I’ve spent an unusually silent day today, mostly reading and napping. The occasional phone call or tweet. I haven’t done anything that made a lot of noise, and I’ve left music and the TV off. So what I’ve noticed is the arthritic life of my apartment, and the madscrabble life of the crows who live on the roof. In this cold snap, I’ve left the heaters on all week. This old building snaps and crackles as it breathes all day long, including an odd series of quite human-sounding sighs and adjustments for a period of 20 minutes this afternoon. I’ve noticed that the crows sometimes actually run across the roof before launching themselves into the air, and that they’ll walk over to the edge of it to carry on a squawky conversation with birds on the other side of the street – just as you might walk over to your fence to talk to your neighbor. It’s rare that I don’t have some form of entertainment or distraction or work-with-noise happening in my space, but I liked how it felt, being encompassed by a space as it went about its business.
The past several months have felt choppy and unsettled in many ways, but blissful in so many others. I’ve been job hunting for what feels like forever now, and struggling with not having a regular routine or a settled sense of even the near future. Recently, I have several job leads, and it feels like my life is about to change. Again. When that happens, I’ll be relieved and happy to have some security and a new horizon to explore; but there’s no question that it will be a hard adjustment after such a long period of freedom.
This morning, I woke up feeling so grateful for these months when my time has been flexible, when I could sink into the space of my home, the routines of my own work, when I could follow the pull of my thoughts. The freedom to put down my work and pick up a book, knowing that there’s time later to come back to the work. I lay in bed listening to the crows squabbling on the roof, smelling the cold air from the window, and thought how lucky I’ve been to have this time: how lucky I am to have it still, even if it’s only for a little while longer. When I have a job, I know that I’ll start to live differently, to compartmentalize my thoughts, to ration my time carefully. I know that my relationship to my home will become more functional and less intimate; I won’t see the little things so closely. So today I’m grateful for this peaceful morning, sitting on my couch. Writing this, and stopping to watch the steam curl off the mug of black coffee by the window. Listening to the low electric hum of appliances, smelling the faint odor of scorched dust off the heater, and admiring the way the light falls on the blonde wood of my work table.
I’ve been spinning my wheels. I’m fidgety and uncomfortable and full of mood swings and I’ve been avoiding blogging because even though I am packed to the rafters with spinning thoughts, I can’t get a grip on any of them long enough to make something of it. I finally pinned one down this week, though, and I think it’s been contributing to the fidgeting. So here goes.
I chose the wrong apartment.
The housing market in Portland is tight, and I needed to find someplace. So I could unpack. So I could get back to working. So I could get a handle on money. So I could start settling and moving forward with the things I’m planning. When this one became available, it was the first place I’d seen that had good light for taking product photographs, and a gas stove (for janky metalsmithing. I make sterling ballpins on the stove. Now you know.). The walls are painted good colors, the bedroom is enormous, and it was the first place I’d looked at where I could picture my things in the space. I jumped at it.
A month into living here, I know it’s wrong. I know it’s not the neighborhood I want, I know that this apartment is designed for someone much taller than I am, I know that the bathroom doesn’t have nearly enough storage space and the towel racks are in terrible places, I know that the light is good for photographs and terrible for working, I know that the functional space is awkward and I haven’t been able to get a comfortable groove going for working. The wood floors are beautiful, and they smell amazing, but they also make it echoing and loud and cold because I need rugs and more furniture. The bedroom is still enormous, and beautiful, and is functioning as a refuge from my business. That was important to me in looking for a place – somewhere to shut the door on work. But my work is not working in this space, and I’m anticipating needing to move in a year when my lease is up.
So, naturally, I’ve resisted settling all the way in. Most of my photographs and art are not hung. I haven’t unpacked the doodads and bits and collections that make my home look like my home. I have boxes of books that are still packed, boxes of seldom-used kitchen things that are still packed, boxes of hats and shoes that are still packed. I am acting like a person who is moving, and it’s keeping me in a state of paralysis. I’ve been in flux for such a long time that in a way it feels natural to hold back from settling. Even though I ache for someplace that feels like home, that contains and reflects and restores all the parts of myself, even though I’ve spent the last year waiting and working and planning for the moment that I’m in now, I’m finding it difficult to let go and stop planning for the next thing.
