Right Now

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  1. Settled in a great new apartment in a great new neighborhood with a great new roommate.
  2. Spring and maybe summer have arrived in Chicago. On Tuesday, it was 85 and sunny for my post-work run.
  3. A couple of great overnights in Champaign, and vacation on the not-to-distant horizon.
  4. Lunchtime walks in beautiful places.
  5. Lots of demands at work, but most of them are interesting and stretch me in good ways.
  6. So much good music in the next two weeks: Zoe Keating, Emily Wells, Front 242 (DJ set), Colin Stetson, Four Tet (DJ set). And then Movement not long after.
  7. Back to back PRs in a set of races where I PR’d last year.
  8. A new relationship that isn’t really new at this point, but that continues to fill me with wonder and joy and peace.
  9. A battery of tests proving that I’m in excellent health.
  10. Horoscopes that tell me to follow my heart:

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19): Despite everything I wrote to you last week about weighing self-gratification against fairness-to-others (which probably still requires some consideration), I can’t help but encourage you to veer slightly more in the direction of pursuing whatever the hell makes you happy. While it’s useful to reflect enough on your privilege relative to your friends or colleagues so you’re not blind to their potential responses, you can’t live a satisfying life by concentrating too much on assuaging others’ discontent. In fact, with multiple 5th-house planets now moving into a supportive trine to Pluto in your 1st, I’m sure you’re feeling pretty emboldened to make the personal most of any situation… and why the fuck not? These energies sure seem to be formally inviting you to intentionally put yourself at the unapologetic center of this week’s decision-making—and not just out of some future-minded commitment to ‘becoming your best self’, but in order to choose whatever will bring you immediate joy, creative fulfillment, and/or positive flirtatious attention. In closing, yes, I suppose I should reiterate the possibility that certain social allegiances could suffer tension, as envious or disapproving others react to seeing you so unapologetically serve your own pleasure. Maybe it’s because they’ve become too accustomed to you taking care of their needs first?

Where do you belong? I have no idea.

Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – September 18, 2012

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Where do you belong? Not where you used to belong and not where you will belong in the future, but where do you belong right now? The answer to that question might have been murky lately, but the time is ripe to get clear. To identify your right and proper power spot, do these things: First, decide what experiences you will need in order to feel loved and nurtured between now and your birthday. Second, determine the two goals that are most important for you to accomplish between now and your birthday. And third, summon a specific vision of how you can best express your generosity between now and your birthday.

This has been in my inbox for just under two months, and my birthday is in a little over two months, and I’m still far from forming answers to any of these questions. I also don’t know what I want to do for my birthday, and would welcome your thoughts on all of the above.

Places I Have Lived: The E Haus, 12th St, Rockford, IL

August 1999 – August 2002

My first real apartment! It is also worth noting that the three years I spent here were the longest I’ve spent at a single address since my family moved out of the house on Pepper Drive.

I moved into the apartment on 12th Street in the fall of my junior year at RC, but I’d been a regular visitor for nearly a year at that point.  The apartment was occupied by a rotating cast of coworkers from Barnes & Noble, so I have no idea who first lived there, or whose name was on the original lease, if there even was one.  The circumstances – or, rather, the conversation – surrounding my first visit are subject to some debate, but the facts are these: I helped Eva do a bathtub full of dishes.  She was living with Stu and Jessica at that point, Jeff and Steven having both moved out.  I remember late nights in the apartment after closing, hanging out with my impossibly cool coworkers and hoping they’d like me as much as I liked them.  In the spring, Stu and Jessica moved out, and Erin – another coworker – moved in.  If we weren’t working, the three of us would order pizza (cheese and pineapple) and watch Must See TV.  When I needed a place and there was an open room, it made sense for me to move in – and my boyfriend along with me.

