When I was in my late twenties I had an apartment in a building in Old Louisville.
Actually, I had two different apartments in that building, both on the second floor, the first much smaller than the second, but they were among my favourite apartments ever. And I’ve lived in a lot of different apartments.
The building was more than 100 years old and nothing special to look at from the outside. I always said it looked like a giant grey shoebox. But it was full of ghosts, and love, and magic, and memory-making bliss. It was 3 stories, with an attic apartment belonging to the landlord, and a wonderfully creepy old basement with chain-link storage spaces and laundry facilities. Every unit was different, having been parceled off years earlier, from one big living space to many smaller spaces in various layouts and sizes.
I knew my neighbors.
Never before, nor since, have I known my neighbors. Usually, the people who share space near me are simply casual passing acquaintances, with whom I share polite hellos, but rarely even names.
Not so at the building in Old Louisville. I knew everyone on my floor, and several others throughout the building.
There was Joe, who had a gloriously beautiful scar on his upper lip, which I believe was from surgery when he was little. Joe was ever at the ready to help me haul heavy awkward furniture into my apartment. And once helped drop a rather monstrous entertainment center on my foot. That one left a mark.
There was Ray, a pilot for UPS, who often returned at midnight or so after a full day of flying and would blare classical music at full volume. It was hard to be upset about it, because it was like a fabulous symphony taking place in our building in the wee hours. We bonded over Berlioz and Fuji apples.
Luba and Goetz lived in the giant two bedroom apartment which I rented after they returned to Russia and Germany when their exchange year was up. Goetz once brought me delicious beer after a trip home at Christmastime. It was my first real taste of what would become a deep love of the food and beverage of Germany.
The man I was dating also lived in that building. I met him when I was sitting on my windowsill smoking a cigarette. He walked by on his way back from the laundry room (or maybe the dumpster.) When he looked up… I said hello.
Nick and Bec shared a landing with me when I moved into the big apartment. We had an open door policy when we were home. Their cat was always welcome in my place, my son was always welcome in theirs.
Mike and Sara lived downstairs. We drank margaritas together and worked on our r?sum?s. Sometimes I’d drop in to feed their cat if they were out of town.
And Margaret and Randall were upstairs. Randall was an artist; a photographer and writer whose work I was enamoured with. I was particularly fond of his black and white photography. They had painted a fantastic design on their ceiling, which I’ve often wished I’d taken a picture of. Randall was also the building manager, and more than once had to let me back into my apartment when my son accidentally locked us out.
One Sunday, while relaxing in my living room, I could smell someone grilling and stepped outside. Looking over the rail I saw Mike cooking. We chatted, he told me to come eat and have a margarita. I grabbed a dessert from my kitchen. Someone else brought beer. Nick and Bec brought down sides.
Soon, half the building was eating and drinking and laughing together. I remember the feeling of community that day. We all pitched in, we all shared, we all enjoyed.
Eventually, as things do, everything changed. I moved back to Seattle for a bit. Others left the building and moved to Chicago, California, Australia. I heard the landlord sold the building and moved away, maybe to Hawaii, I don’t recall for certain. Some of us stayed in touch, and some drifted back into the river of people that winds its way around the world.
Sometimes, I long for the unique family I had in that building. We took care of each other; looked out for one another. We were a tribe. A disjointed, dysfunctional, tribe, but they were mine.
I have a lot of people, but we’re scattered. I have friends who feel like home, and home is everywhere for a nomad like me. but I do sometimes long for community, roots, and the kind of fellowship and creativity that is nurtured in me when I am surrounded by unconditional love and people who just “get” me.
I just want some really good food, some really great company, and some damn fine beer.