Last week, a friend in Charlotte, who had been on his regular bike ride through my old neighborhood, texted me the photo at left: the duplex where I'd lived for three years, my first rental, about to be bulldozed. I think it's been empty since I moved out nearly two years ago.
In honor (and memory...) of my first cozy home, here are a couple of reflections on it from my memoir manuscript. Even when it's no longer standing, I'll always thankfully recall my days at 3001.
I pulled into my gravel driveway, came up the side door stairs and unlocked the door into my kitchen. One of my favorite feelings was to be in my small house alone at night. In the darkness, I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, where I could glimpse nearly every square foot: the living room led into a small hallway with doors to my bedroom, office, and bathroom.
I was only a renter, but my landlord lived in Colorado, so the place deeply felt like mine. I busted with pride when friends came to stay. “It’s so cozy,” they would marvel, no cookie cutter apartment – a one of a kind 1940s duplex with fresh hardwood floors and walls the color of pumpkin pie. And I loved sharing it with Sean on many evenings and nearly every weekend. Though he rented a house in Davidson with a roommate, my duplex had quickly become our home base.
Standing in the house’s core, I became part of it, its anchor. Just like my bedroom at Mom and Dad’s, it was full of my touches – and yet this felt different. I had brought it all into being. My salary allowed me to live here, to call it mine. The bed I slept in was the first I’d bought with my own money. So were the yellow linen curtains for the picture window, and the wooden island that sat in the kitchen corner. My photographs dotted every wall, and my bookshelves held my literary life, with keepsakes and postcards from loved ones notched between novels.
I had not built the brick foundation, but I had built my own life within it.
After a long day of making my house less and less mine, my parents went to sleep at my cousins’ house and Sean and I dragged an air mattress into the duplex’s bare living room. Though we’d kept our separate homes throughout these four years, in a way the duplex was the first home we shared together. In this crammed but cozy kitchen, he carefully poured, I hurriedly spilled, I checked the recipe every ten seconds, he threw it aside after one glance. We had dumped our laundry into the same washer, tended two cactus plants from my late great-uncle’s garden, walked to Freedom Park. His pillow, TV set and coffee table were here. So were his toothbrush and his LSU beer koozie, and a wall calendar with polar bear photos that we changed every month like it was the Changing of the Guard. We’d gazed out the picture window to the bustling greenway and exclaimed over dogs trotting past, wishing for every one of them. We’d talked when the words flowed fresh and joyous, and other times when they sputtered, stilted and stark.
In this space we had begun to begin our life.
The next morning, we packed and trashed the little things that seemed to take up the most space: cleaning supplies from under the sink, containers of year-old frozen bean soup, half-empty bottles of travel size shampoo, the Christmas lights I left hanging year-round because I was too lazy to take them down.
When the house was empty and my mother had diligently mopped each room’s hardwood floor so it glistened, I pulled down the shades in the sunny little kitchen for the last time and shut the door. Dad had gunned the brimming U-Haul to warm it up.
I pulled out of my gravel driveway, such a reflex now that I bypassed the tree trunk at the corner like it didn’t exist. If I turned right I would go to the church or Trader Joe’s. If I turned left it would be the YWCA or the Roasting Company or Rite Aid. In either direction it was mindless, the feel of the wheel moving in my palms, the glance backwards, the quick jerk from Reverse into Drive, always with the view of my small redbrick duplex with yellow curtains in my rearview mirror.
Today, the big picture window was empty and clear; the curtains that matched the daisies Sean had brought me the night we first kissed were packed in an abyss of boxes.