Looking back, I can’t believe how insanely cheap the place was – we paid something like $450 for a three bedroom apartment, split four ways.  Even split three and eventually two ways, this was worlds cheaper than any place where I’d lived before or since.  We kept it up to exactly the degree of squalor that you’d expect from 3-4 early 20-somethings.  Eva and Erin had a continual battle of wills over the dishes, and I wasn’t much better.  At one point shortly before I moved in, they boxed up all of the dishes and stuck them in the attic, where I found them sometime later, still crusted in food, though miraculously not disgusting.  We hosted Thanksgiving dinner for our friends, but had to farm out most of the cooking because we had one oven rack and zero counter space.  We also had maybe three chairs, so everyone had to sit on the floor.  We wanted to learn about wine, but did so with 2 bottles for $6 deals.  We hosted a lot of parties.  It was a very fun time.

Erin had the first room – large and sunny, with hardwood floors and giant windows.  My boyfriend and I moved to this room when she moved out before Christmas.  I had the second room, which had accordion doors and a walk-in closet, and which we later used as an office.  Eva had the back room – tiny and painted in two different blues.  When she moved out in the summer of the following year, we used the room for storage and for our cats!

Baby Gypsy

I had never had a cat before, and I wasn’t the best cat owner, but good lord, did I love those furballs.  We had hideous hand-me-down furniture, made worse by destructive cats and lots of parties.  Our kitchen was big enough to dance in, and the bathroom had a claw-foot tub where I would often read entire books.

Our landlord was a 30-something guy who would come over to do maintenance – and would stay to drink beer and hang out with us.  Our downstairs neighbor was an obsessive snow shoveler and griller, the two of which came together when he would clear a pathway to his charcoal grill at every snowfall.  Our next-door neighbor fed squirrels and may or may not have been in a ladder cult.

Oh, the stories this apartment could tell.  We stayed for the duration of my time at RC, and another year beyond that.  On 9/11, I watched movies on that hideous couch in order to avoid the non-stop coverage of the towers going down.  In this apartment, I started to learn how to cook, gave up my vegetarianism, and fell deeply and somewhat disastrously in love.  I discovered yoga and Hello Kitty Cube Frenzy.  I did a lot of things I regret, and many more than I don’t.  It was in most ways an ideal college apartment, and I was very sad when we moved out, even though we weren’t going far – next door – and would visit often, as my sister and her best friend were the new tenants.

Places I Have Lived: Hampton Ridge Dr, Rockford, IL

January 1999 – August 1999

The apartment at Hampton Ridge wasn’t really mine. My name wasn’t on the lease, and I never received mail there. I don’t remember if I paid any rent, and if that’s the case, I probably owe the guys money. I stayed in the apartment on and off during the fall semester of my sophomore year at RC, but started staying there full time when my boyfriend and I got back together after Christmas.

We shared a very messy room in the ground floor apartment, clothes and magazines overflowing from the closet and the storage drawers under our waterbed. I was in charge of the newsstand at Barnes & Noble, so I brought home giant stacks of back issues, the covers removed. The guys both worked nights, and I got used to a semi-nocturnal schedule, getting up in the morning only when work (and, less frequently, class) required it. The upstairs neighbors’ kids seemed to never sleep, as someone was always running laps around the apartment or dropping things off their balcony onto our patio – yet we were always the scapegoat for noise complaints.

It’s really kind of amazing to me how little I remember about our life in this apartment. Other than the Thanksgiving dinner that we hosted for my boyfriend’s family, I don’t recall cooking in this apartment. I know that we had a mouse once, and that it died an ignoble death behind a cabinet. There was a pool and a fitness center, but I wasn’t able to use either on my own since I wasn’t technically a resident. We moved out at the end of the summer, shoving many of our possessions into the dumpster immediately behind the building, including the couch that Joe hefted in and then smashed to pieces.

