcony!

That night, we celebrated with Mexican food. Then Allyn and I made the first of many Target runs to get essentials we had forgotten about: trash cans, a dish rack, hooks to hang our towels in the bathroom. That night, falling asleep together in our not-yet-familiar bedroom, listening to the new sounds of our fridge humming and our neighbors shifting the floorboards, I made a wish that this new chapter would be everything I hoped it to be, and more.

As excited as I was to move in with my sweetheart, I was also a little nervous. I knew from past experience that this was the make-it-or-break-it time of a relationship. This was where you truly got to know each other’s earthy roots and tangled messes, quirky annoyances and stubbled shadows. Previously, I had made a promise to myself that I would never again get engaged without living with the person first. When you live together, you can’t hide from each other. I was pretty sure that Allyn wasn’t hiding anything from me — that I knew him as well as I thought I did — and yet, I kept thinking of my ex, whose anger issues only emerged when we moved in together and he began to fully relax into himself around me. Of course, I wanted Allyn to be his full self around me, just as I was my full self around him. But I hoped that would still be the sweet, kind, and gentle man that I had fallen in love with.

Also, I hoped that I didn’t have any annoying habits that would make him stop loving me.

I clearly remember waking up that first morning in our new apartment, buzzing with energy about all of the clear-cut tasks before us: boxes waiting for us to unpack them, drawers and shelves waiting to be filled. Allyn used our new kettle to boil water for coffee and tea. We didn’t yet have a couch so we set up two camping chairs and sat in them as we ate our cereal out of bowls. The sun shone brightly through our new windows. There was such a sweet simplicity to our new life together. It almost felt like we were on vacation. Playing house. I wondered when it would sink in, when it would feel truly real.

It was only a couple weeks later that we went away to the Russian River together to celebrate our two-year dating anniversary, and Allyn got down on one knee and asked me to live with him forever. By that time, our new apartment already felt like home and our new life together already felt solid and stable and ours. I was not worried anymore that some secret part of him would emerge out of the shadows. I knew him, really knew him — in truth I always had, from our very first date. Allyn has this beautiful open-heartedness, this authentic spirit, that I trusted immediately. He had never been anything other than himself. We had only been living together for a couple weeks, yet I knew all that I needed to know. I said, “Yes!” with tears streaming down my face and pure joy filling my heart. Already, we were entering into another brand new chapter together.

In the past two years, I have indeed learned some quirks about my sweetie… that have only made me love him more. For dessert, he eats sour gummy candy out of a giant zip-lock bag like a twelve-year-old. He gets flustered when the dishwasher is only half-full and feels like there is no more room to put any dishes. He always hangs his towel up right away; hums when he is getting ready in the morning; always cuts food on the cutting board, never on a plate. We have an ongoing debate about the merits of the ice-cream scooper. {I believe it is perfectly acceptable to use a regular spoon to scoop ice cream from the carton; Allyn believes the spoon will get bent and insists on the scooper.} He is the sweetest and most attentive plant-waterer I could imagine.

This little apartment has been the perfect home for us in this season of life. It is crazy to think of how much has changed since we first moved here. In this cozy little apartment, we’ve woven our lives and dreams together. We put together a bookshelf and put up shelving and hung pictures. We planned our perfect-for-us wedding and celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. We helped each other through career ups-and-downs, holding hands through the uncertainties and uncorking the Martinelli’s when Allyn got his full-time job working in the environmental department of the City of San Jose, and when I learned that my collection of short stories is going to be published. We fed friends around the dinner table and baked birthday cakes and even, at the last minute, hosted this past Christmas dinner {I wasn’t strong enough post-surgery to go anywhere else, so the meal & the people came to me!} Inside these walls, we have cuddled and talked and argued and laughed and loved each other through it all. In short, this apartment has been the sacred space where we have grown from two people into two roommates into one family.

We will be sad to leave this apartment. But also, we are ready. I remember, in first grade, reading a picture book about a hermit crab who outgrew his shell. He looked and looked and eventually found a new shell, which he decorated and made into his own. Then, a little while later, he outgrew that one too. It was time to move on and find his next-bigger shell. I think of that hermit crab, and he reminds me not to give into my resistance to change. That we need to let go of the shells we have outgrown, or else we will stop growing. That we can say goodbye to our cramped, too-small shells with love and gratitude in our hearts. That stepping forward into the next chapter of our lives does not mean that we will forget the chapters that came before.

