In Celtic spirituality, there is something holy or magical about those in-between places: dawn, dusk, the shore and its mixture of water and land. But I find this neither-here-nor-there period really unsettling. The gloaming.
The time between what was and what is next can rattle a person. Suddenly what was seems so safe and survivable, whereas the future is one big Riddler walking around with a question mark on its chest, taunting you from behind his mask.
It has been a year of question marks for most people, and we’re no different. Some of us have the same questions (What will 2020 bring next? Will any of us survive? Do you really have to wipe your groceries down?) And then there are those questions that are unique to each of us. Z and I have had a series of them, as I mentioned in the last blog, but the most recent has been since we got the news that our beloved pre-war brick apartment building was maybe structurally unsound and the management wanted us out quickly. What next?
This is the apartment where Z and I got our act together and moved friendship to a new frontier. This is our newlywed home full of our hopes and dreams, a lot of wedding gifts, too many books, and the trousseau I created for myself, which instead of clothing suitable to a married woman and linens suitable to dinner parties was a host of lovely big cherry furniture handmade by the Amish in both Shaker and Sheraton styles.
I’ve often tried to avoid those Riddler surprises. In my early 30s, I decided I was ready to settle down, even though I didn’t know with whom yet, and I also knew that I have a certain aesthetic I didn’t want questioned. My solution was to invest in the furniture I knew I wanted before any partner could contradict me and announce we would be a mid-century modern family or, horrors, one constructed of chrome and glass. I had a couple of friends whose husbands were inordinately invested in how the house was decorated and wrested control of said aesthetic from their wives, and I knew I couldn’t let that happen to me. (Nothing like getting the decorating cart before the marital horse.) My thinking was if I already had the furniture then most men would be glad they had a drawer in which to put their socks and relieved they had no decisions to make in that regard and no financial obligation creating a couple decorating style.
Possibly I should have been investing more of this scheming into career plans instead of in service to a life I might well not have had. But the heart wants what the heart wants and what I wanted was a Tom Seely door-and drawer end table.
Had I known I was going to spend my later adult life like my early childhood— in apartments, traveling, visiting friends and spending a week here, a week there—I might have used that money more wisely. Banked it. Traveled more. Bought easily movable items like expensive fountain pens or platinum jewelry. Instead, I bought a six foot Shaker table and had it custom made with a drawer for pens and a keyboard drawer—an investment in my writing, the desk I would use for the rest of my life. I wanted roots, even if I wasn’t sure how or where I would be growing.
As it turns out, that desk was a gateway drug. More pieces followed. Z came along and in what was one of my most devious acts, I got a couple of other pieces even though I was beginning to suspect we’d end up together and maybe he should have some say. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to mind at all when I told him he had to sell his used IKEA chest of drawers that often didn’t want to open and looked like something Peter and Bobby Brady would have shared in the 1970 so my antique mahogany dresser could have that floor space.
Imagine my horror when we walked into our new—previously sleek and spacious appearing—apartment and not only did the space suddenly seem much smaller and more like a storage unit, but nearly every piece of my cherry furniture was dinged or scraped. I don’t mean a little—perceptible only to my critical eye—I mean like a rat chewed on one of the corners or the malicious Captain Hook decided to take out his frustrations with Peter Pan on one of my surfaces.
Rest assured, the cheap bookcases and pre-damaged furniture was moved without incident. So we’ve got that going for us.
Since the move, I’ve been taking an inventory, letting out painful sighs as I rub the latest dent or ding I find. Z discovers me, red with rage, growling about the injustice of hiring professionals with no real professionalism. No doubt it’s getting annoying. Z is not a person who puts much stock in material things—acquiring them, protecting them, feeling like a little light has gone out of the world when something is suddenly less perfect than it was. He’s a thoughtful, caring person, but he’s focused on humans and probably can’t understand how I still feel guilty that as a 12-year-old I sold my hobby horse, Charger, at a garage sale. What did Charger think that I’d abandoned him so carelessly for $10 after we’d ridden miles and miles together across my earliest memories? Charger was not an inanimate object, and I’d argue that all of my precious things are sentient. At least in my imagination if nowhere else. So I can’t fathom how abandoned my furniture must have felt when they were left in the care of cretins without blankets or plastic wrap to keep their surfaces scrape free while Z and I were eating Potbelly sandwiches in the green conference room at our new place, hiding away from any virus germs the movers might have breathed on us. (I’m reminded of the very few babysitters I had as a child and how, as my parents were leaving, I’d look dubiously at the girl or the woman in question and think , I don’t know about this one.) I was doubting people’s qualifications before I knew what the word meant.
Also, when Z asked if I wanted to complain to the moving company, I was torn. As an educator, it seemed like a teachable moment: wrap people’s furniture up and don’t take a running start when you’re trying to squeeze it through a doorway as if it’s Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station and you’re trying to get trunks onto the Hogwart’s Express. But on the other hand, they were young. They are working during a pandemic—risking their health—and these are strange, tough times, when people find themselves doing work that was never on their list of life goals. Z suggested I err on the side of grace, and it seemed right to me, not to prioritize things over people. So I’m not praising them with positive reviews for their politeness and speed (both true) nor am I dinging them like they did my blanket chest.
Z has moved a lot more than I have, and since we’ve known each other (read: nearing two decades) he has moved six times, and before I officially entered his life, he did it with two suitcases and a few boxes of odds and ends he’d collected that he didn’t want to get rid of: a toaster, a lock engraved with the names of family friends from Zimbabwe, some batiks from Africa, family photos. Easy enough. I, on the other hand—who has moved very little, give or take in and out of dorm rooms in the late 80s—have acquired. A lot.