Places I Have Lived: Olson Hall, Rockford College, Rockford, IL

August 1998 – January 1999

The summer on the farm ended in a flurry of activity.  The guys had about a week to find an apartment and move out; I on the other hand was moving back into the dorms.  My three friends and I had secured a suite in Olson Hall, a smaller and more centrally located dorm than freshman year’s McGaw.  Olson had two single sex floors, each of which had somewhere around 10-12 suites housing four students.  Kelley and I lucked out, however, as in the time between committing to our housing situation and the beginning of the school year, Mayra decided not to come back to RC, and Amanda accepted a job as an RA – leaving just the two of us in the suite.

There were pluses and minuses to this living situation – as, I’m sure, is the case for all dorms.  RC didn’t have a football team, so baseball and soccer players filled in the rowdy partying gap – and we lived directly above a suite full of ’em.  The window below our living room window was both kicked out and kicked in several times throughout the semester.  It was almost impossible to sleep after 25c wings night at the closest bar to campus.  We made up for it by dragging furniture around our rooms very early the next morning.

Most of my memories of life in Olson are pretty vague.  Kelley basically had the suite to herself.  I stayed in my room for about half of the first semester, but after a brief break-up and reconciliation, I moved in with my boyfriend and only returned to our suite for parties and to move out at the end of the year.  I remember getting my car stuck in a snow drift over Christmas break, and having to leave it there for a few days since no one was available to dig me out.  I also remember many games of Trivial Pursuit, including one where Kelley’s boyfriend didn’t know the answer to a question about Little Women (?), and I replied – from the shower – with “C’mon! It’s a classic American novel!”.  Cos that’s how I roll.

Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

Places I Have Lived: Poplar Grove Rd, Poplar Grove, IL

May 1998 – August 1998

Over the winter of my freshman year of college, my boyfriend and his best friend moved to a farmhouse in Poplar Grove, a one stoplight town about 30 minutes outside of Rockford.  The house and property were owned by his coworkers’ parents, who planned to open a children’s farm and petting zoo on the property in the future, but for the time being just wanted tenants to keep the place occupied and the pipes from freezing.  My boyfriend and his best friend fit the bill, and I spent most weekends there as well, moving in for real after my first year of college wrapped up.

I haven’t spent much time in (other) farmhouses, so I’m not sure how typical a structure it was: three (or four?) bedrooms and an attic upstairs, another bedroom plus several living areas and a big kitchen on the sprawling ground floor.  One and a quarter bathrooms, though we only used the full bath.  A screened in porch and a very creepy basement.  I had my own vaguely technicolor room upstairs that was only ever used for storage; eventually we moved to the downstairs bedroom, leaving Joe with the upstairs to himself.

This was an interesting living situation for a variety of reasons.  We all had to drive at least half an hour to work – that is, when we were all employed.  I had two jobs that summer, but my boyfriend lost his shortly after I moved in, and spent the 4-6 weeks of our cohabitation unemployed, living off my part-time paychecks and credit cards.  I was never officially on the lease, so I paid for my housing by buying groceries and paying other bills.  None of us were particularly interested in housekeeping, cooking, or anything domestic, which I suppose is fairly typical of an 18 year old girl and two 21 year old guys.  We ate a lot of shitty processed food and drank a lot of beer.  We had a few epic parties, and ordered a lot of pizzas from the place down the street – the closest grocery store was also about half an hour away, so this was frequently the best option.

The most notable thing about this house is that we’re fairly sure it was (is?) haunted.  A number of weird things happened in the time that we lived there – things that individually might’ve been ignored, but added up to a vague creepiness.  One of the first times I was there alone, an interior door swung shut and locked.  A group of friends spent the night and later reported all having had the same dream about the attic space.  We once drove up to the house at night and saw the attic lights on, but when we went inside, the house was empty and the lights were off.  We never saw or sensed anything spectral, but these events were enough to make being home alone, especially on stormy dark nights, pretty damned creepy.

