My first apartment has been on my mind a lot lately. And there’s definitely a story in it.
Welome to the summer of 2003. Gas hit the unheard of all time high of $1.72 a gallon. Girls were running around in low rise jeans, and crop tops so their thongs could peek out and be seen over the top of their pants. 50 Cent was #1 on the Billboard Charts, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was just getting it’s start. I was a fan of none of this. For me, this was almost half a lifetime ago, so pardon the nostalgia in my tone.
I was freshly graduated from high school, and fresh from my first real heart break. During my senior year I had moved out of my Dad’s, to my mom’s, to my fiances home. There’s a story in all of that as well, but we’ll save that for another time. Suffice to say, first loves are rare to last, and by graduation we had gone our seperate ways. A mutual friend found herself with a double wide trailer when her mother moved West, and it was a four bedroom. So a bunch of us moved in there. Three couples and single old me. I was on my way up in life, had secured my job as second shift supervisor at the nursing home I had been working at on weekends during school, and could definitely afford to actually have bills. So I moved in. But this friend soon found that she wanted to go West as well, and unloaded the trailer. She also signed her car over to me, so now I had a car and not a home.
Actually, I didn’t have my license. So it was signed over to a family friend. He knew I’d be driving illegally so I’m not sure why he agreed, but I guess that’s neither here nor there anymore.
Anyway, I couldnt live in that shitty little car, so I scoured the newspaper, looking for something affordable and not far from work.
“No lease! Weekly payments! Furnished studio apartment!”
That is absolutely unheard of, even in a small town in the early 2000’s. I definitey called the number and set an appointment to go and tour though.
The address was still in Adrian, but on a road that I had never heard of. Rare since I had been born there and knew the town very well, having spent a good portion of my life walking it. Academy Road. In 2003 Smartphones were just coming out and the technology was not fantastic I’m sure. I can’t say for sure because I know it was definitely something out of my price range at that time, and therefore not something that I had looked at in great detail. Google Maps didn’t exist, and navigation systems were only a few years old and not always accurate, so I had a friend give me directions and found myself in front of a two story brick house surrounded by corn fields on a dirt road. There was a large front yard with some trees blocking the view from the road and a deformed looking bush on the left side of the house, The driveway circled around to the back. A fiftyish year old looking man was waiting out front and I climbed cautiously from what I referred to as my little ghetto grocery getter. I could hear my dad in my head telling me to leave, and I could invision the newspaper story in the Telegram about the hellacious murder of the promising 18 year old as I walked toward him to introduce myself. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and keyed the front entry door. Unfortunately I cannot remember his name, now almost 15 years later.
The ancient door creaked open and we walked into a dimly lit, narrow hallway with steps that leaned to the right just a little. He huffed and puffed up the narrow stairwell, me following behind hoping that I wouldn’t have to try and catch the heavyset man should he fall or have a heart attack. I was in the business of lifting elderly people heavier than I myself was, all 130lbs and five foot two of me. But catching this guy if he fell would definitely kill me. Maybe that would be the Telegram headline. “Young woman dies when man falls on her in freak accident.” He then keyed the apartment door, explaining that the building had been converted from a farm house to four apartments. I would have two neighbors down stairs and one across the hall. All worked a lot of hours and were barely home, and I thought how perfect that was because I myself was pulling 60 hour work weeks. No low rise jeans for me, I lived in my scrubs. He walked into the unit and stepped aside so that I could walk in as well. I could take most of it in with a glance.
To the left of the door was a full size mattress on a metal bedframe, no headboard. There was a window just above the bed. I knew nothing of bed bugs, so I thought it was awesome that there was a bed. There was a small table at the foot of the bed and a large ancient looking dresser next to the door. I now know that the heater was part of a boiler system, but back then I was just like holy shit, how old is this place to have that kind of heater?! It was large and painted a dark brown and hid the majority of the window. Puke green curtains covered the rest of the window, hiding the sun and keeping the heat out from the mid summer day. There was a small alcove for storage, and a hole in the wall with a matching puke green curtain over it. When you pulled the curtain back, there was a space that functioned as a closet. It was a perfect rectangle and very deep, so you could store things behind the clothes that you could hang from the tension rod placed inside.
To the right was a space as large as the living/bedroom area. There was a small stove directly across from the door, and a two seater kitchen table with two chairs, placed underneath a cute little window over looking the deformed bush with a good sized window sill. A rusty fire ladder was attached to the brick outside the window. I knew that the window sill is where my stereo could sit, and I would die if there was a fire because that ladder looked like a stiff breeze would make it crumble. Behind the table was what could only be a shower. I pulled back the curtain to find a half bathtub with a shower head attached to the faucet, and mounted to the wall. Next to the mini tub was a ninteen fifties fridge. Kid you not, it had the pull down handle and the ice box in the top. So like if I was thirsty while I was in the shower I could just reach over and get a drink. Or some ice cream. Why not?
