For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been packing up the apartment I’ve lived in since March, 2012, the place I moved into after my last relationship ended, the place I found when I was looking for a home for my writing and my workshops. Tomorrow I’m moving out.
I walked into this apartment less than a week before I had to leave for a two-week long writing retreat. I told myself I had to find a place to live before I left for the retreat, because as soon as I returned from the retreat, I was going to have to move out of the place I shared with my ex. This apartment was the second one I visited — the first was in a huge apartment complex up in the Adams Point area back behind the Whole Foods in Oakland, a smoky and dank building, and the only impression I still have of the unit I walked into (and quickly walked out of ) is grey. And no. I knew exactly where I wanted to live — someplace on the west side of the Lake Merritt, in between Lake Merritt and downtown Oakland, within walking distance of BART. Then I found the craigslist ad for this dog-friendly one-bedroom in a 1920s building just a block from Lake Merritt, and a ten-minute walk from three different BART stations. I replied to the ad immediately, and the landlord wrote back, with details about the apartment, no pictures, and an application he encouraged me to complete ASAP so that they could run my credit. I thought, That’s ridiculous. Why would I apply for an apartment I’ve never seen? And send all of my personal information off to someone I’ve never met. This could be a total scam, someone harvesting personal data for internet fraud. And then I completed and sent in the application. I had a feeling. (But first, I called the landlord, wanting to make sure there was at least a real person on the other side of that email address.)
I knew the moment I walked into the apartment, still cluttered with the previous tenants’ belongings, that I’d take it — a spacious corner unit with lots of good morning light, a living room area that would be big enough to hold a circle of writers, and then, to my astonishment, a second little room (too small to call a second bedroom) that would be my office. My office. My own writing room. Yes, I said. Yes, I’ll take it. I gave him the deposit immediately, signed the lease on the front steps of the building, and then had to hurry into town because my ex was throwing me a big 40th birthday party at the CSC, and I was late. Three days later, I had the keys to my new apartment, and I went in to visit and sort of claim the now-empty apartment, taking pictures and showing it off to my new friend Ellen (who was about to become quite a bit more than a friend, though I don’t know that either of us knew just how much more). I left something small — a shell or a note or a pen or something to introduce myself and my energy into the space, to say, hello, this is me, I’ll be back soon.
Then I went away to a two-week writing retreat, during which time I exploded with all the change that I was about to undergo, after so many years of struggle and resentment and sorrow and need.
Then I went to LA and watched my sister marry her beloved.
Then I came back to Tiburon, finished packing up, and moved out. (Let’s not kid ourselves: those four days were a hell of a lot more stressful and heartsore than that sentence lets on).
I’ve lived in this apartment for almost three and a half years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else since moving to the Bay Area in 2003. It became exactly what I’d hoped it would, exactly what I needed: a sanctuary, a writing place, and a home for Writing Ourselves Whole. I painted (well, with a lot of help) the walls bright orange and yellow, sage and cream. I put up chimes and paintings and all the books, created a library that workshop writers could use.
And tomorrow I’m moving out.
Here are some things I want the next tenants to know:
– Don’t run an electric tea kettle (plugged into the kitchen counter socket) and the vacuum (plugged into the living room socket) at the same time — you’ll blow a fuse, and the fuses are old and weird and hard to find in any of the local convenience stores. The Ace down in Jack London Square has them, though.
– There are a thousand small birds that live in the live oak tree back behind the building, and if you hang a feeder from the big nail over the one living room window that faces the Scottish Rite Center parking lot, they’ll come visit you: chickadees, house finches, phoebes, sparrows — the mourning doves will hop around on the bricks of the windowsill, cooing their song and cleaning up what the smaller birds let fall.
– If you stand on a chair in the living room, the apartment has a lake view.
– If you’re out at the lake early enough in the morning, you can say hello to the couple who run around the lake every day and wave hello and smile at everyone they pass. You can also watch the fog lifting off the Oakland hills, and say good morning to the blue herons, white egrets, mallards, cormorants, coots, pelicans, Canadian geese,and goldeneyes. You can say hello to the night herons, too, but they’ll just stay hunched on their branch or rock and pretend not to have heard you.
– The streets of downtown Oakland in the early morning when you’re walking to BART (or to a CODA meeting, say) are cool and clean and all the people will look you in the eye if you say good morning.
– The natural foods store up 15th on Jackson isn’t any more expensive than the Whole Foods that’s a mile away, and they’ve got plenty of bulk food and all the workshop snacks you need.
– The ficus trees surrounding the parking lot across from the 13th st Post Office are home to night herons and crested egrets. If you hang out on the corner of 14th and Jackson in the evenings, you can listen to them singing their nighttime songs, and watch some of the trees become studded with the sharp white heads of nesting egrets.
– The big, dark, bald man who sometimes walks up Madison preaching to a congregation you can’t see will teach you things you never knew were in the Bible if you keep your windows open and listen.
– The skinny Latin@ butch who manages the building across the street, the one who always has a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, her eyes squinted against both sun and smoke, the one who looks like she could easily take out a man twice her size in a bar fight, has two tiny Chihuahuas that she murmurs to in baby talk, and will love on your dog, if you’ve got one, and if you let her.
– The nasturtium and alyssum and geranium in the window box will reward you if you give them water now and again. In the springtime, don’t be surprised when the sharp gladiolus leaves knife through the shallow soil and rise up into green stalks loaded with heavy, quilted yellow flowers. The hummingbirds come visiting then.
– The women behind the counter at Maly’s will give you a handful of extra glazed donut holes when you wander in on a Friday morning, you and your sweetheart barely out of pajamas and your hair still showing all of the previous night’s joy, and order two donuts each, plus two cups of decaf coffee; then take your bag of flour and sugar and your cups of caffeine and cream to the morning lakeside to throw a bright orange ball for your dog and lean heavy into your love and wonder.
– There are four-leaf clovers to be found in the green lawns all around your side of the lake.
– If you’re out late enough, and at the right time of year, you can sit out by the lake and listen to the frogs serenading the light-encircled waters.
– Keep an eye on the waters; you never know when innumerable tiny moon jellyfish will swarm through the murk, opening and closing the mouths of their bodies, latticing the dark water with their legs.
– Keep the back door of the building closed, so that the many cats belonging to your downstairs neighbor don’t run out; and don’t be surprised to find yourself being observed by a cat or two climbing the building’s inside while you’re sitting in your new writing room, singing a song of astonishment to yourself, unaware that anyone can see or hear you through the window that you thought only looked out on nothing.
– Don’t be surprised if you get a little jolt of joy when leaning into the doorjamb of the writing room. Or the bathroom. Or the bedroom. Or the place next to the back windows where two bodies would fit if you put your couch there where they could kiss for the first time.
Thank you, little apartment, for helping me learn a little more what home can mean. I carry your color and quiet and the yes you allowed me to bring to my writing and the rest of my work with me into this next home.