When we moved into the apartment (a lovely location, really, not far from Uptown and other cool attractions), we immediately noticed a musty smell. We thought it was residue from some smokers who used to live there. Amanda’s mom noticed some water stains, and Amanda’s dad thought he saw some mold, but we ignored them.
It was an emotional moment. All of our belongings were sitting in a truck in the parking lot. All of our friends had arrived to help us move in. We had prepared for that moment for months, getting everything in order. And we tried to live there.
* * *
We found out that we were pregnant about a week after moving in. Knowing that we were going to use a midwife, and knowing that we were going to have to pay her out of pocket (thanks Big Corporate Health Insurance Bureaucracy), we watched our dream of being able to put down on a house by next summer drain away.
Because, really, we could have afforded a much nicer apartment. But we chose this one–this one with only 1 bedroom, an AC that sucks, and a horrific smell–because we wanted it all. We wanted to save money to buy a house. We wanted to be close to the urban center. We didn’t want to worry about upkeep.
* * *
Then Amanda stopped sleeping. We blamed it on the pregnancy and all the weirdness and change that goes with the first trimester. We forgot that anyone had mentioned mold. My allergies started to flare up. My doctor prescribed a stronger antihistamine. We tried coping. Amanda tried putting a few drops of lavender oil on her pillow at night. I tried not to spend time in the apartment.
Then the AC started pouring water into our (only) bathroom. It took them five days to fix it. They also, without explanation, shut off the water for an entire day.
And so, one day, it was just clear: this is untenable. We remembered the warning of mold. What had sounded like a problem we could deal with, a condition we could manage, a vague possibility, became the most obvious problem in the world: there is mold in our apartment, and we need to leave. Our quality of life had sunk. Amanda, even more than me, was never able to rest, to feel comfortable in her own home.
We visited my grandma for a couple of days and, for the first time, Amanda slept like a baby. On our drive back home, we resolved to move out.
* * *
In Texas, a tenant can only legally break a lease (and thus not owe the money for the entire lease term) if there is a material threat to her health or safety that the landlord will not fix. But we didn’t want the landlord to fix it. We didn’t want to endure our walls being torn out, our ceiling being knocked in, and our home being turned into a work site. Because, you know, 748 square feet.
Plus, we have a baby coming. We want more space. Space to stretch. Space to make our own. We prepared ourselves to break the lease and empty our savings account to cover the difference.
* * *
Amanda kept saying that she felt like she was on vacation, but that now she had gotten tired and wanted to go home. Our two big vacations (Seattle and Washington D.C.) have been to the city. We love walking and riding the metro and visiting unique restaurants and mingling with people. But, after every vacation, we enjoyed returning to our little home, nestled in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of town.
An apartment is a box. And our apartment, quite apart from being infested with mold, was located in the midst of noise and light and strangers.
We started longing for home.
* * *
Last Sunday, when we were over for dinner, Amanda’s parents told us that there was no reason to spend another night in the apartment. So we went to the apartment, packed a bag, and came back to their house.
Amanda slept well. I felt comfortable and at peace. It isn’t home (although it was for Amanda growing up), but it is someone’s home.
* * *
On Monday, our landlord heard us out and, with a bad attitude, voided the lease. I don’t think she wanted to bother with the health department. We owe no money on the apartment. We will not be legally responsible for the money for the rest of the lease term. We won’t have to empty our savings account.
We immediately went to a coffee shop and started plotting our next moves. We have been looking for houses that we think can become homes. That can, for a year or three, become ours.
* * *
Even though we will be renting for at least the next few years, we want to rent a space that will be our home. We want a yard for our dogs and kids. We want an extra bedroom or two so we can host guests, so we can add more children to our family (whether by fostering or by adoption or biologically). We want a large enough kitchen, and a large enough living area, that we can include people and neighbors and friends for meals.
It’s a myth, I think, that the urban center creates better community. It’s a myth that Friends and How I Met Your Mother and New Girl have tried to convince us of. It’s a myth that we believed. But, now, we know. We know that we are old souls who want peace and quiet. We know that we are glad for the urban core, for the coffee shops and walkable neighborhoods and restaurants and cultural venues. We will visit.
But it is essential to have enough to space to bend the world just a bit.
* * *
I can’t imagine celebrating family holidays in a 748 square foot apartment, moldy or not. Family gatherings and holidays, for me, require everyone under one roof. In one place. You need space for that.
I know that people the world over make due with far less than 748 square feet. And, according to a sustainability quiz, if everyone lived like we want to, we would need four earths.
But not everyone can live like us. Nor should everyone. Maybe I’m getting more conservative as I acquire more resources and start thinking about providing for my child, but I really just think I’m getting more focused. Wendell Berry says that we can’t be global thinkers. We don’t have the ability. We can only think in very local contexts, in the context of neighbors and kids and church potlucks.
Living in that apartment, that close to all of the cool things, was a wish dream. A longing I had had ever since studying abroad.
It was a poetic gesture falsely rendered.
An now we look toward home.