Acceptance is a small, quiet room.
When I arrived at the building, I was ten minutes late, and the short winter days had already caused darkness to fall in the early evening. The rain came down upon the red-brick building, and I let myself in the unlocked front door. I walked down the long, thin corridor, passed the mailboxes, and into the back of the building, only to realize that I had missed the stairs, obscured by a heavy firedoor right by the entrance.
There was a couple already looking at the apartment, and although in another circumstance I might find them charming, pleasant–potential friends–they had become The Competition for this four hundred square foot space that I was determined to call my own. I succeeded at securing the apartment by throwing the application fee, in cash, across the property manager’s desk, and telling him, “You’ve taken my money. It’s mine now,” while laughing. He’s not sure what to do with me (I’m rude), but he does what I say. Four days later, the place is officially mine.
When I moved in, I was struck with how much brighter and bigger the place seems in the daylight. The studio sits at the corner, with two large windows that both present a view of the park kitty-corner from the building, and the light shines off the warm, golden hardwood floors, brightening the small space. The appliances are too big for this 1927 kitchen, this 1927 building, and the modern white stove sticks out half a foot past the edge of the entrance way, but there is a stained glass shade on the light that hangs from the ceiling.
I own so few things that aren’t in storage, and the first few weeks of the apartment are spent sleeping on a large air mattress, in frigid air due to the heater being broken, but at least this tiny space is mine. As time goes on, I drag a small, round, wooden table found by the garbage cans, and it is my first real piece of furniture. I get a proper bed. My ex mails me the three tiered black metal fruit basket that used to belong to my father, and was one of the few things left behind in our parting. I hang it in my kitchen, and find comfort in this commonplace item whose greatest value is in its former ownership.
The community thrift store twelve blocks from my apartment provides a $3 tea pot, white with painted blue flowers, and two vaguely matching tea cups. As I walk home, I pass by scores of teenage girls wearing crop tops and brightly colored jeans, walking together and exposing their braces as they laugh. A family filling a moving truck pushes a rust-colored rocking armchair to the corner, a 8×11 piece of paper with “FREE” scrawled across it placed in the seat, and I drag it two blocks home, scuffing the bottom rails along the sidewalk. As I pass, a man watching me from his garage laughs as he asks me how far I have to go.
I buy a small succulent with red tips at the edge of its flat, pale green leaves, and call it Ruby. I adopt a Maine Coon whose fur smells like garbage, but likes to talk. I walk down the street to the library, sign up for a card and peruse the small non-fiction section. A sunburned mailman I’ve seen around the neighborhood, with thick, sinewy calves and a large beard, sits at one of the computers, still in uniform. I wonder what he is looking for.
I spend entire weekends reading, burning through Charlotte Shane and George Orwell and Kate Bolick and Maeve Brennan and Reza Aslan’s words. It is the closest thing to meditation I succeed at, and a tranquility comes over me after swelling up, filled with stories. Oregon apples, crisp and sweet, sit in the second tier of the metal basket, and each one provides a satisfactory crunch in the otherwise uninterrupted silence of this solitude.
A print of Steve Zissou, a character from one of the few Wes Anderson movies I like, shows up in the mail. During my trip to the community thrift store, I find a simple black picture frame with white matting for it. While filling up my basket with tupperware and a pie pan and other assorted odds and ends, a drinking glass tumbles out and breaks. Moments later, after collecting myself, I drop the frame and a handful of hangers with a clatter. The glass of the frame falls out, but stays intact, and the couple sitting on one of the couches watches me struggle to pick everything up, waiting for me to drop and break one more thing.
I take the print of Zissou, a character I love so much for being the embodiment of grief, arrogance, and great failure–and being deeply loved anyway–and put it in the frame. He sits on the top of my metal bookshelf, overlooking my pentagonal room. Each time I look at him, I think, I wonder if it remembers me.
When the sun starts to shine–the early glimpses of a Portland spring–I close my computer after work, walk down the hall, and grasp the slightly purple glass doorknob of the backdoor of the building to find a small outside space to read and smoke. The black metal steps are slippery and steep, giving way to cement stairs that have become lopsided and broken as the trees around them grow larger. A neighboring camellia tree spills over into this small airspace, leaning its pink blooms over to peek at the pages. As the weeks pass, they fall, creating a moldy, rotten pile of browning floral mush on the ground. I sit by them anyway, letting the tobacco smoke drift up as I turn page after page of these rented books, each smudged by the many fingers that have come before mine.