The aforementioned parties actually resulted in the end of this domestic bliss.  Our landlords came out early one weekend morning to do some work on the property, and found a bunch of cars parked in the driveway, tents set up in the back yard and the remnants of a bonfire in the fire pit.  We had thought we were being responsible by having friends spend the night rather than driving back into town; they, on the other hand, only saw a liability.  It turned out that they thought we were in our late 20s – as was the case with their son, my boyfriend’s by then former coworker.  I’m reasonably confident they would’ve evicted us on the spot if they could have – I don’t think they were interested in being landlords in the first place – but we stayed there for the duration of the summer, moving out in one quick and insane week at the end of August.

Looking back at this summer from the space of more than a decade, there are a few things that stand out.  I remember my parents’ sharp disapproval when I said that I wouldn’t be moving home; I received a harsh letter from Pop, and it was made clear that I wasn’t welcome at the house, albeit temporarily.  I remember eating disgusting meals of whatever we had on hand – melted cheese sandwiches with ranch dressing, anyone? – while teaching myself HTML on the bank of computers in the office off the kitchen.  At some point we acquired a bunny – perhaps the first of the intended farm menagerie?  – though I don’t recall that we were asked to care for it, nor that any arrangements were made for its care.  It just appeared on our porch one day, and the porch was its domain for the remainder of the summer, though I have no idea who fed it or cared for it or what ultimately happened to it.  I remember the first explorations of sex and sexuality, starting to understand myself as a sexual being.  I remember standing on the screened in porch after my shower, drying my hair in the sunshine, enjoying the fresh air on my skin.  And I remember the frustration and anxiety of not knowing where the guys would be living when our last week in the house was up, while at the same time not wanting to move apart from them and back into the dorms.

Places I Have Lived: McGaw Hall, Rockford College, Rockford, IL

August 1997 – May 1998

My parents had their heart set on me attending Wheaton College. When I wasn’t accepted to Wheaton, I was heartbroken, even though I felt strongly that I wasn’t ready for college. Why I didn’t fall back on my acceptance at Iowa, I don’t know. In retrospect, I regret it – but then my life would be completely and unimaginably different, so those regrets are ultimately futile. My acceptance (or lack thereof) to Wheaton was deferred to the latest announcement date, putting it past the deadline for applying just about anywhere else. I resigned myself to a semester at Rock Valley while applying elsewhere, and filled out an application for Rockford College on a whim.

I was accepted almost immediately and, in the middle of July, received a full scholarship. The one condition was that I had to live on campus for my four years. Fine by me, especially as this news came during a particularly tumultuous time in my relationship with my parents. I exchanged letters with my new roommate, and in mid-August, I moved out of my parents’ house for good, though I’d return for a few weeks here and there over the next few years.

All RC freshman lived in McGaw Hall, inconveniently located at the far end of campus, literally over the river (creek) and through the woods. In my memory, McGaw was a giant high-rise; in reality, I think it was six floors, and I think Mayra and I lived on the third. I know we didn’t live on the second, as the girls that lived below us would complain about Mayra waking them up by coming home from class, putting on Barbie Girl, and dancing around our room.

My First Dorm Room

Our room had two twin beds, two desks, two dressers, two closets with accordion doors, two windows, and two bulletin boards. Whenever we had deadlines, we would compulsively rearrange the furniture. Please note the requisite Beatles and Jim Morrison posters, the psychedelia lifted from my mom’s dorm room, the giant desktop computer, and the desk littered with coffee mugs. The temperature control in the building was terrible – in one room, friends would be freezing, while we kept our windows open through the winter and our floor was hot to the touch.

There was a kitchenette and a tiny laundry room on the floor. The extremely narrow shower stalls made shaving my legs nearly impossible – not that I was inclined to do so very often. We had keyed access to the building, though later in the year they switched to ID readers. This was problematic as I went through literally five IDs in the first few months through no fault of my own. There was an intercom by the exterior door, but friends often couldn’t get through because I was chatting on the RWorld BBS with friends or my boyfriend.

