Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home sweet home: sorta. The new apartment saga.

I haven’t talked about our home in a while, and that’s weird because it was actually the reason we thought we’d start the NEST blog in the first place. We thought we were going to be nesting in our Westboro apartment for another 16-24 months, making DIY décor projects that would one day find their more permanent home in a real house we would later purchase. Unfortunately, when the floor melted (you may recall past posts on this), we found ourselves having to vacate rather abruptly…all this despite Brian’s recent job loss and my own 50+ hour workweek that leaves no daylight hours for packing up an apartment.

The hole before the cement solution.
But searched we did, and we found a place in the Hintonburg/Wellington West village, where we have wanted to live for some time. The new apartment is the top two floors of an ancient brick house, with the bedroom and office nestled into the attic, and the kitchen, living room, dining room, laundry machines, and bathroom making up the main floor. When I found the place, I tweeted like mad to get everyone sending good wishes that the landlord would choose us. I harassed him with multiple references and repeated emails until I wore him down. It was slightly above our budgeted rent cost, but it seemed perfect in every way. As our current abode continued to slide into slumminess, the new place seemed like a beacon of hope just six weeks around the corner. When our current landlord came by and filled in the gaping floor hole with about twenty pounds of cement, we counted our blessings that we would be nestled in the new place soon, far away from the giant chunk of concrete that was one day going to fall through onto the neighbours’ heads. (For the record, I called the City to complain and apparently, since he tiled over the cement rendering it ‘invisible’, they won’t pursue the matter. I offered photos and they still snubbed me.)

Moving day came, and we cleaned the old place as the movers—paid for with a settlement from the mouldy landlord—toted all of our belongings out to their big truck. I stayed on to clean when they left with Brian, sighing deeply with regret that we couldn’t have stayed nestled here just for another year or so. It was my apartment when I met Brian, and I have memories pre-Brian in that apartment. I was sad to leave, but reminded myself that the apartment really let us go, not the other way around. I whispered goodbye, then headed over to the new place.

Hole in the wall.
 It was as the movers brought in the first load of boxes that things at the new place started to go a bit awry. Brian went for a pee, and when he shut the bathroom door, I stared at it from across the hall: there was a queer triangle of light, 2 inches wide, at one end of the top of the door. I let my eyes wander and realized that the house is actually tilting quite seriously into the middle of its foundation, meaning that the once-square door frame of the bathroom was no longer square, leaving the door strangely tilted in its space. I shook it off with a laugh, and went back to admiring our new digs. I cringed as I realized that the previous tenants had not only failed to clean anything before leaving, but they were total pigs as well. As I write this, 13 days later, I just went to put away some Tupperware in a drawer and discovered scads of onion peels piled up in there. I shook it off with a laugh, though, and went back to unpacking.

Crackling paint.
It was cold after the movers left, and that worried me, but my parents stopped by and reassured me that it was only because the door had been open. Hours later, still freezing, we realized they were wrong. Wrapping a microwaveable beanbag around my feet and cuddling up in three blankets, I tapped out a brief email to the landlord asking where the hell the heat was. I tried to laugh it off, but it was harder now that I had also noticed the bad state of the walls: two holes in the ceiling made, I suspect, by the previous tenants’ careless moving activities, plus numerous cracking/blistering patches. These my dad stated were easily fixable, and I fought to remain optimistic as I lay in bed.

It was as I closed my eyes for sleep that I heard the Dolby Surround Sound ZOOM of the highway. Yes, our house is very close to the Queensway, Ottawa’s 400-series highway; yes, I knew that earlier and yes, I had considered the noise. But somehow, with less than five hours sleep in 36 hours, in a strange house facing a strange direction and even sleeping on the wrong side of Brian, I couldn’t handle it. I shot up in bed like a rocket and started to bawl. I called my mom and told her we were moving. She was comforting and  said give it a week. I called my best friend MJ, and she could tell I wasn’t waiting ‘til morning for a new moving truck; she piled into her car and came right over, where she held me while I mewled like a kitten that I ‘just wanted to go home’, even though it was a mouldy condemned hole.

The state of the nasty fridge.
I’ve calmed down a lot since that first night. I think the apartment and I got off on the wrong foot, a bit like introducing a new cat to your old one. I also think that the loss of my old place, a place I’d come to love despite its faults, like an old lover, was harder on me than I thought it would be. Our new landlord is very nice and very quick to respond, and while he’s overseas for work, we’ve had the green light to get repairs happening. The heat has been helped by a reprogramming of the thermostat by the young couple that lives below us, and the rest of the heat deficit has been fixed by two new pretty space heaters, bought by the landlord for us. Brian spent the first week putting up shelves, a pot rack, and other hardware that made the place look so much better. Dad and Brian plan to patch the paint and the ceiling this week.

There’s a movie (based on a book) called Under the Tuscan Sun; our third night in the house, this movie came on television and it’s a favourite of mine so we watched it as we cuddled up against the cold. I was tired but I fought to stay awake for one particular scene, where the heroine buys an ancient house in Tuscany and talks about moving in. Introduce yourself to an old house, she says. Take your time, let it invite you in. I closed my eyes with that thought, and I’ve been trying to work with that idea ever since.

More paint, more holes.
Why didn’t we just move out, some of you perfectionists (my kindred souls) may wonder? Well, I had a dream on that third night. It’s a recurring dream for me: I’m swimming in a pool or ocean, and suddenly there are sharks in the water all around me. No matter how hard I try to swim out of their way, I end up kicking them and then they bite me from below. It doesn’t take a Jungian to translate this  dream; I always have it when I’m facing struggles that feel completely insurmountable, no matter what steps I take. But this time, something different happened. A man swam up to me on this particular instance, and he handed me a big yoke, like the type for oxen that are hitched to carts. “It’s okay,” he said, “Just ride it.” Then he swam away.

I don’t know why I listened to him, but I stopped there in the ocean, treading water, and held that yoke out in front of me. Below me I could see the giant Great White lining up to charge me from below, positioned like Jaws in a beeline for the surface. He swam at me like a missile, move opened wide…and he stuck his upper jaw right through that yoke. I hollered with surprise and joy as the shark towed me along through the water, faster than I could ever go by swimming. He was tame, letting me guide him left and right. I saw my family and I said, “Look, I rode the shark!” They laughed like it was the most normal thing to do.

I woke up and was weirded out by the dream; my conscious brain worked to shake off the vision, but my subconscious whispered the truth: that it was time to embrace the challenge and ride the damn shark. My conscious mind tried once more to ignore the message, but then I opened my email and saw the strangest Groupon offer: a giant, inflatable, flying, remote-controlled shark. Apparently there’s no getting away from this message.

I didn’t buy the remote-controlled shark…but I am riding the metaphorical one. And hanging up pictures.

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