Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Old Apartment

To oversimplify, for my generation, there are four kinds of people in their twenties.

There are the adventurers who never stay in one place for too long and whose itineraries for the decade include multiple continents, hostels, and odd jobs.

There’s the group that can’t seem to wait to get into their thirties or forties--the folks who marry straight out of college or sooner and spend the decade to follow on the renovation of their fixer-upper starter home and wearily keeping track of toddlers.

There’s the group that stays or moves back home to save money, take care of someone who needs it, or enjoy mom’s cooking for a few more years.

And then there’s my classification: the apartment dweller. The apartment dweller may incorporate elements of a variety of the other kinds of folks outlined above, and indeed, I like to think the group is characterized by a combination of the independence of moving out on one’s own with the dependence on still having someone else to call to make repairs; the stability of getting a lease (and presumably a job to pay the rent) with the fluidity that comes with paying month-to-month to maintain the option open to move elsewhere without selling off property.

I got my first apartment my senior year of college at Geneseo, living with a friend I’d made freshman year and continued to work with on the college newspaper. I think we actually saw each other more in the newspaper office than at home, such were the schedules we kept, but it was nonetheless fun to have a buddy to wander home with after a Saturday night of debauchery, and co-host for parties. Heck, she even had a boyfriend who I considered one of my closest friends from college, and I got the benefit of seeing him a few times a month, two years after he had graduated.

After college, I moved two hours east to Syracuse where I managed a dorm and lived in a one bedroom apartment, ostensibly converted from what was once two or three dorm rooms’ space. It was the first place where I had ever lived alone for more than a season. I lived there at a point in my life when I wasn’t sure what that should mean and I was limited in what I could really do within a college dorm infrastructure, and thus didn’t do much of anything to make the space my own. Ironically, when my girlfriend at the time moved in with me for my second year, she complained that the place already too much mine, and she felt as though she were fitting her things around the space that I had already made a home. Thus, I suppose neither of us really settled there.

The feeling of impermanence in my Syracuse apartment only intensified when I went back to visit Geneseo. I recall returning to Syracuse after Alumni Weekend, with a terribly backward feeling: that I was driving in the wrong direction. I remembered all the weekend trips to see my girlfriend in Syracuse the year before, and how driving back to college felt like coming home. That as good as those weekend visits were, Geneseo was where I belonged. I got the sensation that my life was in Syracuse was borderline crippling.

I moved to Baltimore. My first apartment fell in a suburb twenty to thirty minutes removed from anything cool, but I had a balcony and central air and only one mouse sighting. The place was nice enough, but its defining factor for me may always be the woman downstairs who took to banging a broomstick when I made too much noise--at first, perhaps justifiably when I assembled furniture and lifted weights. Later, when I so much as paced the floor or had company over and more than one of us laughed at a time.

So I moved to Hampden--a hipper neighborhood, within the Baltimore city limits. I took over the lease and several pieces of furniture from a friend. The place became my own. Not without it’s challenges--an alternately corrupt or disorganized landlord that would cash my rent checks then threaten me with eviction for owing back rent. Mice who kept me from leaving any food unattended, and the cockroaches that surfaced each spring. But just the same, the bedroom came to feel like a natural place for me to rest. The couch became a workplace where I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of fiction, reviews of a cappella shows, and blog entries. In that kitchen, I dabbled with cooking--nothing advanced, but making the subtle transition from cooking college-style to cooking more like an adult bachelor (less Ramen and fewer frozen burritos; more chicken breasts and pasta and salads).

I am a planner. Though I lived in that Hampden apartment for over four and a half years, for about three of them I had a fairly concrete idea of when I would be moving, if not necessarily where (the process of applying to and hearing back from MFA programs is worth a post or two of its own). Thus, I faced the dissonance of living in a space longer than I had anywhere since my childhood home, but just the same knowing it was all ephemeral. That the apartment would never be home.

Just the same, when I started the process of packing--which, if we’re going to be honest, was at least half a process of separating books into the pile I would donate versus the ones I would take with me--I felt a strange sensation, not of regret or sorrow per se, but still a moment when my breath caught in my throat, staring at bare walls and scattered boxes, when I thought this place where I had existed and kept all of my things and come back to workday after workday, after classes, and at the end of every vacation and business trip--that this place would never be mine again.

And in that moment when it was hard, and when I felt soft, I felt at once certain that the place itself was worthwhile. That the old apartment represented an important time in my life and that, to the extent an apartment dweller can have a true home, that one bedroom in Hampden would always be a part of mine.

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