Freshman Friends

I have no idea how my dorm experience compared to others’. I made ramen in the kitchenette and drank a lot of Mountain Dew. I avoided the extremely terrible cafeteria food whenever possible. I made friends with my neighbors – Amanda lived next door, and Kelley down the hall – who would be my roommates in the coming years. My boyfriend spent the night, though in retrospect I have no idea how two of us not-small people fit in a twin bed. Mayra and I both stayed at McGaw until the very last day of move-out week for both Christmas and the end of the school year. It wasn’t always an ideal living situation, but I look back on that year with many, many fond memories.

Places I Have Lived: North Mulford Rd, Rockford, IL

June/July 1996 – August 1997

Sometime in 1995, my family started house hunting.  I’m not sure what exactly spurred this move other than that our house was paid off and it was a financially advantageous time to move.  At around this time, some family friends put their house on the market – a house and property that my parents had long admired.  While I could see the merits of the new house – especially the pool – I mostly remember deeply resenting the idea of moving.  I didn’t have my drivers license, much less a car, so moving anywhere would mean being impossibly far away from my neighborhood crew.

By the time we moved in the summer of 1996, the house had undergone substantial renovations.  The original house was fairly small, so my parents worked with an architect and contractors to knock down walls, build a second story with bedrooms for each of us, expand the kitchen, and add a garage when it became obvious that the original garage didn’t actually connect to the house in the way they thought.  As was the case with the previous moves, Mom found herself pregnant during this renovation, and my brother was born a few months before we moved to the new house.

On the ground floor: my parents’ suite, including a room that was supposed to be an office but became Eric’s when he was conceived between the architectural designs and move in. Their bathroom, one of my favorite rooms in the house, had a whirlpool tub, a sunlight, and a panel of stained glass. A “great room” with a wood-burning stove, a ceiling extending to the second floor, and views back to the creek and bordering arboretum. The kitchen, with similar views, where you can occasionally see a deer or fox while eating your breakfast on a quiet morning. Upstairs: three bedrooms, one for each kid. Jenn’s and my rooms connected to a shared full bath; Mark had his own 3/4 bath. Downstairs: a small exercise room and a larger family room. A 3/4 bath lined in pink tile under the stairs. And then the pool/pool house: roll-down canvas panels covering the screened-in walls, and a bathroom where there were always more bugs than I liked to think about. Perfect for pool parties or cookouts, not so perfect if you had to close it up at night.

I only lived in this house for a little more than a year – beginning the summer before my senior year of high school, and ending when I moved out to go to college. I returned for a few months here and there, but in total spent less time in this house than I have in a couple of my subsequent apartments. Maybe that’s why it’s never felt like home for me – I never had the time to settle in and make it my own, or perhaps I actively avoided doing so because I knew I would be leaving soon, or perhaps I resented it for not being the house where I grew up in the neighborhood that I loved. That year was also kind of crazy – I was a senior, applying for college, and working two part time jobs. I had major roles in the fall play and the spring musical. There was a new baby in the house and then, over the winter, Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. We all shouldered extra responsibilities.

I loved the windows and the breeze in my new room. I took the van to Lowe’s and returned with a trunk full of cinder blocks, which I used to build brick-and-board bookcases. I burned incense and listened to Procol Harum. I read piles of library books in the saggy double bed that previously belonged to a great-grandpa (or great-great?). I annoyed my parents by walking too heavily – my room was directly above theirs – and by staying up late connecting to Juno so that I could email friends. My friends and I dressed for one of the high school dances in my room, and took photos down by the creek. My adolescent rebelliousness flared in the last summer I lived there, and I couldn’t wait to move out.

