May 2002: I’m sitting on a plastic lawn chair in the bay window of our new apartment on State St., just off Longfellow Square, in Portland, ME. My fiancé is by me in her lawn chair, and we’re relishing the feeling of escape and liberation. We’re only days removed from leaving Boston, after sharing a borrowed twin bed and a pillow for nine months while a commune of pot-befouled roommates floated in and out like driftwood outside our door. Now we’re in our own place and starting over for ourselves.
The new place is a dream. First floor of a three-story brick building in a row of similar buildings, on a street with brick sidewalks, low wrought-iron fences and flower beds. French doors, 10’ ceilings, crown molding, chandeliers, two gigantic non-working fireplaces and, best of all for a couple of avid bookophiles, the entire wall of the living room is a built-in book case. The decorative flourishes are enough for us to sign the paperwork before we notice the complete lack of storage, camp shower stall, inhumanly cramped kitchen, the stove that blows up when our rental agent turns it on in front of us and the freezer with layers of frost that will require boiling water to begin the thaw and Paleolithic chipping with butter knives. We will notice those things, but not now.
The apartment was obviously once part of an enormous single-family dwelling, and as we sit in our lawn chairs, eating peanut butter sandwiches and cracked pepper kettle chips, with boxes of books strewn across the hardwood, we speculate about the past. Perhaps a sea captain lived here. Perhaps the living room was once the ball room. It’s not an impossible lineage we’ve assigned to our new home: we can certainly feel the presence of a privileged past here.
The windows are open to a warm early summer workday, and the wisteria vine just outside our window is blooming. The smell of the flower mixes with the smell of the sea, mere blocks away, and we are incalculable miles removed from where we were only days ago. We sit in our lawn chairs, shaking our heads at the seismic shifts of our current lives, imagining the past of our building and pondering what’s to come next. Our new life together begins in this magnificent new home in our stately new neighborhood by the Atlantic.