Merry-Go-Round of Neighbors
Change can be difficult for most everyone. I don’t love it. Ken was adept at handling change, and instrumental in my process of dealing with it. I’ve learned to manage it on my own–out of necessity–though old habits of inflexibility appear from time to time. Thinking of how he would handle any given situation is equal parts helpful and frustrating–because I have never possessed the kind of patience he had, and I so miss his myriad talents for caressing my soul.
The annual change that has always rattled me is the inevitable change-up of neighbors in the three-flat in which I reside. My apartment is the bottom floor/garden apartment (not a basement, to be clear.) Ken came to Chicago in early 2006 to find a place for us to live when we moved back from LA. He–along with my best friend–Kathy scoured the north side until they found this little gem.
It’s always been a special place to me. We made it our home. Ken tamed the overgrown garden and added his creative touch to the interior. It became the venue for our annual Christmas party and for countless friends and family over the years, and the single address we called home together longer than any other. It’s the first apartment I’ve ever painted, when Ken and I painted our kitchen cabinets from the drab brown wood grain to yellow cabinets with orange doors not long after moving in. Most significantly, this is the place where Ken spent the last two months of his life in hospice, and solemnly–where he died. But make no mistake, the waterfall of tears that have been shed within these walls will forever be outnumbered by the mirth and laughter shared here.
Each year about this time we both marveled at the comings and goings of the neighbors, never understanding who wouldn’t want to stay tucked away on our quiet street, a block from the L, in the heart of the north side. Of course, there have been neighbors we were happy to see go–many. As the bottom unit, noise has always been an issue, but you have complain strategically, otherwise your home life can easily be rendered a hell of clomps and stomps.
I created a spreadsheet of building residents by year. Each of the three units has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each of the units above mine has usually been occupied by three college or post-college roommates (never ideal), save for the top unit which has been occupied by two young married couples sequentially. In the seven years I’ve lived in this apartment, above have passed 29 people. 29 people! Which has left me less and less interested in getting to know any of them in recent years. However, this group of fleeing tenants and I were all pretty simpatico. They were all very easy neighbors to get along with.
This annual change up probably distressed me the most the summer after Ken died. Too much jarring change had already punctured my life. I’ve always been the kind of person who needed a serene home base. Even spats between Ken and me weren’t allowed to last long. I couldn’t settle for coming home from a long day at work to anywhere but a haven. And that’s what every home with Ken has been. And after a short transition when the thought of coming home from work filled me with dread and tears, my apartment continues to be: my haven.
The thought of “training” new neighbors exhausts and terrifies me. I hate that they could be nightmares, and maybe even more that they don’t know I once had a completely different life. The couple on the top floor lived here for four years, so they knew Ken. We were always casually friendly, and I was reassured having some connection outside myself to my old life.
But I my old life is exactly that. Old. Former. In the past. Not the memories or feelings or the part it I will always carry forward with me. It’s forever current. And who knows? Maybe my new neighbors will be awesome…er…nice.
But really I’ll settle for quiet.