This is my tenth year living in Baltimore and my feelings remain complicated. Born and bred in Harford County I grew up in rural-suburbia. I went to college right outside New York City which is more urban-suburbia, then I migrated to Los Angeles which is posh-suburbia with urban options (i.e. fantastic music scene and every major musical/dance/play production, always touched down there). Post-LA I landed back in Harford County, Maryland– Aberdeen to be specific. It had the bonus of including my family but socially it is/was a snooze. Walmart, Target, McDonald’s and Panera do not a social life make, especially for anyone who has left its borders. Many nights I nursed my boredom at the Perryman VFW where Aunt P worked; she was good for conversation and a tasty beverage. A couple of years back from LA and I began commuting to Baltimore for work; it took one major hangover to convince me to move there.
I like to blame my friend T. I met her through my cousin, who’d left a void when she moved to Texas. T and I began hanging on our own and struck up a friendship. That Baltimore to Harford County commute was so rugged I started stopping off at her pad in Rosedale (Baltimore Co) to break up the traffic-clogged ride home. One traffic jam led to another and next thing I know we had a regular happy hour going. One particular weekday, post one of our epic happy hour evenings filled with then-popular Grey Goose apple martinis, I stumbled outside for lunch. It was early fall. I quelled my rising nausea with a deep inhale of fresh air, setting off west on Centre Street passing the Walter’s Art Museum then heading south on Cathedral Street, trudging up the hill my light jacket pulled tight against the cool-in-the-shade feel of the tree-lined block. Cresting the hill I stopped in front of a darling row-house with a unique shape that rounded the corner to the smaller alley Hamilton Street. In the bay window was an 8×11 For Rent sign. I’d been playing around with the idea of moving to the city, checking out an apartment here and there but my desire for rent $700 or less was proving unlikely. In the quiet of this gorgeous block doubt plagued me, thankfully common sense saved me. What do you have to lose? So I knocked on the red door (I love red) and was buzzed in by the building owner’s secretary Barbara. I cut to the chase.
“How much is the rent?”
“We have two apartments: the basement and the second floor. The basement is a studio for $500 a month and the other is kind of a one-bedroom for $550. Do you want to see?”
Of course I wanted to see. Upstairs was weird all right; the kitchen was in what appeared to be a hallway anchored by a bathroom on one end and a huge room on the other. That room was supposed to function as a bedroom and living room but it would have taken some creative curtain hanging or more costly track laying for screens. Downstairs the basement apartment was a charmer although it was a bit dark. The well-situated studio was perfect with recessed refrigerator facing the kitchen rather than the general living area, plus there was a hallway (with a door!) with a small office on one side (my dresser and desk would work there!) and a sizeable bathroom (mini-me shower height? who cares, I’m 5’4”). My heart surged when confronted with sturdy built-in white-washed bookshelves tucked into what I imagined to be my reading nook. There was even space under the large living room window for a dining room table that could seat four. Granted that window was half underground but it still boasted great views of Baltimore’s canine community and pedestrian shoe styles. The piece de resistance was the backyard, the brick-walled secret garden. Weeds left over from the summer months sprung from patio bricks but the beauty therein was an afternoon of yard work away. The gate to the patio opened right on Cathedral. The brick wall about seven feet tall. The alley behind Hamilton connecting all the back yards/patios was clean and locked on the other end.
“Is this a community back yard for the building?” I asked Barbara.
“Nope, you are the only one who would have a key.”
It hadn’t escaped me that both Barbara and I were speaking as if this apartment was mine. I quickly ran my stats: I commuted from Harford County, worked around the corner at George Peabody Library and could deliver half of the $500 security deposit to her the next day and supply the rest on payday the following week.
“Call me Barb.”
We had a deal.
I lived in that apartment for nine years. It was in that apartment that I experienced solo living. For the first time ever I wasn’t living with my family or with roommates. I moved in at 29 and left at 37. During that time I dealt with heartbreak—my boyfriend moved away; death– my father died suddenly and illness—an older and younger brother were hospitalized for various surgeries and illnesses. I had some beautiful too, hanging with friends under a clear full moon and hidden stars on the patio; smoking a cigarette under the backdoor awning while watching snow fall; enjoying the scent of the rose honey suckle bushes and hosting a massive 4th of July party one year, somehow fit the rotating cast of friends and family in my little spot. I miss my little honeycomb hideout (thanks J!).