I originally wrote this post in 2017. Here it is 2021 and it’s still a story that I enjoy relating to people. My first home was a unique place, and I was able to start to define who I was and the path I wanted to go down without the judgements and opinions of others pushing and pulling me in the directions they wanted me to take.
I don’t know what spurred my sudden interest to explore places from my past, but I found myself driving down the familiar washboard dirt road that led to my first home early one Saturday morning. I remembered driving it in the vehicle I dubbed my little ghetto grocery getter almost twenty years ago, and now I navigated Scarlett around the larger potholes while slowing her speed so the washboard would jar me a little less; I drove the entire stretch of road that made up my world way back when, taking it all in, remembering different things and yet still seeing things with fresh eyes. I remembered almost crashing my friends Buick into the guardrail by the river one rainy afternoon, but I didn’t remember the beauty of the trees reflected in the river’s waters. I remembered having to drive to take my garbage to the dumpster, but I didn’t remember the way the forest had overhung the road, creating a space dark enough for my headlights to immediately kick on. I knew that the houses had always been there, but I didn’t remember the beauty of their gardens or how they appeared so suddenly and without warning.
It was an interesting little side trip, and I stopped my car to take pictures so I could rewrite and add them to this post. I pulled into the driveway of my long-ago home and quickly snapped a photo with my phone and then backed out, hoping that no one would call the cops on the crazy lady in the little red Buick. I later sat and edited the photos and marveled at how much changes, yet how much stays the same.
Below is an account of my impressions of that time and the apartment on Academy Road.
Welcome 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. 50 Cent was #1 on the Billboard Charts, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was just getting its start. Looking back I’m a little nostalgic; while living through that era I wasn’t super impressed or interested in much of it – I had one goal, and that was moving up in life.
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, and then to my fiancés home. There’s a story in all of that as well, but we’ll save that for another time. Suffice to say, the relationship didn’t last, and by graduation we had gone our separate ways. A mutual friend found herself with a four-bedroom mobile home when her mother moved out of state, so a bunch of us moved in there – three couples and single old me. I was busy navigating life and literally just slept there. I had secured my job as second shift supervisor at the nursing home I had been working at and was home only long enough to wash laundry, shower and sleep. It wasn’t long before my friend decided she wanted to follow her mom though, and the home was put up for sale. She also signed her car over to me, which was wonderful. Except now I had a car and not a home.
I scoured the newspaper for an apartment, looking for something affordable and not far from work.
“No lease! Weekly payments! Furnished studio apartment!”
That was absolutely unheard of, even in a small town in the early 2000’s. I figured it was a scam or too good to be true, but I still called the number and set an appointment to go and tour the next day.
The address was still in Adrian, but on a road that I had never heard of – Academy Road. A street name I wasn’t familiar with was a rare occurrence since I had been born there and knew the town very well, having spent a good portion of my childhood there. 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. This explained why I wasn’t familiar with the location – it was in BFE. There was a large front yard with some trees blocking the view from the road and an unkept 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 when I pulled in. I climbed cautiously from my little vehicle. The place seemed a prime location for a horror movie. I walked forward to introduce myself, and I could hear my dad in my head telling me to leave. I could envision the newspaper story in the Telegram about the hellacious murder of the promising 18-year-old. The man shook my hand, introduced himself, and opened the front entry door.
The ancient door creaked open. 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. Catching this guy if he fell would likely kill me, though. Maybe that would be the Telegram headline; “Young woman dies when man falls on her in freak accident.” He did in fact make it to the top of the stairs however and opened the apartment door. He explained that the building had been converted from a farmhouse to four apartments – I would have two neighbors downstairs and one across the hall. All worked a lot 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 had yet to even hear of bed bugs, so instead of feeling unsure about the situation, 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 much 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. Wood paneling finished off the room, giving it a dark and dated feel.
To the right was a space just a little smaller than 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 overlooking the deformed bush with a good-sized windowsill. A rusty fire ladder was attached to the brick outside the window. I knew that the windowsill 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 1950s refrigerator. Kid you not, it had the pull-down handle and the ice box in the top and everything. 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. I questioned the stability of the place, stood reluctantly in the center of the apartment and debated jumping up and down to get a reaction out of the man. Deciding against it, I glanced around again, weighing my options. The entire kitchen space was covered with horrible brownish yellow tile, the walls were an off-white (or yellowing) paneling, 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. . .?
I decided the apartment would serve it’s purpose.
“How much is the rent?” I asked him.
“$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, and stereo into this weird little place. To hell with it. I would 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 a TV that I would never watch. 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 moving in I became a consultant for Party Lite, which many people may 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 apartment! I didn’t care that the first time I fried hamburgers that all the grease pooled to the left of the pan – in the direction of the slant in the apartment – or that the landlord forgot to mention the 4am train that woke me up regularly. I didn’t 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 by playing Linkin Park and Michelle Branch 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 different colored gels 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 neighbor across the hall 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 basically 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. I would 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 friend’s 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 tried dating for a while but gave it up and became content with being alone. It was easier. Every guy wanted something, mostly sex, occasionally someone to cook for them. Mostly they wanted my time, and I was too happy making money and being on the go. I had a nice little stereo installed into my little ghetto grocery getter, paid for dad and myself to go to see George Carlin live, took brother to the movies regularly, made my bills – the landlord knocked on my door every other Saturday 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 within a year I was pregnant. 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 cannot begin to describe how awesome it was. I know that someday 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 could not recommend a shitty cheap little apartment more to anyone. Everyone needs that time in their life. It makes you appreciate everything so much more.
You have to start somewhere.
Highlights from my side trip, and the place I called home all those years ago.