Places I Have Lived: Pepper Drive, Rockford, IL

January 1984 – June/July 1996

We moved to Rockford in the winter of 1984, right around my 4th birthday. Mom was pregnant with Jenn, and I was the only one who was sure she’d be a girl (I was right). I can’t imagine moving to a new city in the dead of winter with two kids under 4 plus another one on the way – I know this move was hard for Mom, though I can’t really even begin to comprehend it. I know that the other stay-at-home moms in our neighborhood became her lifeline, and so we grew up with family friends that were like family – the Kensingers, the Ericsons, the Wilhelms – and that have remained close to this day.

It’s hard to talk briefly about the house where you grew up. I apologize.

porch rail
From left: Jenn, Chelsea K., Sara K., Ditka, Mark, Bart K., me

Our house had two stories and a finished basement, all resplendent in early 80s style. The house was chocolate brown, with a cement front porch and a two car garage, where I would get the car stuck on my first attempt at backing out. When we moved in, there was no furniture in the front room, and I remember playing ‘store’ in the front window with the kitchen set that Grandpa built. Later this would be the living room, with nice furniture and the piano, where we grudgingly took lessons. The dining room was infrequently used, as often happens with rooms of this type. Mom would sew our Halloween costumes at the table, and I remember dusting as part of weekly chores and finding coins left on the wooden chair rail.

When we first moved in, the kitchen had brown wood paneling, brown wood cabinets, brown wood slat blinds, and brown linoleum. We would play in one of the tall cabinets, pretending to be Oscar the Grouch in his garbage can. In a later remodel, the external wall was replaced with doors to a sunroom, and all that brown went away. I learned to cook in that kitchen, though it’s probably more accurate to say that I learned to prepare food.

The family room, adjacent to the kitchen, had a fireplace and more wood paneling. One year we had racoons in the fireplace and had to have animal control come and take them out. Living (and playing) took place in this room: the stereo and tv were here, as was our first computer. When we got our first dog, we tried to keep her out of this room and off the new white carpet (bad idea!) by constructing a barrier between the rooms out of furniture and boxes. She immediately figured out how to climb over.

I am nine

There was a small ‘mud room’ with backyard access; after a remodel, this became a home office, and the laundry and storage moved to a new room carved out of the garage. I spent many hours in here on AOL in high school, chatting with friends, doing homework, and listening to Sgt. Pepper. I don’t think that Mom ever got to use it as the home office she envisioned.

The ground floor half bath was absurdly gold and brown when we moved in. I think this was the first room to be updated.

The basement had hideous orange and brown carpet, a sort of bar that was mainly for storage, and a store room. My memories of the basement are mostly of it being in a state of chaos from three kids playing video games, listening to books-on-record, doing art projects, and generally making a terrific mess. In junior high, I carved out a little nook under the stairs as my private space, though why I sought this out, I’m not sure. A later remodel would turn the basement into a much more habitable guest space, adding on a half bath, built in cabinets, a space for watching TV, and a small office for Pop. I spent a lot of time down there in high school, exercising or watching tv and talking on the phone.

We each had our own bedroom on the second floor, though our play as kids spilled out into the hallway and down the stairs, where we would amass all of our beloved stuffed animals for impromptu camp outs. My bedroom was the first on the right, with a closet that bumped out over the stairwell. When I was small, this closet was ideal for playing the sort of games that involved climbing around the room without touching the floor, whether your flavor involved hot lava or a sea full of sharks. I could watch the mailbox from my window, and yell out to my friends amassed in the front yard. When I grew into an angsty adolescent, I had a lock – with a key – on my door to keep prying siblings out.

Stuffed Animals

Tied closely to my memories of the house are my memories of the neighborhood. Those same families that provided support networks for my parents also provided friends for Mark and Jenn and I, and we ranged free with those friends until long after sundown. We went to school and carpooled with many of the neighborhood kids. When I was 15, Sarah and her family moved in next door, giving me the neighborhood best friend I’d long wanted. I babysat kids from the neighborhood. My homecoming and prom dates were guys from the neighborhood. All of which made leaving this house in 1996 even more difficult.