Allyn and I are ready to live in our own home, with a yard and a guest bedroom and no shared walls with neighbors. As much as I love my little writing corner currently wedged in between the TV and the sliding glass door to our balcony, and as nice as it is to be steps away from the kitchen and bathroom throughout my workday, I am looking forward to having “a room of one’s own” — an office of my own that is not part of our living room space. Perhaps most of all, we are excited to move closer to Allyn’s work, shortening his long daily commute by an hour a day! It will be such a gift to have him home earlier each evening.

So we find ourselves circling back to the beginning. Our apartment is once again filled up with Jenga towers of boxes. We are once again preparing to step across the threshold into a bright future, with hope in our hearts that our new home will be filled with tenderness and grace, beautiful dreams and lovely surprises, new learning and growth.

At the end of Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab, the hermit crab leaves his too-small shell in search of a new home:

The ocean floor looked wider than he had remembered, but Hermit Crab wasn’t afraid. Soon, he spied the perfect house–a big, empty shell. It looked, well, a little plain, but…

“Sponges!” he thought. “Barnacles! Clown fish! Sand dollars! Electric eels! Oh, there are so many possibilities! I can’t wait to get started!”

Goodbye, sweet apartment. Thank you for holding us, for shaping us, for bearing witness to our lives these past two years.

Hello, new house. We can’t wait to get started.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a home that has meant a lot to you. What memories did you make there? What did you learn while living there–about yourself, about your relationship, about other people?
  • Do you embrace change, or avoid change? Why do you think you feel this way about change? What are some changes in your life you have faced? Did they turn out the way you expected?
  • Imagine unpacking a box from your childhood bedroom. What are some items you would unpack? What would those items mean to you now, in your present life?

you take home with you

I’m sure you’ve heard on the news about the wildfires sweeping through southern California. The Thomas Fire has ravaged my beautiful hometown of Ventura. It is hard to even wrap my mind around the horrific destruction of so many homes and neighborhoods. I may be physically in the Bay Area, but my mind and heart are in Ventura right now. One inspiring thing has been the way my hometown community has rallied together to support each other. Ventura has always possessed wonderful qualities of inclusion, generosity, optimism and resilience, and never have these virtues been in such strong display as they are right now. I am so proud of my hometown. #venturastrong

Please send your prayers — for our community, the people who call it home now and for those like me who may live far away but still think of it as home, for the firefighters and first responders and s/heroes working round the clock to defeat these vicious, horrendous fires.

The most important thing is that everyone is safe. Thank God for that.

But the personally devastating news, for my family, is that my 91-year-old grandfather’s home burned entirely to the ground. It is gone. This was the home that my dad, his sister, and his two older brothers grew up in. The home my grandmother picked out after the family moved cross-country, from Ohio to California, in the 1970s. The home she decorated and hosted parties in. The home she died in, twenty-five years ago, of a heart attack. The home my Gramps has lived in for 44 years.

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The house is gone, just a pile of rubble and ash. But also, the house lives on in our memories. So many memories. I can close my eyes any time I want to and I can drive up to that house, which has always reminded me of a grand mansion out of an old movie, and I can park at the bottom of the driveway. In my mind, I can open the white wrought-iron mailbox to check the mail for my Gramps so he doesn’t have to walk down the narrow brick steps that evening to check it himself. I can walk up the steps, under the huge trees, across the cracked and rutted concrete driveway, past the American flag hanging from his porch banister, and up the four steps onto his front porch. I can ring the doorbell or use the iron knocker shaped like a lion’s head — knock, knock, knock! That particular sound that was only made by that one knocker on that one specific front door. In my mind, I can hear Gramps shout, “Com-ing!” and I can peer in the window alongside the door and watch him slowly climb up the steps from the family room, into the marble-floored entryway. Above him are the chandeliers that turn on with automatic timers, suffusing the hallway with golden light, and he flicks on the porch lights, which are blue. He has always had blue porch lights — the only house I’ve known with blue porch lights. In my mind, he unlocks the front door and it squeaks that particular squeak as it opens. I step inside, into his arms for a big hug. The house smells like his cinnamon bread, if he’s baked it that day. Or maybe it smells like the cleaning products the housekeeper used if she came recently. But, underneath all of that, it smells like Gramps’ house. There is no other place in the world that has this exact smell — Gramps, childhood, nostalgia, the past. My grandma. My family. It’s all here, in the air.

