If I sat and took the time, right now, I'd remember if it was or wasn't in 2005. I know that it was spring, the weekend of Mother's Day, that Ivo and I drove to Philadelphia to visit a potential apartment. I would begin my master's program in the fall.
On our way, Ivo began to droop and sag in the heat and humidity. We played a Prince mixed cd for the umpteenth time and cursed the choice of whether or not to use the air conditioner. Underneath all of the discomfort was that we were visiting a city 8 hours from Providence. We were preparing for me to leave him. We had no idea what this move would mean for our very new relationship, but it was easier to focus on the weather.
At the apartment, we met an Egyptian man who was doing the painting. The place looked a mess and in need of a good deal more than just paint, but the man made huge promises of how he would set the place in order. He said that he was a friend of the building manager. He said that my dog would be welcome there (this proved later to be untrue) and he said that I would really love it there. He then went on to say that his day job was actually in a seurity company. Then he began to expound on the buisness oppurtunities in Iraq. That's it: it was 2004.
When I moved in to my first apartment in Philadelphia, none of the promises from the painter were true and I arrived to confront the fact that I knew exactly noone. I tried to make the best of it and set my bed up in the kitchen. This was my optimism at work. I was promised new carpeting in the bedroom in a few short days, and I didn't want to hamper the building manager's best efforts.
New tenants moved into the first floor. Far more than there was space for. They were artists and sculptors, which meant that they worked in grocery stores and cafes. They were all from Jersey.
While my apartment was not nearly the Utopia that the painter had described, at least it had a working shower. The 6 kids on the first floor had none. They admitted this to me after a week of living there, when we chatted as I took out my garbage.
"You're welcome to mine." I said. I was secretly excited about the company. Indeed, each one sat and chatted (thankfully after having showered) when they came up to use my facilities. When the last was clean, they said that they would like to repay my kindness and invited me down to dinner. This was a huge blessing as I was job-hunting and eating very little at the time.
When I came down, we ate on the porch. They' made all sorts of things that they'd found at the Ethiopian store up the street. The real thank you, they insisted, was to share some opium with me. It smelled lovely, like jasmine. Like everything else, since I'd arrived it was unexpected and unusual.
The short time in this apartment, which ended when I came home from work and found that all of my doorknobs had been removed by the building manager's partner, was a mixture of oddity and anxiety. At some point, the building manager took me out for a burrito. We'd just been fighting about my lease agreement which he had lost and begun defying. I told him that three people had been by and told me three different amounts of rent to be paid at three different times. We were also arguing about whether or not it was my responsibility to find flat mates for the other two bedrooms. I had been told that the building manager would be doing this, and while I wasn't thrilled at the idea, it made me surprised to sudenly be threatened with the whole of the rent for not having found tenants yet. In the middle of this fight he said, "let us discuss this over dinner." and we did.
I'm amazed at how well everything turned out in Philadelphia as I ignored my better judgement on an almost daily basis. Smoking opium in return for letting strangers use my shower. Letting the cuilding manger pay for my burrito and being so taken by stories of his life in Iraq, that I joined him for a drink in a bar which had a Russian brothel on the second floor. Riding on the bike handles of a stranger I met at a David Sedaris reading, and asking him if he knew of anyone with an apartment for rent.
I think that when I moved out of my first flat is when I decided to start trusting my gut again. After all, I was the "totally uncool" housemate who said that she didn't feel comfortable with the fact that one of the houses keys was given to a couple who, although they had chosen to live in their van were camping out in our living room and entertaining guests. (These people were strangers whom one of my housemate had me the day before they began inhabitting our home free of charge.)
When I think back to that first apartment, I can barely comprehend who it was that was making the decisions that I did. I'm glad that Lucas came to visit and played Jimmeny Crickett. Come to that, I think that I may owe my guardian angel some opium.