I’ve Loved This
The summer breeze is blowing through my kitchen: one window on the north wall, one on the east. Both are cracked slightly to let the evening air move through, and the blinds are pulled halfway down to provide some relief from the heat. It’s almost working.
I’m sitting at the blonde wood kitchen table that dates from my college years, with a glass of iced tea and a vase of wilting sunflowers at my elbow. If I look up, I can see the gallery wall above the table, hung with an assortment of my favorite pieces of art: a vivid watercolor of Boston’s North End, three red maple leaves pressed under glass, a textured map collage made by a friend. The kitchen curtains, brightly patterned cloth napkins bought at Pier 1 and artfully arranged by means of hook and rod, shift slightly in the breeze.
I’m trying to memorize this view. It won’t be mine for much longer.
We are moving again soon, for the second time in a year: to a third-floor apartment in a different Boston suburb than the one we’ve lived in for seven years now. This move, unlike the one we undertook last summer, is our choice, triggered by months of frustration with our current living arrangement. It’s also the result of my husband’s careful combing of real estate listings, several weekends spent driving around to apartment showings, and the help of a realtor named Dante.
Both of us are looking forward to the new place: my commute will be a little shorter and easier, the neighborhood seems beautiful and interesting, and the apartment itself has spacious rooms and a covered back porch. But as we pack our lives into cardboard boxes (again) and recruit our friends to help us fill a moving truck, I’m starting to realize what I’ll miss about this place.
Before last summer, we had lived in only one apartment in New England: the one we landed in almost by accident when we moved here from West Texas. My husband flew up for a job interview and enlisted a friend to help him find a place to live; a month later when we drove cross-country with all our worldly possessions, I still hadn’t seen our new apartment. We moved in on a Friday morning, exhausted but exhilarated, and I fell instantly in love with the wood floors, bay windows, and creamy walls.
Our landlady, Gina, walked me around the empty rooms, talking about oil furnaces and hot water, and I don’t know that any of it sank in, especially given her thick Sicilian accent. But then she paused and looked me in the eye. “I hope you’ll be happy here,” she said. It felt like a blessing, like a promise. And—as it turned out—we were.
For six years, that second-floor apartment was home: it was the place we came back to after the end of long workdays, where we rearranged the furniture in late November to set up the Christmas tree, where we had friends over for dinners of chicken enchiladas or nights of potluck dinners and board games. We learned to shovel snow on the street outside, and I washed countless dishes standing at that stainless-steel sink, often with a load of laundry humming in the washing machine to my left. We opened the windows in springtime and heard our neighbor the opera singer practicing his scales; we shut them tight in the winter and watched snowflakes pile up against the sills. I grew basil and rosemary and red geraniums on the front patio, and we wound strands of twinkle lights around the wooden window valances in the living room. We made that place our own. And when we had to leave it last summer because Gina and her husband needed their son to move in and help care for them, I couldn’t even write about what we would miss: the answer was everything.
We found our current apartment fairly quickly, for which I was grateful; the landlord lives downstairs and is both kind and conscientious, for which I am also grateful. Visitors and houseguests, including the assorted friends who helped us move, have commented that it feels similar to our old one: wood floors, white molding around the doorways, a spacious and airy kitchen. They’re right about that. But for the past year, I’ve kept stubbing my toes on the differences.
The doorknobs are set a little lower in this apartment, and most of them blend into the doors, their original metallic sheen hidden under layers of lumpy white paint. I’ve banged my hip on them too many times to count. I still sometimes reach the wrong arm out to flip the light switches: left in the kitchen, right in the bedroom, instead of the other way around. I finally got used to the clanking radiators this winter, but the heavy traffic noise from the street outside—right next to our bedroom—still bothers me at night, especially if the windows are open. And we never quite finished hanging things on the walls: we got about halfway and then gave up.
I have not liked it here, and I’ve felt guilty about not liking it here: I know I should be grateful for a roof over my head, a safe and warm place to sleep, enough money to pay the rent and other bills. I know we were lucky to have six years in our previous place, and to leave it on good terms. Yet I’ve missed the old place and struggled to find reasons to love the new. It has not felt like home, though we’ve adjusted, done our best to make it work. But now, ironically, as we prepare to leave, I’m realizing what I have liked, even loved, about this place.
In Emily Climbs by L. M. Montgomery, Emily Byrd Starr moves from her beloved New Moon Farm to a room in her Aunt Ruth’s house in Shrewsbury, a nearby town. She’s excited to be going to high school, especially with her three best friends, though she’s not particularly fond of Aunt Ruth. But on her first night in her new, unfriendly room, Emily’s excitement nearly disappears under a massive, submerging wave of loneliness and homesickness. In desperation, she pushes up the window and leans out of it, trying to find something—anything—to appreciate about this new place. Unexpectedly, she finds more than she hoped for: a gorgeous view of hillside and forest, and the sound of birds singing in the trees.
“Oh, this is beautiful,” breathed Emily, bending out to drink in the balsam-scented air. “Father told me once that one could find something beautiful to love everywhere. I’ll love this.”
I came across Emily’s words again this spring, when a friend recalled her own quest to find something to love in every place she’s lived. I realized that I, too, have tried to follow Emily’s example as we’ve adjusted to life in this apartment. I’ve reminded myself, over and over, that I am grateful for a bigger bathroom, for the kitchen that has given me space both to cook and to write. I’ve loved the way the light floods into this side of the house in the mornings, waking me up as I pad barefoot along the hallway toward the shower and that first cup of tea. I’ve grown to relish standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and listening to music, and I’m both grateful and relieved that my geraniums survived a winter in the front hallway.
This apartment has been a difficult gift: good, certainly, because it has sheltered us and kept us safe and dry, but also prickly and hard to love. We’ve had friends over for a few dinners, slept many nights under the big ceiling fan in the bedroom, arranged our beloved books on shelves and end tables. We have done a lot of living here, even while we’ve struggled to enjoy or appreciate it. Some of the difficulty has simply been part of adjusting: change is always a struggle. Some of it has carried a sharp sense of loss: no front porch to sit on in the evenings, no branch library down the street. Some of it has made everything seem harder: my evening commute, due to intermittent bus schedules, has been a challenge every single day.
Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, or maybe it’s simply that I can appreciate this place because I’m mostly grateful to be leaving it. I’m already thinking about how to arrange our couches and bookshelves in the new apartment, already dreaming of patio furniture and potted herbs on the back porch. I’m wondering how the light will fall in those rooms, whom we’ll invite over first for dinner, how we can make it ours in a way this apartment has never been. I’m hoping to spend lots of time walking in the two neighborhood parks and trying out the nearby restaurants for dinner. Most of all, I hope—as our new landlady, Maria, said to me when we signed the lease, echoing Gina—that we’ll be happy there.
I have high hopes for the new place, though I’m trying to temper them, given how much we’ve struggled in this one. But as we pack up and prepare to leave, I’m looking around and taking note: of the way the light falls through these windows, of the particular arrangements of dishes and knick-knacks and books. And, as Emily did at the end of her three years in Shrewsbury, I’m giving thanks. Because—to my own surprise—there are things about which I can say, “I’ve loved this.”