We only ever thought we would be there for a year– two at the most.
It was the spring of 2012 and it had been a stressful couple months of apartment hunting, moaning over the utter expense of everything in DC, and rushing to look at anything in our price range only to have it be snatched up for someone else before we could even fill out an application. It seemed impossible, finding a place to be our newlywed home, and I was discouraged. When we walked into that little place in Eastern Market, I hadn’t even made it out of the entryway before declaring to James that this was it, this was home, this was the place that we had to have. We applied on the spot, appealing to the owner’s sense of compassion for the chipper engaged couple with no credit score and lots of dreams.
James lived there with a couple guys up until the wedding, the three of them urban camping on a hodge-podge of mattresses, with almost no other furniture. When we came home after our honeymoon, James went to work and I stood in the middle of the messy apartment, piled high with boxes and bearing witness to a summer of three male inhabitants, and I cried. Big, salty, overwhelmed tears about how this place was supposed to become my first home. Then I brushed off my tears, pushed up my sleeves, and got to work — cleaning and unpacking until that mess looked like something presentable.
It was the best of times and worse of times in that apartment — all of the time. We loved it, because it had big windows on every side that let in the light and left patches of sun on the golden wood floors. It had a back deck where we sat in summer evenings and quirky architectural details that stole my heart. It had walls soon covered in pictures of our adventures and the mightiest washing machine that an apartment ever did have. It was perfectly situated, letting us walk to date nights, work, parks, and monuments. It was a perfect home of which we were fiercely proud.
And we hated it, too. Those big windows never could get clean, and their creaky and ancient selves let in wind with the sun, forcing us into big sweaters in winter and sending violent drafts through the rooms. The floors were scratched and stained and the back deck let in squirrels too, and dirt — the endless dust and dirt that accumulates while you watch in old houses. The smoke detector would go off every time we so much as turned the oven past 350 and the gas stove left a film on every surface of that tiny space. There was no central air, and the feeble units only worked if you hit the side every so often. There was never enough room, never consistent hot water, and it was only in the end of our tenure that the toilet started correctly flushing. For the first three years, it was a gamble every time — would it refill or not? I will never forget the Thanksgiving where the sink rebelled too, shooting black sludge into the air as we sat down to eat. The mail only arrived half of the time and if you cooked something pungent, all the clothes in all the closets would smell for days. It was a crumbling and ancient building that had us exasperated so much of the time.
Which is why we decided to move before the baby came, and then bumped that up when we learned they were selling the building. Two weeks. Two weeks of frantically searching, finding, packing and moving. We are a different couple than we were when we first searched for a home four years ago. We have credit reports, yes, but also standards. We wanted a dishwasher, central air, nice tile-work, and all those things that you can overlook when you are on the brink of marriage and adulthood, thinking that love is enough to renovate any space. And we found it all, in a new apartment that is objectively nicer and [at least a little] bigger than the old. As we raced against the blizzard to move, we didn’t have time for sentimentality about the old place we were leaving. At least, not until yesterday, when we went back to clean it before turning over the keys.
3 years and 7 months — about double the time we planned on living there, and I’m not even sure how it happened. We kept on meaning to move earlier, kept griping about the lack of space, the shabbiness, the inconsistencies. But then I would look at other places for a day or two and give up, retreating back to the only home we knew together, the only home we built together, the home that gave us a space to build and “us.”
It’s the home where we learned how to extend hospitality when conditions aren’t optimal. We learned that is always room and money enough to squeeze one more person in at a tiny table on a small budget, and that you will never regret letting that friend come and pass a night, no matter how stressed you are before. We learned that it is our hearts that people want shared when they visit, and that doesn’t need guest towels or breakfast nooks.
It’s the home where we learned to fight. In a tiny apartment, you can’t storm off and clear you head and you have to hang on, finding the words when you have none, and figuring out a way to work through things because fleeing the scene is not an option. It’s the home where we learned to communicate without fighting, to say what needed to be said, and to ask forgiveness quickly, and often.
It’s the home where we learned how to work through disappointments, how to be crushed by life and go one getting up in the morning and moving forward. It’s the home where I cried a lot, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes because the bad reasons will still make you cry. It’s the home where we both worked long nights and early mornings on our careers, pushing the other when we each stopped believing. It’s the home that gave me a safe haven when James moved across the country for six months and life was on hold. It’s the home he came back to and we relearned the things we forgot why he was gone.
It’s the home where we learned how to keep a home. Where James discovered that yes, he has opinions about decor and I learned that, yes, I should listen to them. It was our home, not just mine, and we were proud of that.
It’s the home where we learned patience and sacrifice and courage and all the other things that you need to make it. It’s the only home we have known as a couple.
Which might explain why I cried when we left it yesterday, cried tears that forgot the toilet and the dirt and the drafty windows. I was crying the tears of someone who knows that they are leaving somewhere safe, somewhere loved, somewhere where we knew how to be us and moving forward. Yes, forward is better, but it means relearning and welcoming the changes to “us” that this year, this new home, an certainly this baby, will bring.
One of the very last things we did before leaving was to look back at these pictures, back at the prayers that two starry-eyed engaged kids painted across the walls before moving in. Bless this house and teach us to love. And oh, did He. Because above all, that home was where we learned to love — each other, our community, our very selves — more than before. Of course this time, we didn’t have time for sappy wall painting before moving. We had fast moving to accomplish, and far more possessions than before. Everything about the move was stressful, and things like painting blessings into our walls just didn’t make the cut. But though they aren’t written on these new walls, they are still written into my heart and whispered from my lips as I move through our new home. Let this home be a new place of learning to be us in this world. Let this be a home that keeps on building us to be stronger than before.
Bless this house and teach us to love.