May 15, 1999
Remembering The Tree House


My handwritten journal entry from one year ago this weekend:

"Today my life begins another new chapter [cue: Sheryl Crow, 'A Change Will Do You Good'] ... I moved into my first apartment, alone. No other name on the lease. No other toothbrush in the toothbrush holder in the bathroom. My place. My space. My home. At age forty, I have realized one of the biggest dreams of my life ... finally.

"I am scared -- and exhilarated. Surprised -- and sorrowful. (If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget the way *Someone* looked an hour ago, as he said goodbye and hobbled up the stairs in front of my new apartment building and left to go home ... alone. No wonder my joy tonight is a muted joy.) Hugely optimistic -- and dead-certain that I'm going to fuck this up somehow.

".. I have loud music all around me -- Feef's 'Mostly Joyful Noises' tape ... a cup of tea in front of me ... and a brand-new journal. There is some beer chilling in the fridge, which I may or may not indulge in later, depending on whether or not I can sleep in these strange new surroundings. I worked HARD today, hauling boxes from one place to another all day, and it feels wonderful to just sit here and do nothing. I wish I had my computer -- I feel a little cut-off from the world right now -- but with any luck I should have it sometime this week. I don't have a TV, either. I looked around at Fred Meyer today for one, but I couldn't find anything I could afford. (I did get a coffeemaker and a toaster, though, and some odds and ends of groceries.) So I'm just going to have to content myself with sitting here and listening to music and writing a little and looking out the window, thinking about everything that has happened in the past month ..."

A little while later:

"... I just turned off the music for a minute, and now I'm listening to the rain falling outside my apartment. The sound is both comforting and sad: comforting because it's such a familiar sound, one I equate with being 'home' and 'safe' ... and sad because I'm homesick, and I'm not even sure where (or who) I'm homesick for ..."


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A year later ... some observations.

Did I get to sleep that first night?  

Nope. I clearly remember wandering around The Tree House until dawn, listening to trains and looking out the window (measuring the drop?) and obsessively checking to make sure my front door was locked, every ten minutes or so. It took days for me to relax and feel comfortable enough to sleep alone in that apartment. (And even so, I kept the pepper spray -- and my Benchmade 830S -- right next to my pillow at all times.)

Did I get my computer later that week?

Nope. There was a factory mix-up, and it was actually three or four weeks before I was plugged back into the cyber world. I was frantic. It was the longest I'd ever gone without my AOL fix. But as soon as the Acer arrived (oh happy day!), I was back online and feverishly planning my "masterwork" ... this website.

Did I drink that beer in my fridge?

What do you think?

Did I manage to "fuck things up?"

The living-by-myself stuff, that is? Yes and no. Like most everything else I've ever set out to do, the six months I lived in The Tree House were a mix of disaster (I accidentally set fire to an oven mitt, the ceiling collapsed, my air mattress imploded, I rarely had more than minus $16.83 in my checking account) and triumph (I learned to defrost a freezer and fix a leaky toilet, I never fell out of my window, no major utilites were ever actually shut off all the way).


Truth is: I LOVED the Tree House. I LOVED having a chance to live by myself for awhile. Like a lot of women, I went pretty much directly from Daddy's house to Hubby's house, withouta lot of opportunity along the way to learn about stuff like paying bills and installing deadbolts and killing bathtub spiders. So this was my chance. I would come home from The Knife Factory and unlock my front door and walk into *my* messy, goofy, dysfunctional little apartment every night, and my heart would lift every time, regardless of how crappy the day had been. It was always the best moment of the day.

I loved making all of the executive decisions, from groceries (Cap'n Crunch and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!), to interior decoration (is that an abandoned mattress in the laundry room?), to background music (Jill Sobule, Collective Soul, Dvorak, The Partridge Family). If I wanted eleven half-empty bottles of shampoo in the shower ... fine. If I wanted to squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube ... fine. If I wanted to sign onto AOL at 5:11 p.m. on Friday afternoon and stay online until 12:57 p.m. Sunday night ... fine.

