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April 2, 2017

Nine Years at Home

Nine years ago yesterday we moved here, the first day of April after a disastrous winter but then it never snowed again. “It’s always spring at our new house,” I remember thinking. There was mail waiting for us in the mailbox when we pulled up with the moving truck. A few days later we were awakened in the middle of the night by a digger out in the street carting away the snowbanks. I never knew such things were artificial, that the world could be arranged. But the fact that we’d moved at all was testament to the latter point. Before we moved here, every house we’d ever had had come to us via somebody else. Our old place in Little Italy had been my cousins’, and we’d lived in our friends’ old place in Japan, and company accommodation before that. But this apartment was the first home we’d ever been deliberate about. I found it online and it checked all of our boxes, except it had hideous carpets instead of hardwood floors. I remember how the sunshine poured into our old apartment that had hardwood floors on our last day there as we packed up the last few boxes (which ended up taking nine hours) and listening to Panic at the Disco and Sam Sparro. That night we slept on a mattress on the floor, and the movers would arrive in the morning. We were on the cusp of everything, and so excited to arrive.

Of course, we weren’t always sure. The day we moved in, our place was filthy and there was a box of rat poison in the bathroom—never a good omen. The drawers in the kitchen were filled with other people’s cutlery. Stuart and I ate pizza on the hideous carpet that night (which is the same hideous carpet I’m lying on now as I write this post) and he wasn’t sure at all, and so I had to pretend that I really was. It would turn out the the rat poison was for mice though, which is the sort of thing one expects in an old house downtown, and eventually I got the kitchen cleaned out. We painted the walls and hung our pictures upon them. I’ve written before about how we made a conscious decision to not buy a house, but how we were still in search of a home and that this would be the place. And living here has made so much possible for us.

Our apartment is in a great school district—who knew? I certainly didn’t in 2008 when our children were still strictly hypothetical. And this is the only home they’ve ever known, which has been scene to birthday parties, playdates, tantrums, and projectile vomiting. They’re wholly accustomed to the mildew in the bathroom, which has probably given them immune systems beyond compare. When they go to bed at night, the house is quiet, and it’s almost like it’s just the two us still, except for the plastic tubs of lego and the tiny table heaped with artwork. Nine years seems like a long time ago—the longest I’ve lived almost anywhere—but wasn’t it also five minutes ago? How is a person expected to keep such things straight?

Our house is weird, and not all of that is “charming”—although some of it is. There are rooms with wood trim that does not manage to go all the way around the room’s perimeter. There is an actual gap between the doors in the kitchen that means when you sit on one side of the table in the winter, you’re forced to contend with being on the windy side. Our oven is so small that you can only put two things inside it at once—and most of the time the pans don’t fit all the way and so I bake with the oven door partway open. The upstairs sink fell off the wall once while I was washing my feet in it. And the fact of that hideous carpet, which has not become any less hideous with time (although once we had children, we realized that attractive flooring was overrated).

But there are fairy doors, and a doorframe where two little girls’ height has been tracked, and big windows you can see the sky from, and the shade of a big tree that gives us gifts all spring and summer and well into fall. There is the chestnut tree out front where we get conkers. There are gorgeous tiles in the kitchen, and things to string bunting from, and a backyard where you can draw with chalk on the bricks and where my book club meets in summer, and where we get together with friends for epic barbecues. I’ve made two books here, and Stuart has honed his skills as a designer, and I remember him saying something once he’d calmed down about the potential rats, that there was something here that fostered creativity. Our houseplants lived a little bit longer than usual. There was something in the air.

There is a key that hangs outside on a rusty nail at the bottom of our staircase. I walk past it at least twice a day, but it took a long time for me to even notice it. “What’s the key for?” someone asked—perhaps our former downstairs neighbour. Nobody knew, but it’s been there forever. A curious thing—a very public spot for something that’s locked. What’s the point of a key that everyone has access to? It’s kind of emblematic of this place, its quirks and mysteries and possibilities, and the stories of all the people who’ve lived here before us. It’s emblematic of faith as well, which is the thing that brought us here. And so we keep the key hanging there, on the off-chance that one day we’ll need it.

5 thoughts on “Nine Years at Home”

  1. theresa says:

    What a lovely essay, Kerry. (A collection of these would be a pleasure to read.)

    1. Maia says:

      Agreed. Include the ones about accidental cake and your kitchen table, please. 🙂

  2. Stuart says:

    I do feel as though the house is a hub of creative energy – I know this makes me sound crazy. But in this house a hummus/soup company was founded, a professional photographer made his living (and the entire house a dark room?) and who knows what else!

  3. Joan says:

    Love this Kerry.

  4. Jk says:

    I’ll be celebrating 8 years with my own beloved breezy, sometimes mildewy rental, and this made my heart feel full to the brim.

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