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If I walk inside the house in my memory and keep going straight, I’ll enter the kitchen, with the round table and yellow-padded kitchen chairs, the table piled high with newspaper crosswords and papers and photos and cards. I remember sitting down at this table with Gramps on mornings before I left Ventura, heading off for college or grad school, when I would stop by to visit him one more time to say goodbye before I left. It was rare for me to visit him in the morning — normally it was my aunt Kay who would visit him then, walking the neighborhood with her dog Troy, and they would stop by for a cup of coffee (Kay) and a peanut-butter dog biscuit (Troy) and mostly, for a chat and a visit. I remember the soft morning light through the sliding glass door, the scent of Gramps’ coffee in the air, his reading glasses on his nose as he worked on the newspaper’s crossword puzzle. In my mind, I can sit at that table with him still. I can look at the bookshelf piled with my grandma’s cookbooks. The built-in shelves housing figurines and mugs and delicate plates that my great-grandmother painted with beautiful flower patterns. I can stand up and walk across the kitchen, take one of the plastic blue glasses down from the cupboard, and get myself some water from the fridge. I can see the fridge, covered with photos of his grandchildren, a collage of holiday cards sent over the past decade. I can see, still taped to the side, a watercolor I made in eighth grade for him of an Audrey Rose, after my grandma. Taped to one of the cupboards is a drawing of Gramps’s house that my brother did in second grade, the teacher’s handwriting proclaiming “Good job, Greggie!” On the wall, I can see a framed recipe that my cousin Rhett wrote out in elementary school, decorated with glitter glue, for Grampie’s Bread — a favorite of all of us, an Amish recipe that took ten days to make, spiced with cinnamon, dense and cakey. The version Gramps made for us was more of a cake than a bread, studded with chocolate chips. He would make the bread with craisins during the holidays. The starter living in his fridge, ready and waiting for the next batch.

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In my mind, the past can come back to life again. I can stand beside the fridge with my grandma as she laughs and laughs, the freezer dispenser brokenly spewing crushed ice onto the floor. I can follow her out the sliding glass door and down the back steps into the yard, joining the rest of my cousins in the annual Easter egg hunt — hardboiled eggs outside, plastic eggs inside, Gramps dressed as the Easter Bunny. I can follow my cousins up the stairs and into the first room on the right, my dad’s old room — wood-paneled, with hundreds of tennis ball cans lined up on a shelf that trails around the room, still there from his tennis-playing days in junior high and high school — and make my way to the wooden chest at the foot of the bed. I can throw it open, sifting with my cousins through the “dress up clothes” and old Halloween costumes. The one I remember best is the Peter Pan hat. And I can follow my cousins down the blue-carpeted stairs, marching in our costumes in a giggly, giddy parade for the adults. Even though the costumes never changed, opening up that wooden chest always felt magical, filled with possibilities. I can follow Gramps through the attic up onto the roof, where my brother and I help him string up Christmas lights onto the iron latticework. I can laugh with my brother and Gramps at our puppy Gar as he makes a huge mess on the kitchen floor, splashing water as he drinks from his plastic Snoopy dog bowl. We always said that Gramps’ water must taste the best because Gar could never get enough. Even though Gar died eleven years ago, I can close my eyes and see him there still, tail wagging in Gramps’ kitchen.

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I can stand beside Gramps as he chops lettuce for salad at the butcher block kitchen island covered with his Ohio State Buckeyes red towel. I can watch him stir the rice and water in his covered dish, sliding it in the microwave. I always loved his Minute rice and he always laughed and told me how easy I was to please. I can smell the popcorn he used to make when my brother and I would come over on Mondays after school, pouring the popcorn from the bag into the big plastic yellow bowl, shaking Molly McButter over the whole thing. We would sit on the couch with him in the family room and watch cooking shows — Great Chefs of America came on at 4, followed immediately by Great Chefs around the World. Often we would fall asleep curled against Gramps’ belly, my brother on one side, me on the other. Then Mom would come by and pick us up on her way home from work; on Mondays, my dad worked nights at the newspaper. Sometimes she would bring pizza or Chinese takeout and we would stay for dinner, sitting around the table in the family room, the table with the wicker base that was hollow inside, that we used to hide in as small children, all of us grandkids, before we grew too big to fit.

