Right after Jay and I were married, I moved into the apartment he had rented right before the wedding. To be honest, I don't even remember looking at it beforehand, which I realize now is so out of character for me and shows I really knew nothing about the state of rentals in this part of the country. I'm sure that no matter what, having a place of my own to share with my husband was an odd mix of novelty and luxury—mostly because I'd never lived on my own before being married. I didn't really know what to expect. I remember the first night we were there after being married, and I looked at my purse on the table by the front door. I had the sudden thought of, "Oh, wait. I don't have to leave. I get to stay. I live here."
I was only twenty-one and hardly knew myself, let alone how to keep a home. I remember lamenting the fact we didn't have curtains. I remember making a lot of Hamburger Helper and frozen pizzas. I'm pretty sure we drank a lot of margaritas. I also remember having absolutely nothing to decorate with and absolutely no money to buy anything to decorate with and wondering how it always seemed like other newlyweds had it all figured out and I totally didn't.
The only neighbor we ever talked to was a sweet old woman with several cats and a strong European accent. She would accept our mail while Jay and I were at work and leave tiny notes on our door to let us know when we had a package. She always called me Kim, but I never corrected her because it kind of warmed my heart.
The apartment was a fair size for a one-bedroom, but it was old. The roof leaked, the air conditioner didn't work well, every wall and cabinet was painted with layers of thick, white paint. We had to share a garage with our neighbor, and although the parking was gated and our garage was locked, Jay's car was broken into and all his CDs were stolen. Although the actual apartments were gated, people would always wedge pieces of wood or paper into the gate so that it was never actually secure. Parking was outrageous, and there were times I'd have to drive around the block for a solid 20 minutes before finding a spot. I worked very late or very early, and had to walk in the dark to my car, which was often parked a block away and next to a vacant lot or liquor store. Suffice to say, it was bad news bears.
At a certain point, we were just ready to leave. Our roof leaked continually every time it rained (all over our fancy thrift store couches), our rent was raised twice in a little over a year, the neighborhood wasn't the best. We were making slightly more money after I switched jobs, and that was when we found the duplex.
We were in the duplex for more than eight years, and I still absolutely love that place. It was perfect in so many ways. It was small (still a one-bedroom) but had space for everything we needed. It had big windows, new carpet, granite countertops, and a tiny nook between the back door and our kitchen that made me happy. It was right on a busy street that had constant traffic, but when we were inside it felt safe and cozy and just like home.
I realize only now that we were so, so lucky with our neighbors. There was only one person who lived next to us for a short time that would smoke in his bathroom (we could smell the smoke) and talk loudly on his phone late at night just a few feet from our bedroom window (on speakerphone, nonetheless), but every other neighbor we had was rather quiet and normal and decent. Not to mention that for the majority of the time we lived there, our landlord lived in the duplex next to us. Soon after moving in, I added his number into my phone as Hunky Fireman Landlord, which I realize now was highly inappropriate, but was also highly accurate, so I'm willing to let it slide.
So many big moments happened while we lived in that duplex. We celebrated anniversaries and job changes. We made big purchases and had big arguments. I learned to be a better cook and Jay learned to be a better listener. We brought home our first daughter and survived the first days, weeks, months, and years of parenthood. I became a stay at home mom, Jay switched careers, we celebrated many birthdays and Christmas mornings. We found out we were expecting our second child, and that's when we realized that we had possibly outgrown our beloved rental. I remember crying my eyes out one night, worried that there was no way we could afford a decent two-bedroom apartment in a decent neighborhood. Jay started Uber driving a couple nights a week to make extra money. I lost years of my life running around city after city, looking at rental after rental, trying to find something that would work for us.
When I was nearly 9 months pregnant, I found an apartment in our price range that had two large bedrooms and was in what looked to be a friendly neighborhood. We moved in, and during the two weeks before I went into labor, I hastily unpacked boxes and decorated the walls and hung curtains and grew acquainted with our new surroundings.
It wasn't long before we realized why rent was so inexpensive for this particular apartment. Many of the neighbors were loud and often dreadful. Some mornings, we would wake up to see a fresh display of graffiti on the walls of the businesses behind our building. When I'd take the girls to play in a small grassy area near our apartment, we'd have to look out for glass bottles and lighters and dog poop and empty packaging for "medical" marijuana. Our garage lock was cut off in the middle of the day while we were out at lunch one Saturday, and we're grateful to have returned before anything was taken.
Almost daily, I'd hear one neighbor or another screaming at someone. They'd curse loudly at each other and smoke on their porches and I'd have to close the windows and find somewhere to take the girls where I hoped they wouldn't hear it. Front steps would be littered with beer cans and cigarette butts. One neighbor would always stand outside smoking after work, and he'd prefer to do this ritual shirtless. He was always nice, as were his wife and daughter, but when someone's stomach tattoos are staring me in the face day after day, I'm not sure I can act casual anymore.
The biggest struggle was with one specific neighbor, who I could possibly write an entire memoir on, but overall it breaks my heart to dwell on here. She is around my age and struggles with alcohol. When she was sober, it always caught me by surprise because she seemed like a completely different person. Someone I would be friends with, even. She was sweet with the girls and would sometimes bring gifts for Eisley. But the majority of the time, she drank.
She'd knock on our door at all hours and want to talk. She didn't have boundaries, and that combined with the drinking ended up being more than I could bear at one point. I have so many stories that are bizarre and frustrating (and sometimes scary) from the past year and a half of being her neighbor, but this doesn't seem to be the place to share those things in detail. But it did reach a point where she was pounding on our door late at night and my anxiety was higher than I think it has ever been in my entire life. I didn't feel safe in my own home. I was furious over what my daughters had witnessed due to her lifestyle (we couldn't leave the apartment without passing her door and there were countless times when she came to our door completely belligerent when the girls were present). I was crying and shaking and told Jay that I just couldn't do it anymore. I didn't know where we were going to go, but we couldn't stay there. That's when he said that maybe it was time for us to think about buying.
Five months later, we found our home. It feels like a miracle, and maybe it is. It was the only place we even considered putting an offer on, and it was so perfect that we thought there would be no chance we'd actually get it. But we did. We got it.
It's beautiful. It's a townhome, so it has two stories and feels like an actual house. It has a fireplace, an attached two-car garage, room for a washer and dryer (for the first time in my adult life!), laminate floors, a dishwasher, two big bedrooms, a front area for the girls to play with room for a garden, and is in a quiet (quiet!), gated community. I'll share more later, but the main point is that it was completely and utterly worth the wait. We haven't lived here long, but I love it more every single day. Living here feels like such a gift. A complete answer to prayer. I keep having moments where I can't believe we're actually living here. It's a little surreal being somewhere that I think we'd be happy staying for a long time.
So, here we are now. Happily so.