It was the smallest place I’d ever lived. The whole house was only slightly bigger than the room I’d rented from my sister. It had a tiny well kept yard and was right across the street from a movie theater. My landlords lived in the Victorian mansion right next door. In fact my place had belonged to the carriage driver back in the early 1900’s when there were still carriages. I wasn’t lucky enough to live there in exchange for driving them around, but the rent was reasonable and I didn’t have to clean up horse shit. The landlords treated me like family, but not in the overbearing, meddling way my REAL family did. Not once did they accuse me of being lazy, irresponsible or “fresh” (my grandmother). Don’t get me wrong. I love my meddling, overbearing family and if it weren’t for them I’d more likely have been living on the streets instead of in this little house. This little house where I finally got well.
I wasn’t sick physically when I moved in. I didn’t have the flu or chicken pox. Nope. My illness was much, much worse. It couldn’t be treated with bed rest or calamine lotion. I was nuts. Whacko. A fruitcake (my grandmother again). Not the “put him in a strait jacket, wipe the drool off his chin once in awhile, oh my god he likes James Blunt” kind of crazy. More of a “functional manic depressive, fluctuating between extreme narcissism and crippling low self esteem, cries during certain episodes of ‘Full House‘” kind. There’s no pill for that, trust me.
This was the first time I’d ever really lived alone. I’d always had a wife or a roommate or both. Up until recently, I’d lived in a room in my sister’s house. When I moved in to the little house, I felt like a genuine adult for the first time since I’d gotten divorced. I had my own place, decorated the way I wanted it - leather couch, brick-a-brack carefully selected to look slapdash, and wrought iron patio furniture in the 5 x 5 square foot dining room. My “Singing In The Rain” movie poster hung proudly above the TV in the bedroom. This place was all me and I could do what I wanted here. I could stay in my boxer shorts all day and play Madden football. I could eat the ice cream right out of the container. I could let the dishes pile up in the sink and never, ever plug in the vacuum.
The funny thing was, I didn’t do those things. The playstation stayed mostly unused, save for some penniless weekends. I bought an ice cream scoop and ate no sugar added butter pecan out of the bowls I’d bought at Ross. I did the dishes every few days (manually, with no automatic dishwasher, thank you very much) and I vacuumed more than Alice from the Brady Bunch. I didn’t realize it then, but those were the first steps in me taking control of my own life. Finally.
It was like this carriage house was magic. I had a tight circle of friends who would stop by occasionally and I was proud of my place. It made for a great spot to gather for events in the downtown area, two blocks away. You could see the fireworks on 4th of July perfectly from my yard. One of the reasons I tried to keep the place clean was in case I was lucky enough, or un-lucky enough in some cases, to get a girl back there. I definitely felt cooler just by having my own place and that translated into the opportunity to actually get a few girls over there. They’d be nervous or excited about what might happen next and I’d be asking if they liked where I had the TV. To most guys, getting the girl to come over was the penultimate step. For me it was the only important one. As long as they complimented my decorating skills, I felt validated. Whatever happened after that was all gravy.
I don’t give the house all the credit. I met some people at just the right time. People who became role models and motivating forces in my life. People who reinforced the feelings living in that house had planted. I started to realize that I was a likeable person with something to offer to friends, women and the world in general. I started looking forward to waking up in the morning instead of dreading what each new day might hold.
The house made me a better father, too. I’d relied on my ex-wife, my sister, and even some roommates to provide a home for my daughter. That wasn’t an option living alone. My kid loved the little house and I wanted it to feel like a home to her. It had to be tough enough shuttling between her mother and me, and even tougher when I never stayed anywhere for long. I staked out a corner in the dining room for her toy box and made sure to prominently display her school artwork, not just on the fridge, but everywhere in the house. We played in the yard in the summertime, and built snowmen in the winter. She learned how to climb the door frame in the living room and neither of us ever stopped enjoying that.
About the time I started to feel a little cramped in the house, my life changed forever and I met the final piece of the puzzle. I’d never have been in shape, mentally, to impress a woman of her caliber before. Living in the little house had stopped me from feeling like a pinball bouncing around the machine and allowed me to relax and eventually stumble across my soul mate. I wasn’t astonished that this person could fall in love with me like I would have been just a year earlier. I was confident and secure.
I don’t usually believe in sentimental mumbo jumbo, but I think there was something special about that house. Something intangible and magic. Something that made me right again.
Or maybe right for the first time.