If I wanted to buy a bottle of Paul *It Only Tastes Like Kerosene If You Drink It Sober* Masson AND a six-pack of Saxer's Lemon Lager ... fine.

And that, of course, is precisely where -- and how -- I got into trouble.

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I was fine for the first couple of months. I paid my rent and my bills. I made it to The Knife Factory on time every day. I always had food in my cupboards and clean clothes on my bedroom floor. I kept myself busy with work and the website and long-distance motherhood and a writing class at the local community college.

For a long time, that was enough for me.

I was lonely sometimes. In July we had a heatwave, and I would come home from work in the evenings and sit on the walkway in front of my apartment, drinking beer and listening to the trains. The Oregon City sunsets were absolutely spectacular: there were moments when I literally forgot to breathe, watching the sun disappear behind the mountains. I remember thinking, "I have nobody to share this with."  It wasn't self-pity: it was more like resignation. I figured it was good for me. I figured I would probably live through it.

In the meantime, though ... maybe I would have another beer.

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Journal entry, couple of months later:

... "Didn't want to crawl out of bed awhile ago ... or, more accurately, didn't want to crawl off the air mattress, since I still don't have an actual BED yet. Grrrr. I didn't stay up terribly late, but I had a few beers while I chatted online with friends (Mike, Edmund, Mizz), and I feel a little raggedy this morning, as a result. In the mornings it hits me in the stomach -- the hangover, I mean -- altho I usually manage to beat it back with loperamide, coffee, and tons of cold water. But by afternoon I start to feel it in my EYES. A heavy, burning, "oh shit I did it again" sorta feeling. Don't know if I'll reach that point today ... but right now I just feel ... tired. Maybe coffee will help.

"No interesting dreams to report, altho I had one the other night that I've been carrying around in my head, ever since. I dreamed that I was cleaning my new apartment, and I was throwing all the garbage into a big cardboard box. We're talking about really disgusting garbage -- rotten food, empty beer bottles, old Kleenex, dirty diapers -- etc. Suddenly I looked inside the box and saw, to my horror, that I was throwing all of this gross junky stuff on top of my new phone, my new computer, the new answering machine, the pots & pans Feef sent me, etc. -- all the nice new stuff I've acquired recently for my new life here in the Tree House.

"I suppose it means that I'm already starting to 'pollute' my own life again. I've been here in the apartment for a couple of months -- realizing one of the most important dreams of my life -- and already I'm drinking too much again, I'm not taking care of myself physically, I'm allowing the residue of stupid romantic entanglements to wear me down, I'm worrying night and day about money. I'm throwing figurative garbage on top of stuff that's still shiny and new ... like creative energy, personal ambition, solitude, opportunity, hope, peace, quiet, redemption. This should be one of the best times of my life. It still CAN be, if I let it."

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Observations:

I already knew I was in trouble. It would be another month before I got The Big Wake-Up call that saved my life. (And another couple of months after that before I packed up all my stuff and moved out of The Tree House forever. But these are other stories for other days.)  At this point, though, I clearly knew that I was screwing up again. I wanted to stop. I just wasn't sure how.

But in the meantime ... I had The Tree House. Responsibility for maintaining it got me out of bed in the mornings. The luxury of solitude brought me home to it in the evenings. And in spite of the leaky toilet and the collapsing ceiling and the disconnection notices and the lonely afternoons and Next Door Neighbor Dog and the moldy beer bottle collection under my sink and all of the other garbage  --  figurative and otherwise  --  that I found myself wading through, those were still six of the most interesting, special, important months of my life. I might not do things precisely the same way, if I had it to do over again.  (I might not throw my hairdryer out the window, for instance. And I would definitely have to re-think white bath towels.)

And I wouldn't want to go back to it now: six months was exactly the right amount of time to spend alone. I was ready for a companion.

But I will always remember The Tree House fondly.




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