Rooms with a view

by Jennifer on May 28, 2008

(There’s a meme floating around that asks, among other things, “What were you doing 10 years ago?” It’s a question to which I can give a specific answer because my memories of that time are so clear.)

The summer before, I had moved into a perfect, lovely apartment in Woodbury, Connecticut (the town is called the Antique Capital of the World), on the second floor of a 200 year old house. The three main rooms were connected and ran along the front of the house, facing Main Street, and the kitchen and bath were at the back of the house. I found out soon enough which of the boards in the wood floor would creak, which windows needed a piece of wood to hold them open. The windows let in worlds of light.

My landlady was strong and self-assured, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She had lived alone in that house for decades, quite contentedly (thank you very much), without ever feeling the need to remarry after her second marriage ended. For some reason she liked me and offered me the apartment on sight, at a time when I needed a comfortable place to land. We became friends quickly, and our long talks over tea became an entertaining and comforting ritual.

Her name was Mary, and she was in her early 70s when I lived there. But there was nothing old-ladyish about the way she dressed. She lived frugally and shopped almost exclusively at secondhand stores, but she would find stylish trenchcoats, crisp white shirts, wide-legged trousers, and great accessories. She wore her white hair in a chic bob, and her skin was luminous and tight, without the aid of any doctor’s hand. In her younger days, she posed for at least one painter, and a portrait from those sessions hung above her fireplace. She was beautiful, then and now.

When I moved in, I had just left my first husband. In that apartment, I spent that winter and spring mostly alone. Blessedly alone. I took the time to sort out the end of my marriage and to conduct some personal archaeology. The rooms were cozy, warm, and old. I needed that sense of age and history just then, and had somehow lucked into finding it. It was good to know that things could last, instead of feeling as though the grace of a moment or the strength of a promise began to fade with every moment that followed, the way curtains begin to fade from the first day they are hung in a window.

I had a wide view of Main Street and the holiday parades that passed by in full view as I sat in one of the windows. Just up the road was a drugstore that Marilyn Monroe frequented when she was married to Arthur Miller. In fact, Arthur Miller would sometimes ring Mary’s phone number by mistake–it was one digit off from a number he called often. She came to know his voice and would tell him that he had gotten the number wrong once again.

That apartment was my favorite of all the many places I have lived. It suited me, and I liked who I was becoming in those rooms. I plotted what would come next and was sure I had it figured out. From that apartment, I drove alone in my Jeep to Montana and came back feeling certain that I would move there. That I had to move there, I loved it so much.

I was sure that I knew the sum of all the miles left inside me and where they would take me.

But life doesn’t care much for arrogant certainty, at least in my experience. Of course, it’s possible to say that you’re going to do a thing, to plan, and then to do it. But I’ve been known to get in my own way, as most of us have at one time or another.

I met Mr. H in March, and when I Ieft that apartment a little more than a year after I moved in, I was pregnant with my son. The DNA that would eventually produce the hundreds of freckles on Boy’s sweet face was already busy making fingers and toes and the brightest smile I would ever see. Mr. H and I were heading toward something I had not planned or even thought I wanted. Yet I was excited from the moment I found out I was pregnant. And scared out of my mind. There are days when that is still true, when I’m sure I don’t know how to guide both of my children into the current of their future.

Now, ten years later, I think of the place where the entire course of my life, our lives, was altered, in an upstairs apartment of an old house, and I think of all the souls and lives that passed through those rooms before me, and since. Marriages that drew long lines of time in those rooms. Children raised. Love celebrated. Absence suffered. Togetherness endured. Sons and husbands sent off to war (so many wars in 200 years). Illness, and maybe death. How many of its inhabitants spent quiet moments staring out the same windows I did, or tiptoed around the creaky floorboards?

In the life of that house, the time I spent there was a blip, really. I took what it offered and filled the rooms with the energy of my life for those months, with new life, even. I left with the weight of that life inside me, a weight that made the one on my shoulders (made up of my fears) much easier to bear.

That year and that house gave me a new friend in Mary. I miss that house, and I miss her. When I write to her now, I hold my breath until I receive a reply. She isn’t young, and nothing is ever certain. I’ve learned that much.

I’ve learned, too, that although plans are useful, they aren’t guarantees. We don’t always, and maybe not often, get what we think we want. I’ve learned to accept surprises, and to roll with them. To love them, even. Constantly, the view changes. The landscape changes, and though I don’t always know my way, I know I am not lost.


David McMahon honored me by choosing this post as Post of the Day on his site, Authorblog. David is a Melbourne-based journalist, photographer, and best-selling author. Please take a moment to stop by his place and check out his brilliant photographs and the stories he tells to go with them. Not only that, but he has the best one-liners and can turn a pun on its head better than anyone.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to find his site knows that he is a generous promoter of blogs he enjoys, and he chooses his favorite posts each day and shines a light on them in his daily post called Post of the Day. Please take a moment to go over and say hello!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana October 1, 2008 at 11:41 am

Yeah. I love this post. I feel lucky to get to read it again.

Thanks so much for linking in today!

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvanas last blog post..It is not me, it is you…LINK HERE NOW

It All Started With a Kiss October 1, 2008 at 11:48 am

Really enjoyed reading this.

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins October 1, 2008 at 11:48 am

Truly — beautifully written! There’s not much more I can add to that…

Debbie October 1, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I don’t even know how to respond to such a beautiful, well-written post. Glad you chose this one to share with those of us who hadn’t been lucky enough to find you before.

Debbies last blog post..Do you think Milton Bradley was aware of this side-effect?

jill October 2, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Wonderfully written. I always think about the people that lived in the places I used to live. Thanks fo r sharing this us!

jills last blog post..Thankful Thursday

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