The furniture is the least of it in terms of number, but it is the weightiest. So I’ve been pondering why when Z suggested we get rid of a piece of it or put a piece in storage, I was horror stricken—as if he suggested we disown one of our imaginary children. When I bought this furniture I was thinking forever; I was thinking by owning it, I’d purchased rootedness, stability, maturity.
But often enough, there is a Doritos bag on top of the desk and a bra hanging off one of the knobs on the chest, so possibly owning these pieces did not turn me into a grown-up and didn’t make my world any classier.
Other riddles I’m pondering right now would be the unlikelihood of the pair of us moving from our quirky old four-story brick building to a brand new building that would have been classified a skyscraper by residents of our original building in 1923 when it was built. It’s exactly the sort of place I imagined never living: a little drawer in the sky in which to stuff a human life.
Furthermore, Z and I have had a particular loathing of this building—just two and half blocks from our old one—since the construction signs went up for it. It is standing in the footprint of First Hill’s only McDonald’s—that great equalizer in the neighborhood where mothers and children picked at Happy Meals while healthcare workers from one of the nearby hospitals ate McSalads, and where the people who were unhoused often scraped together the change they’d collected for a MealDeal and a half hour indoors. We rarely ate there, but just knowing we could get a French fries and a McMuffin whenever we wanted was a comfort.
Once McDonald’s came down and the building went up, we loathed it’s pretentious name and advertisements that promised luxury living, and there were an awful lot of young tech people coming in and out of the keyless front door, waving fobs and marching in with their designer dogs. We knew they were likely making three or four times what we do and having no idea that a person’s first apartment shouldn’t have modern conveniences or a rooftop deck with views of Puget Sound because it builds character to “rough it.”
It’s possible we were a little bitter.
On our nightly walks we would say the name of our place and wrinkle our noses or one of us—probably me, because I had three years of French in high school—would say “oh la la” in a snarky voice.
But then we got the news that we had to be out of our place in 30 days —suddenly those crooked windows and door frames seemed sinister instead of full of character—and we found ourselves taking note of the “First Two Months Free” sign at Oh La La and we went on a tour.
Reader, we fell in love.
It’s everything I purport to loathe: a drawer in the sky, visible concrete supports in the living room, nothing that will do anything to enhance my beloved furniture. (The space seems custom made to mock my furniture for looking old fashioned.) The new place is grey and white and not a brick in sight, there’s a similar building across the street so on coffee breaks we can blink at other “hunker downers” across the way.
But those floor to ceiling windows and the distant view of Lake Union? The layout of the kitchen and living room? The two-bedroom, two-bath configuration that will make guests still welcome? And oh my, the walk-in closet? The dog treats in the lobby? The trash chute on our floor so we don’t have to go to the alley again? That rooftop deck with the big grills and fire pit and hammock? Yes, please. Where do we sign?
But right now, we are stuck in the gloaming of the move. It feels right now like we are living in a very messy Air B&B. We’re taken with the views and keep being surprised by things like the size of the drawers or the ease with which machines do things for us like carry us down 9 flights of stairs and do our dishes and raise and lower our blinds. (I am one Roomba and a pair of pearl earrings away from turning into Jane Jetson.) We aren’t home yet, in other words. It’s novel. And messy. Maybe it will feel more like home once we stop tripping over rolled carpets and being shocked by the number of planes flying into SEATAC because we’re on the flight path and people are flying places instead of staying home.
Also, let’s be honest, we are not Oh La La people. The neighbors had to be alarmed when they saw us wheeling in suitcases every night with a bevy of things stacked on top from Z’s collection of Crocs to my small metal rooster, Bob Johnson. We are less Jetsons and more Flintstones (though come to think of it, Wilma could rock pearls too, and I’m not sure I can).
The old place doesn’t feel like ours either. Which is good, because it isn’t. We were both surprised how easily we walked away from our happy first home together. Once we had it empty—which took ages—we thanked it for being so good to us, told it we loved it (it seemed important because we suspect it might be slated for demolition in all of it’s crooked, shaky glory), and we locked the door one last time and walked away.
So, we find ourselves in the in-between, in the four-letter expletive of the move when we can’t find anything, even if it was just in our hands. We have no idea how to condense the contents of two small kitchens into one small kitchen. The laundry we haven’t been doing because we knew we soon wouldn’t have to share washers and dryers with people who refused to clean out lint traps is stored in “my” shower, so Z and I are sharing his, even though this gives us an air of someone who needs an intervention. We spent a half hour walking around the garage looking for the storage unit we were promised but it seems not to exist. The place where it should be is a door with a “Danger: High Voltage” sign hanging on it. Suddenly our kitchen lights won’t turn off, our internet won’t hook up to our ROKU, and Z’s work computer—from which he does his work—is not willing to communicate with our router.
But here we are, sitting with the impractical, mental home I started creating with my furniture in 2001 as we wait for the rest of the place—and our brains—to catch up. This whole ordeal would have been easier if I hadn’t invested in so many worldly goods and could get size-appropriate pieces from IKEA, drag out the Allen wrenches, and assemble our new functional life and then disassemble it later when it no longer suits us. Although those pictogram instructions often raise their own sets of questions.
Next time I broadcast from Oh La La, hopefully the place will feel like ours and I can talk about something more interesting than how to turn a bookcase into a kitchen island. Hopefully we’ll have two working computers and I’ll better understand why our dishwasher doesn’t seem to want to dry. We’ll embrace the magic of the in-between and cross our fingers that the view of Lake Union doesn’t disappear with the next offending build. But who knows, maybe in 15 months when our lease runs out, we’ll decide we’re ready to move into that new building that is being built on someone else’s idea of home.