This is the 23rd of my "Advent Calendar" Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I'm challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it's entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I'm sticking with them anyway.
I was addressing my Christmas cards last week and noticed how many addresses I've had to cross out as friends and family pack up and move to new places. For some who moved almost annually, I started writing in pencil, because I was running out of space on the page for new addresses. I've had eight addresses myself, but I hope that the current one is permanent enough to be safely written in ink.
The Little House
I grew up next door to my grandmother's house, in a tiny red house with a wide porch and a big yard. There was a birch tree that made me sneeze, and a tamarack tree so tall I had to lie down on the ground to see the very top without hurting my neck. We played outside a lot, even if "playing" meant lying on a blanket with a coloring book in the backyard. There was a path to my grandmother's house, through the cedar hedge, and we could run over for a visit anytime.
The Big House
We moved to a different city, twenty minutes away, when I left elementary school. It was a split-level style, with a garage, and a huge backyard for Dad to mow and Mom to plant gardens in. We got our own rooms - mine was gigantic - and there were two living rooms to watch TV in. It seemed like a perfect house, but at the end, there was anger, contempt, and bitterness in that home. Parents on the brink of divorce, and teenage kids feeling the pressure and acting out in different ways. My parents eventually split up and we had to leave the big house. I don't remember very much about the big house, now.
The Loud Apartment
Dad went to live with his mother for a while during and after the divorce. Mom found us an apartment and we all squeezed in. My sister moved out, and then back in when things didn't work out with her roommates. It was a second-floor apartment on a busy street, and the downstairs neighbors hated us. They screamed at us through our floor, banging brooms against their ceilings, threatening us with bodily harm if we didn't shut up. We were quiet, so I don't understand why they were always so angry with us. I think it may have been because we spoke English. The place wasn't really big enough for us all, and my sister was sleeping in the living room. I was going to McGill by then, and I decided to give everyone more space by moving in with Dad for a while, until I could get my own place.
But Dad didn't have his own place. He was still with his mom, my grandmother, while he looked for a suitable condo. I got one of the upstairs bedrooms and stayed a few months, but everyone's personalities clashed and I just couldn't stay. I found myself welcomed back to the Loud Apartment, and sleeping in the living room.
The Nice Apartment
Mom left the Loud Apartment as soon as she was able to. It wasn't a healthy place to live. She found a wonderful third-floor walk-up on a quiet street, a block away from a bus stop and a grocery store. We had a parking space and a square of backyard big enough for a patio set and a garden. We had big windows with wide sills for the cat to sit on and pretty views of winter sunrises through the trees. The neighbors mostly minded their own business. My brother and I each had a room, and my sister had moved out again, so we had enough space to breathe. Unfortunately, there was only one bathroom, which is why I still ask my husband if he needs to pee before I go shower, even though we have five bathrooms in our current place. Habits die hard. We were happier in that apartment. Mom redid the kitchen, put up flower boxes on the balconies. She's still in that kitchen or on those balconies with her coffee every morning. This is the place that's brightest in my memory.
My First Apartment
When I moved to Maryland, I didn't do it the easy way by moving in with my boyfriend. I wanted my own place, to prove that I could do it. I got an apartment near the hospital I'd be working at, and adopted a cat so I could blame the strange night noises on his prowling. I felt safe enough there, despite the loud foreign-language fights in the parking lot at night and the time a drunk guy banged on my door asking to be let in, because he thought it was his friend's apartment one building over. There was a solid deadbolt on the door, and I had a vicious attack kitten to protect me. I set up cable and internet. I paid bills. I did groceries and cooked for myself every night. I dragged laundry down three flights of stairs to the dark laundry room and fought with the coin slots. I did very well there on my own, but I was lonely between my boyfriend's weekend visits.
I moved in with Dave when my lease expired, and I loved his townhouse. Sure, it was always freezing cold or burning hot in the bedroom, because of a high ceiling and terrible insulation, but we were happy there together. Parking was a creative endeavour because of how few spots were available and how many were taken up by assholes who had driveways and garages they didn't feel like using. We were always either tripping over the three cats or pinned under them on the couch. I tried to girl the place up by planting lavender outside and it grew to monstrous proportions, crowding the walkway with bee-covered purple stems. I attempted to cut and dry some in the oven... lavender is thus now forbidden from all gardens, all soaps, all candles, and pretty much everything that comes into or near our home for the rest of eternity.
We chose this house, together, for our forever home. It's too big, and it's too old, and it needs too much work, but we love it. I joke that it's made of bathrooms and built-in bookshelves, with some bedrooms and stuff thrown in. We've been here almost three years now and we've made incredible progress making it into the home we want it to be. The mint green and burgundy paint is gone. The jungle in the backyard is under control and the sick trees were cut down. The silver wallpaper is gone, and the stained blue carpet is now beautiful hardwood. It's familiar now, and comfortable. It feels like us. It smells like us. It's home.