Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Finding Home: First Apartment to Homeless Wandering

This is the twelfth post in a blog series called Finding Home, a serialized mini-memoir exploring my search for a place to call home. Like the characters in The Alki Trilogy who struggle to find a place of belonging, I spent far too many years doing the same.

After two years at a private Catholic university, I wanted something bigger, something I thought of as more real, more radical, more a reflection of the chaos of the mid 1970s. I wanted the University of Washington, and I wanted my own apartment. Or, I thought I did. Before the loneliness became unbearable and I questioned the meaning and purpose of life itself. I was also in love for the first time. And sex? Let's just say those Jesuit professors would've disapproved of what was going on every night within the sacred walls of an impressive number of those dormitory rooms.

I rented a studio apartment in a three-story brownstone one block from the University of Washington campus and one block from The Last Exit on Brooklyn, the coffee shop I memorialized in Running Secrets. I sat for hours watching chess games and eaves-dropping on the political rants of the hippie intellectuals until the cigarette smoke burned my eyes and my loneliness within a crowd became worse than the loneliness of being alone. Now, forty years later, the brownstone and The Last Exit are only whispers of memory.
For six months I lived in a spacious studio with a small kitchen. The kitchen had etched glass French doors, and there was a large walk-in closet complete with a fold-down Murphy bed. Large trees stood just outside my third floor windows. I loved the place. I felt all Marlo Thomas in That Girl, but I didn't have her boyfriend or her financial security or her friends. My love was lopsided - boyfriend continued his English language studies at the university I had chosen to leave.  My part-time jobs barely covered tuition and rent . Friendship was something I still struggled to understand.  I didn't know how to get a Marlo Thomas life, how to build a support system where none existed, how to bear the self-imposed isolation.
Despite my initial infatuation with my first apartment, it definitely was not home.  When my lease was up, I bought a month-long Greyhound bus pass and set off to see the country. Alone. The boyfriend was Venezuelan and on a government scholarship. He was waiting to see where Caracas would send him to earn his degree. I was ready to follow him to the end of the world. If only he'd ask.

After a month of travels, I found myself homeless and still waiting. My parents' home was about forty-five minutes from Seattle, but without a car it might as well have been across the country. Besides, I had no intention of returning to the hide-a-bed in the living room. Instead I returned to the dormitory that still housed the English language school and the boyfriend. I knew the building well after having lived and worked there for almost two years before transferring to the University of Washington. I knew who worked where and when. I knew which showers on which floors I could sneak into. And I knew there was a full-sized bench sofa in the women's restroom in the lobby.

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To read the prior posts in this series, go to the posts listing in the left side bar. If no longer visible, just click on "March."

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