[written in February of ’08
Yesterday I finally finished (well, finished is a bit premature as I look out the window and see the looming job of unloading my car this morning) a distasteful and overwhelming task that I had been procrastinating about for, literally, months. Yes, I finally went back to my old apartment and got the rest of my stuff. Well, the rest of what I wanted to save anyway and that really is the gist of my story. But let me back up for those of you that haven’t followed the “saga of the loony landlord and the woman who refused to leave.”
Last June, after the loan from my folks finally ran out, the utilities were about to be shut off, and I had no job prospects in sight, Don opened his one bedroom apartment to Lucas and I and we moved in. With no money to get a Budget Rent-A-Truck or a storage unit to put everything in, we packed some summer clothes, my computer, and a few toys and movies and left everything else locked in a sweltering second story in Milton. It soon became apparent that we were going to need a larger place, primarily due to the fact that my son was sleeping on a futon in the living room and my ex was threatening to call DSS (this becomes extremely ironic but that is another story, and probably one I won’t share publicly out of respect for someone who has actually become my friend after 14 years of trying to be lifelong partners and not very good co-parents).
At this point, I’m sure you are wondering how I can walk away from a $1350 a month apartment without continuing to pay rent. That’s where the loony landlord comes in. I actually hadn’t paid rent in almost two years. That’s right…I was living rent free for quite awhile before I finally started accepting some responsibility in life as well as a certain amount of accountability to others. Loony is an attorney, the house was in shambles – bad plumbing, broken porches that threatened to collapse if too many people stood on them at the same time (which made for interesting dinner parties when everyone had to take turns smoking), cracked plaster, a kitchen cave-in when the roof finally gave way. Each time, Loony would finally call me with her credit card number and have me arrange to fix whatever had broken. Yes, I contracted a new roof for $12,000 billable to Loony. I started out sending her rent on time every month. And every 90 days that same amount would magically reappear in my bank account. Our downstairs neighbor had given up long ago. We called and harangued and reminded her to cash checks and even talked about a PayPal arrangement to no avail. Evidently, she simply forgot to collect the rent. So when I left, she didn’t even know about it and since I didn’t pay, I just didn’t tell her I was gone.
I’m so digressing, but you needed backstory. I guess. Anyway, the point of this blog was about getting my shit out. Let me first state that I had not only an apartment filled with over 22 years of accumulated detritus, but a garage and attic too. The walls simply bulged with STUFF. And every bit of it seemed precious at the time. How does one live without the $250 cericell of Tigger, Pooh, and Piglet charged to some long avoided credit card on yet another $10,000 trip to Disney? Or what about the boxes and boxes of camping gear? I may not have camped for over 9 years, but I might and then I’ll need it all. Every single inflatable mattress, every single tin cup.
It became evident that I needed to start letting go. And I started with the one thing that was probably the hardest. My dining room table and chairs. A beautiful, formal country style in honey pine with six chairs and a leaf that had once been home to a six course Thanksgiving meal for eleven. That dining room set was the very first real purchase I made with my very first freelance check. Provided by months of illustrating Emily Post’s Book of Wedding Etiquette. I had envisioned it as an heirloom piece, passed down for generations of future spawn of Diana. When I really looked at it, I realized that it was SO not me anymore. If Don and I were serious about really LIVING together, hopefully forever, then we were going to have to abandon our current tastes (mine ran to shabby chic which he referred to as “nothing fucking matches” and his…uh…well, I kindly called it “bachelor pad decor” but it more closely resembled the rec room at the Delta House Fraternity…I was always expecting to wake up and find Bluto sitting at the kitchen table) and mesh them into something far more streamlined and Ikea-esque. The Dining Room set was put into Craigslist and then loaded into some stranger’s truck for $400 cash.
And so it began, large pieces of my life being sold off. Each one endured with pain and anguish and a fair amount of complaining. Eventually, my ex found a new girlfriend and they decided to move in together, I offered her anything but the big maroon chair and a half which Don had grown attached to, Lucas’ furniture, and my bookshelves. Those were non-negotiable. In September we found a beautiful, very large, new apartment and it became time for me to make more frequent trips to pack up the remainder of my life in Milton and start weaving my things into our new life. I hemmed and hawed. I would plan to go for a day and get the packing done and suddenly develop a massive migraine or back spasms that would preclude my plans. On the occasions I did actually make it I would become so overwhelmed by all the shit I had accumulated that I would call Don in hysterics and whine into the phone about how I couldn’t do this alone. I really think that I just didn’t want to face the loss of all that stuff but reality told me that it just wasn’t practical and you shouldn’t keep crap around if you haven’t opened the box for more than 15 years!
Slowly, I started packing boxes and donating more and more to the Veterans for Thursday pick-ups. We finally reached a place where we needed to get the biggest things from Milton to Marlborough and got the box truck and some (I use this term loosely) help and spent a half a day moving what I termed, absolute essentials, into our new home. I now had the artwork I couldn’t possibly give up, Lucas’ bedroom furniture, the chair and a half that fit cozily into our cavern of a bedroom, my bookshelves, my large collection of hardcovers, and my even larger collection of totes filled with Christmas decorations and not one, but two, trees.
We left the place with so much behind. I knew I’d have to return. Thanksgiving came and went, as did Christmas. Weekends filled up with plans and I always found excuses not to return. Eventually, the landlord decided it was time to overhaul the place and rent it out again. Now I had to come face to face with the rest of my life. In the wake of the jarring realization that I never follow through with whatever I say I am going to do, I made my plans, went to Lucas’ last basketball game and then drove the hour to Milton to finally close the door and turn my attention to my real life. One that desperately needed tending to.
I was ruthless. And it was hard. I pored over decisions about puzzles, about dishes that we didn’t need, the china that I had spent $200 for in an antique store but was really, when I finally looked at it, quite ugly. In the end, I took what was sentimental. Pottery from my mother, my yearbooks that I discovered in a tattered box just moments before I was set to leave, stacks and stacks of loose photos which I will still need to go through and organize. I left behind all of the material possessions that I had thought I couldn’t live without. Boxes upon boxes of books that I kept for show more than their readability factor. Who really needs a copy of Plutarch’s Lives anyway? I left vases, so many pieces of serving ware, all of the book covers that I had designed through the years…
I thought I would mourn the loss of all of that stuff as I had never been able to let it go and it had moved with me from place to place for so many years that it was like a huge boil on my ass that just wouldn’t go away until I excised it. So I did. I grabbed that knife, cut it open, let it ooze and puss and bleed and was ever so much lighter for it. What remained will be ransacked by the contractors hired to resurrect the house, inside and out. Plutarch’s Lives will undoubtedly wind up in the Dumpster alongside a crate of ancient and warped record albums. A black satin ball gown will go to someone’s size 8 wife or girlfriend. The 1969 metal hockey game will likely bite the dust.
I felt good. Really good. I learned a lot over the last year. The first lesson was that you CAN live without THINGS. I really did use my stuff as a wall to hide behind or so much window dressing to impress those who might stop by. At four thirty yesterday afternoon, I loaded the last box into my car and went back upstairs for my coat and keys. I turned around and looked at all that remained and just smiled. I saluted my apartment and, yes, aloud, said “sayonara.” I closed the front door and, without looking back, I pulled out of the driveway and headed home. Where we did find a comfortable mix between our styles, where we have a real home, not just a place to put your stuff, and where my man was waiting with a hug, a kiss, and couple of good movies.
Now it’s time to throw on some old jeans, grab a quick breakfast, and unload and unpack. I am here to stay. Lighter, happier, proud of finally accomplishing what I had thought was a Herculean task, and ready for the rest of my life.