Now that we’re down in the family room, I can wander around a little bit. There’s the closet where Gramps & Auden used to keep toys for us grandkids when we were little. I remember the tiny books I would pick out and read with my grandma on the couch. I remember the teddy bear that talked when you pressed his paw. I remember watching Flipper the Dolphin and Yogi Bear on TV. On the wall, the clock my dad and my Uncle Doug made as teenagers out of a wooden tennis racket. The big fireplace with the painting hanging above it that my brother made, an oil painting of him and his namesake, my Gramps’ dad Ansel. In the corner, Gramps’ ancient exercise bike that he used to ride in the mornings as he watched the news. The wooden coffee table, covered so completely with framed photos of Gramps’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that it looked like it might collapse at any moment from the weight. And the photo of my grandma on her wedding day. That beautiful hoop-skirted princess dress; her radiant smile. I can close my eyes and see it all. And a funny memory: long ago, before the coffee table was covered with framed photos, coming over to see Gramps after a family vacation when we had been away for a week or so. Our dog Gar was so excited to see Gramps that he raced down the stairs into the den, leaped over the couch, skidded across the coffee table, and landed in the fireplace. Gramps, who is infamous in our family for getting quite grouchy if you accidentally pressed the wrong button and messed up his TV remote or flicked the wrong light switch and messed up the automatic timers on his lights, said, “Oh Gar, are you okay honey?” Not mad in the least as Gar licked his face in jubilant greeting.

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Off the family room is the bathroom where, in shock, I changed out of my grubby jeans and tennis shoes into the skirt and sandals my mom brought for me, when Aunt Kymmie threw a surprise bridal shower for me two summers ago at Gramps’ house. Mom drove me up there right after Summer Writing Camp, ostensibly to say hi to Gramps, and I was totally floored when I opened the front door and my friends and family jumped up from the living room and shouted, “SURPRISE!!!” That was the same living room where we hosted my cousin Amanda’s bridal shower, and where we used to have huge Christmas Eve gatherings when my grandma was alive, with a white-flocked tree and an ocean of wrapping paper, and where as kids we loved to pick at the keys of the white grand piano. That was the hushed room, the fancy room, with my grandma’s Waterford and Wedgewood, the trinkets and treasures and figurines. I remember going around the room like it was a museum, my brother and I “helping” Gramps as he cleaned and dusted everything one spring, telling us the story of each object as he placed it back in its spot. I remember the fancy Christmas dinners at the large formal dining room table, and also the meal we had there the day I came back from studying abroad for a summer in Cambridge, England, so jet-lagged I almost fell asleep right at the table. And I remember setting up the big screen and the noisy machine and sitting in chairs with Gramps in the living room, as he clicked though slides from his and Auden’s honeymoon trip to Mt. Rushmore and the early days of their marriage in NYC.

I can walk into the warm, sunlit study filled with dusty hardcover books and papers and mementos. Gramps taking the ancient family Bible down off the shelf, carefully turning the thin pages for us, showing us the family records of births and marriages and deaths stretching back through the generations. I remember the delicate script handwriting, the awed sense of history I felt as I looked at those lists, the lives pared down to columns of names and dates. The comfort, to be part of that line. It made me feel small in a good way.

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Memories spill into each other– too many to record them all here. Memories stretch into memories into more memories. One of my earliest memories: climbing the stairs as a little girl up to Gramps and Auden’s bedroom. Sitting with them on their bed, facing backwards– looking out the window, watching the tree branches sway in the wind.

There were countless childhood afternoons that I took the bus home from school to Gramps’ neighborhood, trudging up the steep steep hill Via Pasito with the other neighborhood kids, our backpacks heavy on our shoulders, thumping against our backs. As we walked up the hill different kids would turn off when they reached their houses. I was always the last one left at the end. Gramps’ house was at the top of the hill. His backyard had an unbelievably gorgeous view of our town, laid out below like a quilted blanket, with the glittering ocean stretching out to the Channel Islands in the distance.

Now, so many of those homes are gone. Destroyed by fickle winds and savage flames.

But also, not destroyed completely. Maya Angelou said, “When you leave home, you take home with you.” These houses live on in all of our hearts. Our love is what made them homes– and what continues to make them so.