The night we moved into the apartment on Bonito, we were already running behind. I was to leave the next morning on a plane for Michigan, to visit family, and we didn't leave our old home in Riverside until long after we had meant to. I left my job that day, and we cashed my last check, thinking this was it, the start of our final ascent toward the top.
I think often of that night, trying to move things into the apartment without waking up our new neighbors. (I'm sure we failed.) Using a cart, we struggled to push a refrigerator upstairs, before it very nearly slipped and crushed me, and we decided we were better off leaving it on the landing outside. We left notes for our neighbors to apologize for the refrigerator at their doors. We had taken on a task too big for just us. In the morning, my wife would hire some movers to help us get everything inside, and we would later swear never to move again without them.
In a way, the act of moving to Long Beach was its own kind of mania, a task too big for us. We just didn't know it yet. Without the rigid structure of a 40-hour-a-week job, I started to disintegrate. Within the confines of her own, forced to make enough for both of us to live (since I was "freelancing" but not really doing anything about it, short of a contract position I had taken on that would soon expire), my wife started to sharpen. We had always been boundary-less, to the degree that I sometimes didn't know where I ended and she began. Now, she was all boundaries, and I was melting, candle like, into the carpet.
We didn't move in. We waited for something to happen. Boxes sat, unpacked. Trash collected. The apartment, this cheap, dream apartment by the beach we had found, became something else, something sinister.
Our houses become the most intimate outward expressions of ourselves. Like Facebook, they're a way for us to share the best things about ourselves and only the best things. But we somehow didn't know how to do that. We entertained a couple of times, let a friend stay with us once. But slowly, slowly, the malaise we never quite shook off infected the apartment in its totality. Soon, we were living in a dark, musty place, haunted by our former selves.
I had dreams of getting to know our neighbors, which never really happened. We talked about painting the apartment, or installing hardwood floors, or doing something to make it ours, but it never happened. We would go out into the world and look like these incredibly competent adults with a tremendous marriage, and we would come home, and it would be 2008 again, and everything would be washing out to sea.
A friend of mine described her breakup with her boyfriend to me like this. They had moved from apartment to apartment, each one bigger than the last, and the distance between them kept growing to fill that space. She hadn't counted on the part where your college love transitions to your young 20s love, on the part where there are some bonds that snap once they're tested. (She is, now, happily married. Just to somebody else. He lives overseas and liked the announcement of her marriage on Facebook.)
This is how I feel about the place I still live. For all that Libby and I have accomplished in the last several years, for all that we've gone from people who should not have succeeded to people who did, we still walk, every night, into the ruins of our past. We made it through that time without our marriage falling apart, though lord knows both of us tried to burn it to the ground, but we still have to sleep amid the cobwebby remnants of those awful, awful months.
If our apartment is a manifestation of ourselves, then this one is saying that we're still haunted, by piles of boxes, and small mounds of trash; by cat hair and beautiful books now rife with silverfish; by pieces of who we were and parts of who we thought we might be. I am not that person anymore, and she is not either, but they still lurk, waiting for us to fall into their arms and have our blood sucked dry.
So we're moving. Two bedrooms. Two baths. Our first grown-up apartment. We're not expecting yet, but this is probably where our first child will spend the first few years of her life. It's where she'll flourish as a reporter and where I'll slowly build this new thing that has me so excited.
The thing I realize now, though, is that this isn't our first grown-up apartment because it's the first with enough space and modernities to really live. No. That could have been Long Beach. Hell, that could have been Riverside (about which more some other time). But we stepped into both of those places and filled them with a depression that breathed sulfur. These beautiful rooms sagged around the edges, because we had been in them, and even now, we don't know how to escape them.
Those could have been our first grown-up apartments. This one is instead. But only because we've finally, somehow, grown up.
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