Even with months to go before the move, [REDACTED] was firm on needing to find a place to live.
My calendar didn’t have more than a few hours of space let alone a full day to make the drive up, see four or five places, and then drive home. [REDACTED] could make the trip that Friday.
We looked over as many listings as we could, sharing them back and forth over email while I was at work.
[REDACTED] was right. The law school was part of a large University, and students had snatched up most liveable places over winter quarter for the coming fall. Most apartments were taken by February. It was April, and we were late to the game.
Out of all of the listings that were still available, [REDACTED] and I had some specifics that made most of them nonstarters. For one, it had to allow pets – three of them. One dog and two cats.
We wanted a place with two bedrooms, so that we could host guests when they came to visit.
We wanted a kitchen with space to cook and prepare meals.
We wanted a dining room, or at least an area to put our dining table and host dinners or board game nights with friends.
We wanted to be close to campus, so that [REDACTED] or I could get home to walk the dog over a lunch break if we needed to.
We also didn’t want to be too close to campus and have to deal with drunk college students all weekend.
By Friday, we had a list of seven places that looked like they had potential and firm plans for [REDACTED] to see five of them. So that morning, [REDACTED] headed north to find us a new home.
“Send me pictures! Call me after you see each one! Text me about all of them!”
While an angry buzz at the back of my mind told me that I should really be seeing these apartments too, I mostly felt a serene sense of calm. With [REDACTED] going to see the apartments, I could keep avoiding the reality of our impending move.
I got a few scattered photos throughout the day. [REDACTED] called and talked through one dud after another. One apartment had a kitchen that was too small. One apartment was a mess. One apartment didn’t have a second bedroom. One apartment would allow one dog and one cat, or two cats, but no dog.
The last spot [REDACTED] saw, the landlord was in a hurry—he had parked in a temporary spot with fifteen minutes before his car would have to be moved. I suppose that lack of attention to detail could have been a red flag, but it seemed like ordinary human error at the time.
[REDACTED] reported that the place had a large kitchen, a spacious bedroom, enough space for a living/dining room combo, a tiny guest room that could double as an office, and a 3-season porch. Most importantly, we could bring our little zoo.
The pictures looked cute, and [REDACTED] assured me it was the best place he had seen. We signed a lease.
Over the next few months, we planned the layout of our new place. [REDACTED] made a 3D rendering, estimating each room’s dimension against our furniture and the pictures that were still online.
Any furniture that wouldn’t fit in our new home we put up for sale, donated to a nearby second-hand shop, or left in the alley for some fortunate passerby.
I still hadn’t seen the apartment, but based on [REDACTED]’s rendering, I started to picture where my grandmother’s painting would hang on the wall, how we would decorate the bedroom, and what meals I would cook in the new, more spacious, kitchen.
The actual moving process was fantastic. Moving day fell mid-week and I had to work on the last of the month and the first of the month, which left [REDACTED] with all the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively).
While I was at work on the last day of July, [REDACTED] and two hired movers loaded everything into the rented truck and borrowed van. When I left for work on the first day of August, [REDACTED] and a small crew of incredible friends drove up to our new apartment and reversed the process.
Just as everything was feeling like it was falling perfectly into place, the time came for me to see the apartment.
[REDACTED] drove my parent’s van with the smaller remnants of our old apartment. I drove our tiny hatchback with our three anxious animals. The dog was squished into the backseat with her crate, a disassembled cat tree, and one recently cleaned cat litter box. The two cats in their crates were settled on the passenger seat next to me.
One cat yowled the entire two-and-a-half hour ride. The other peed in her carrier half-way through. Neither me nor the creatures were very happy campers leaving Chicago.
I was still hopeful, though. I was doing the thing that had terrified me so much over the past few months. I was facing my fears and conquering them!
Things were going to be ok!
Exhausted from the road, and with the inside of my nose still burning from the amonia, I finally parked on the street in front of our apartment.
It looked like a normal house from the outside. The stairs leading up to the front door were cracked in some places, and the plaster around the door was crumbling to reveal the red brick several inches beneath it, but it still had potential.
There were four doorbells to the left of the doorway. I briefly wondered how it was even possible to fit four separate apartments into what clearly had started off as a single family home when it was first constructed.
[REDACTED] and I maneuvered the animals out of the car and got them into the front hallway.
Immediately, the smell of old cigarette smoke and mildew hit. The dingy grey carpet that covered the entryway and stairs leading up to our neighbor’s apartments looked like it had never been vacuumed at any point in the house’s history. Spider webs clung to the bannisters. A lightbulb was burnt out, casting the hall in front of us into dim shadow.
A wooden door at the end of the hallway was labelled with a modern-looking number “2.” That was us.
I made my face as neutral as possible as [REDACTED] led the way to the door of our new home. He wrangled the key into the lock and I silently wished that the apartment on the other side would be the bright, open, and homey place I had been dreaming up.
Nothing in the apartment lived up to my imagination.
The apartment was smaller than [REDACTED] remembered, and the open living/dining room felt more cramped than our 3D model suggested. The kitchen was more open than our old place had been, but the amount of counter space was still surprisingly limited. The bathroom was small, but not unmanageable. The bedroom was large, but had clearly been built as a back porch and converted into a bedroom later on.
The first thing I noticed that felt really wrong were the floorboards. The wooden floor of the living/dining room was so warped that each board formed peaks and valleys with the one next to it. Walking on the floor, some spots would sink an inch or more when stepped on, others held their hard ridge against the sole of your foot. It isn’t a sensation I had ever felt before, and I didn’t like it.
“You just have to get used to it.” I told myself. “The other apartment didn’t feel like home at first, either.”
[REDACTED] and I took the dog for a walk, made plans for dinner that night, ran an errand to pick up some immediate necessities, and performed other small tasks related to moving.
That night, as we lay in bed, I knew that I hated the new place.
It wasn’t the size, or the layout—I could get used to that.
It wasn’t even the floors, although I definitely was not a fan of those.
Our first night is when we were “introduced” to our upstairs neighbors.
The thing about an old single-family home turned four-unit apartment building is that the structure of the place isn’t meant to be shared by strangers. There is no experience that I can imagine that highlights this fact more than lying in bed, just about to drift off to sleep, and being jolted awake by the conversations of your upstairs neighbors.
Especially when you can understand every third word or so that is spoken, or recognize the intro theme to whatever TV show they are watching, hear the gunfire from their video game, listen to them giving basic commands to their dog, or—the worst sensation of all time—have access to surround sound volume of their late-night sex shaking the ceiling and all four walls of your bedroom.
I hated the apartment. I still do.
As the weeks passed, the list of reasons I wanted to leave grew.
[REDACTED] agreed, it wasn’t an ideal situation.
We looked over the listings of available apartments. They each had some quality that didn’t make the move worth it—too small, too far from campus/work, no pets, no dogs, etc.
“We should just buy a house” started off as a joke.
Then we started researching listings, and prices, and steps.
We got pre-approved for a mortgage.
I think we’re going to buy a house.