Moving beyond the fridge was a set of dark wood bifold doors that hid the toilet and bathroom sink. Weird, but cool idea. On the opposite wall from the window and table was a kitchen counter and sink, microwave included, but no upper cabinets.
And everything appeared to be leaning into the middle of the apartment. Shocking the older gentleman, I stood in the center of the small space and jumped up and down several times. Nothing moved or sounded weak. The entire space was covered with horrible brownish yellow tile, the walls were an off white paneling that was yellowing, and the entire place reeked of old people. I glanced in the cupboards, and found food inside.
“Sir? There’s food in here?”
“Is it still good?” he answered. I looked at the dates on the canned goods and informed him it was. “Move in special. Comes with food, too.” he joked. Had they even cleaned it. . . ? It looked clean. Weird. But also cool.
“$40 a week,” the landlord informed me.
“I’m paid biweekly, could I do every two weeks?”
“Two weeks rent since you’ll be paying biweekly.”
“I’ll take it.”
So I signed a two week lease, gave him $160, and moved my clothes, toiletries, TV that I never watched, and stereo into this weird little place. To hell with it. I’d only be sleeping and showering here. I hung up my scrubs, Dad gave me a couple iron skillets as well as a fan for the little window over the table, and I shopped the dollar store for other necessary items. I found woven rugs to cover the ugly flooring, and dug out my incense and bought some black cherry candles to cover up the old people smell that seemed to ooze from the walls. Shortly after I became a consultant for Party Lite, which if you recall was the Tupperware of candles back then. I had a never ending supply of delicious smells and pretty candle holders to dress up the place. Having successfully covered the visual ugly and the weird odors, I felt comfortable calling this place home and was insanely proud of the shitty weird little place.
My first place! I didn’t care that if my brother came over that I had to step outside while he showered. I didn’t care that the first time I fried hamburgers that all the grease pooled to the left of the pan, or that the landlord forgot to mention the 4am train that woke me up regularly. I didnt even care that I had to drive miles down the dirt road to another rental he had to take out my garbage. And when the makeshift showerhead bracket broke off the wall, I gladly held the showerhead to wash my hair every day. I was hardly there but when I was, I annoyed my neighbors with my Linkin Park on repeat while I wrote my angry break up poetry in the little bit of off time I had. I chopped off my hair and dyed it black for the first time, buying colored gel to tint the ends from Hot Topic. I started to dabble in cooking, and spent my nights that I wasn’t working driving somewhere, anywhere. I was almost always in motion. I never saw my downstairs neighbors the entire three months I lived there. My upstairs neighbor drove a beautiful black little BMW and I wondered why if he could afford that car, did he live here? I ran into him once and found out he was a doctor of some sort who basiclly lived at work. He just needed a quiet place to sleep when he could, and lucky for him we were rarely home at the same time. As I said I was working sixty plus hour work weeks. I’d work a double, go hang out with friends, come home at 1am, sleep a few hours and do it again, sometimes 6 days a week. And if I wasn’t at work I was in Hillsdale or a friends house. I was making way more money than necessary, and could afford a better place. But why?
I have to say, that was some of the best times of my life.
As I said, I was fresh from my first heart break and trying to fill the void. I was seeing several people. None of them would stick around because I wouldn’t sleep with them. But I did have one guy buy me a crockpot as a house warming gift with the promise that I would cook for him – I never did. I finally gave up on dating and became content with being alone. It was easier. Every guy wanted something, be it sex or like the guy mentioned above, some one to cook for him. Mostly they wanted my time, and I was too happy making money and driving illegally (I never did get my license and got pulled over twice during that time, somehow avoiding tickets) and getting to know my dad better since we didn’t have to live together anymore. I had a nice little stereo installed into my little ghetto grocery getter, paid for dad and I to go to see George Carlin live, took brother to the movies regularly, made my bills – the landlord knocked on my door every other Friday morning and I handed him $80 cash while he sat on the top step and wrote me a receipt – and I was content with my life.
I moved out at the end of the summer to move in with another friend. That was the first and only time I ever spent truly alone. I met Matt’s dad shortly after and with in a year I was pregnant with Matt. Three months of my life I have lived in a place by myself, no roommates or family or kids or significant other, and there was a lot of self discovery going on. I can’t begin to describe how awesome it was. I know that some day the kids will be grown and I will most likely live alone again. But it will be lonely because I have known a home with the love of children in it. I will never have anything like those three months again. And I couldn’t recommend a shitty cheap little apartment more to anyone. Everyone needs that time in their life. It makes you appreciate everything so much more.
Images courtesy of Curbsideclassic.com (that thing really is a classic, I guess!) And antiqueappliances.com. Google Earth is a beautiful thing too because the weather was too shitty today to get a good picture of my first home.