Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My First Apartment

During 1989 and 1990, my life had undergone a lot of changes, most of which surrounded Jenny Wren and The Oracle. Without going into all of the gory details, Jenny’s illness and death wreaked havoc on what was left of my parental home. It’s not that I didn’t expect her passing to be so difficult on our family, but the way paths we took to cope with it changed my relationship with my mother and stepfather unexpected, difficult ways.

It was during Jenny’s illness that my mother began to resent The Oracle’s presence in my life. Her resentment turned into venomous hatred after Jenny’s death, partly because I was not at home 24/7 to help her grieve. I think the other reason was that The Oracle was a handy place to vent her anger and pain. What she didn’t understand was that The Oracle was a huge source of support and comfort for me. Maybe she felt that she was supposed to hold that role. I don’t know. It’s too late to ask her.

What matters in this tale is that my life at home became one of perpetual argument, and when you’re invertebrate, arguing with people you love creates an endless ball of stress and misery in your guts. On one side was Mom, finding fault with The Oracle’s every move and harping at me about them. As soon as she knew he was picking me up to go somewhere, the nitpicking and squabbles would start and continue until he arrived. Even after we married the nitpicking remained. We were probably married seven or eight years before she finally opened her eyes and noticed that I married an outstanding person.

The well-mannered Oracle always came to the door and greeted Mom and John, my former stepdad, even though he knew exactly how they felt about him. He knew that honking the horn as I ran out the door would create more friction, so he endured the glares and insincere pleasantries and we'd skedaddle out of there as quickly as possible. When he walked in, he'd take one look at me and know that I’d been getting verbally battered until he arrived.

We’d get in the car, and another argument would ensue surrounding my inability to stand up to Mom as well as his desire to "have it out" with her once and for all. I can see now that I should’ve let them go and have their confrontation. Back then, in my near-constant need to keep everyone happy, I felt such a confrontation was a recipe for disaster.

Instead, my cowardly conflict-avoiding nature took the hard way as usual. Running away seemed much easier, so I decided to move out. It didn’t help that, for other unrelated reasons, I had this goofy timeline in my head that I should be moved out and supporting myself by the age of 23 (Why 23? Why is a bluebird blue?) I didn't let on about my intentions, but quietly began looking for a place of my own.

A couple weeks before Jenny’s passing, my friend SD and her husband had recently moved westward and vacated their cute little apartment not far from my home. It was the perfect one-person place, consisting of the second floor of a single-family home on a quiet little street. The first-floor tenants were a married couple who hadn’t yet started their eventual family. I called the owner and the apartment was still available. The only utilities I had to pay were my phone and electricity. Water and heat were included. I gleefully told the lady I wanted the apartment, and in May I moved in.

I remember the day I signed my lease. I stood there in the apartment with my landlady going over what seemed like reams of paper I had to sign. It was several sheets of faintly-inked, hard-to-read dot-matrix printouts detailing The Rules. There were so many sheets it was nearly like closing on a house.

First was the standard stationery-store lease form which was easy enough, but then I had to initial several pages of addenda outlining bunches of picayune rules. No pets, not even birds or fish. No fresh Christmas trees. No opening the windows after October 1st because that’s when they switched the heat on. If they caught you with your windows open, even if it was 75 degrees outside, you paid that month’s oil bill. They had just replaced the plastic liner thing around the shower and also replaced the living room carpet with a butt-ugly multicolored remnant, and I remember a bunch of rules pertaining to use and care of these items and repercussions for damaging them.

Really, that was a clue as to what sort of people they were to deal with.

Yeah, whatever. I signed and initialed and geared myself for moving in.

When I broke the news to my mother, she just about blew a gasket. Much of that conversation has been erased from memory, but I remember how unpleasant it was.

The place consisted of four rooms. At the top of the stairs you immediately entered the apartment. The kitchen was to the left, the bathroom to the right. Bedroom was straight ahead, across from the landing, and the living room was on the other side of the kitchen, sharing a wall with the bedroom. Sadly, I have no pictures of that apartment. It was small, but it was really was cute.

This is getting really long, so I'll continue this another day.

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