This is bad for me, so I’m stopping now. Next year will have to take care of itself (Don’t borrow trouble, says my father’s voice in my head. Future Kateri can deal with that, says the voice of Shana in my head.). This week I’m staying in and unpacking the rest of everything. The art is going on the walls, the knickknacks are going on the shelves, the hooks are getting hung and the hats and scarves and coats and necklaces and earrings and twenty bottles of nail polish will get put away. I’ll look for good lamps, and will figure out how to store my supplies and inventory so I’m not shuttling them from one surface to the next. The furniture will get rearranged, and if that doesn’t work, rearranged again. I’ll start looking for furniture that works for this space. I’m going to act like this is the place. I am going to wrestle this apartment until it gives me what I need: a home.
Summer is almost over. I go back to work one week from
today yesterday (I’ve been working on this post for 36 hours). My job is relatively easy, but it’s emotionally taxing and I try to disconnect pretty thoroughly over summer vacation in order to be able to keep doing it when school starts again in August. This summer, though, I’ve struck out way past the sandbar into very deep water, and I can barely see where I came from anymore. Part of that is being very, very ready to leave this period of my life and move on to the next part. Part of it is the rollercoaster past month of surgery, recovery, and family events.
For the past four weeks, I’ve been disconnected not only from my school-year job, but from most of the rest of my life. I’ve been staying at Leslie’s place while she was away, because it was physically easier to manage than my apartment, and because it took me away from visual chaos and thoughts of work while I was healing. It’s been a tremendous gift to be able to do that, and it helped a lot. But I didn’t realize until this week just how absent I felt from myself. I was disconnected from my home, and from the work that usually grounds me. I was hyper-aware of, but unfamiliar with, my body. I’ve felt like a stranger in my own mind, first ruinously sad and more recently, manic. Since Friday, my mind has been going non-stop. I’m writing all the time – most of it completely unnecessary and some of it actually foolish. I’ll talk to friends and while the words are coming out of my mouth, I’m thinking, that isn’t what I want to say. I laugh too easily. My hands tremble. I changed my Twitter bio three times. I’m swearing even more than usual. It’s a big improvement over the sadness of a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still uncomfortable. And much like the sadness, I’m trying to just let it run its course. And trying to write this blog post, which has been tumbling and tangling in my thoughts for two days.
I got the go-ahead to go back to working out this week, and I expect that will start to help with the crazy mood swings soon. It hasn’t made a dent yet, but I’ve only been to the gym three times and I’m not up to my full routine. The complication I was afraid of after the surgery turns out to be nothing worse than slow healing because of low circulation. That, at least, has been a huge relief, and should also improve with exercise.
My move to Portland has been in a holding pattern for what feels like forever, and I’m aching to be done with my job and move on. I’m not able to do that yet, though, so the point of all this wordiness (I do have a point) is that I need to find my way back into my life, and through that, back into my job for as long as I need to keep doing it.
The first step was to move back home to my own apartment yesterday. Home is an idea that’s been on my mind lately. Right now, I don’t feel like anyplace is home to me. There are people who represent home to me, but that’s a more intangible thing and not really what I mean. I mean the place that you look at and think: this is mine. This street is mine. The light from this direction is mine. The smell of the air on a January night is mine. That nauseatingly dull city council meeting about the zoning lines for recycling services is mine. I’ve been talking to some friends about where they live and what makes it home. No surprise, there’s no consistent answer to that question, but it’s an interesting conversation. A friend of a friend recently decided he wanted to live in Australia and less than two months later he’d sold everything but his camera and his clothes and was there. He’s blissfully happy.
Where was I? (I’m trying really hard to just keep going and not abandon or rewrite this for the 9th time.) I was moving back into my apartment. I think my train of thought here was that I was dreading coming back to my apartment, which has also not felt like home for some time. There was the mouse incident, which made me feel like an alien in my own space, and all the packing that had to get done before surgery made home feel inhospitable. When I got here yesterday, I unpacked and spent a couple of hours wandering around and picking things up and putting them back down again. I went to bed around midnight, and woke up again just before three and haven’t gone back to sleep (it’s 8:43 a.m. as I type this sentence). But somewhere around five this morning, I felt that familiar peal of ownership. Maybe it was just several hours of acclimation. Maybe it was the tea-and-internet routines of insomnia. But I am definitely home in this cupboard of an apartment.
These feet are my feet. This blue wall of my closet bedroom is my blue wall. These are my books in my bed. This is enough for today.
I’ve had a mouse in the walls of my apartment – and sometimes in my apartment – for more than two weeks. There’s a badly done join under a cabinet, and I also discovered a long gap between carpet and baseboard that looks perfectly sealed but IS NOT. I talked to the landlord, who gave me a glue trap. Here endeth the landlord part of this story.
My first plan was just to keep him out. I filled all the holes I could find with steel wool and then sealed them with spray putty. The mouse found new gaps (it’s a very old apartment), and wriggled past steel wool (to his own injury), and scratched through wads of putty to get back in. He was really determined to be in my home, considering that there was no food he could get at and I kept removing all the places he could hide. I kept up the search/patch/repair regimen for 8 days, during which I got more and more anxious and uncomfortable in my home, which is normally my favorite place in the world. I only saw him three times, but I was always thinking I saw him. I could also hear him when he scratched at the putty.
After his second time scratching through the putty barrier and avoiding the landlord’s laughable glue trap, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to keep him out. I very much didn’t want him in, so I decided to get old fashioned snap traps. I hate the idea of hearing that sound and knowing what it means, but at least they’re a quick death, and I can’t live with a mouse. I got the traps, and I set them with peanut butter. The mouse carefully, so carefully, ate the peanut butter off the traps. I set them again. He ate it again. I began to feel like I should just give him a name and a water dish.
Then a few days ago I came home from work, and there he was, stuck in the glue trap. Three quick-death snap traps in the apartment, and he got stuck on the landlord’s stupid glue trap. I’m no stranger to animal death. I grew up on a farm, and the house in Nantucket has mice every couple of years. But in that moment, looking at that tiny, pretty, terrified creature staring at me and struggling, I would have done anything to be someone else. I would have given anything to go back and set a humane trap and let him out in the alley, even though I know he’d just come back in. Because now there was only one thing I could do.
I put on gloves and I got a tack hammer out of the toolbox. I knelt on the floor and looked at him and said I’m sorry. I hit the mouse in the head with the tack hammer and he squeaked and he twitched and then he died. I stood up and my hands were shaking and I was crying and I couldn’t put the hammer down and couldn’t put the hammer down and couldn’t put the hammer down. Then I put the hammer down and I hated my hands. I know there wasn’t anything else I could do, but I wish I didn’t know what it felt like to do that.
I stood there and finished crying and then I collected the little body and took it to the dumpster. I called Shana because I needed to say out loud, right that minute, “I just had to kill the mouse with a tack hammer.” She let me say it, and she made me feel better, and she even made me laugh a little about a merit badge for mouse battle. Then she tweeted that she loves me a lot so I would see it later because she’s really amazing like that. I changed and went to the gym, where I ran hard for 45 minutes but did not outrun the mouse.
I felt better when I got home, and after I ate dinner the awfulness of it had worn off. After I had a beer the anxiety had worn off. By the time I went to bed I was a little shocked at how fast I’d adjusted and stopped being sad. I walked around the apartment in bare feet for the first time in 18 days, and it was a relief to wake up the next morning and not have to check traps. Still. I know something now that I would rather not know, and I wish it had happened any other way.