In the late ’90s I was a HUGE Barenaked Ladies fan. Judge me as you will, but if you’ve ever seen them in concert . . . yeah, you’d get it. Hate their music all you want, but bottom line– they put on an awe-some show! And I’m not one of those “BNL Pink Hats” who bought their album after the song “One Week” hit the charts. Please, I own “Gordon” and “Born On a Pirate Ship”, so yeah. Take that.
Barenaked Ladies wrote a pretty awesome song called “The Old Apartment”. And it’s about breaking into an apartment that you used to call “home”.
I remember when my mother and step-father purchased their first house together when I was 11 years-old. And I’m not saying this to be funny–I literally got lost in the house while I was exploring it for the first time! I couldn’t believe that I was going to live in a house this large! In hindsight, the house was nothing more than a garrison with a breezeway and a two-car garage, but considering the dumpy apartments in which I had spent my childhood . . . this house was the Taj Mahal!!! It was AMAZING. Because I was too young to see the MAJOR imperfections. And those MAJOR IMPERFECTIONS were the reason my parents were able to afford it in the first place.
The only photo I have of our new house before my mom fixed it up. Here’s a very blurry photo of my mom and me in 1990, sitting on the rotting deck that was torn down shortly thereafter. And the cat? That’s our first cat EVER, Skittles, and she literally came with the apartment we had just left behind! PS–yes, I was one UGLY kid!
I wish I had photos of what my “Taj Mahal” looked like when we first moved in. I do remember that it was very dark and dated. A urine-stained carpet in the living room needed to be removed. A rotting deck needed to go as well. Lots of termite damage. A corroding swingset in the backyard. And the above-ground swimming pool actually had a shallow end and a deep end, because the former owners hadn’t bothered to level the ground before they installed it. But if you had seen some of the disgusting apartments we had lived in before . . .
Brown Street. Probably THE WORST apartment we ever lived in. And yet, after working a full-time job, in this photo my mom was in the midst of fixing up the kitchen on her own dime–even sanding down the cabinets to bare wood in order to repaint them. The landlord was a complete psychopath who subpoenaed my mom to apear in court as a witness on her behalf, after one of this psycho’s ex-boyfriends had intentionally damaged her car in a fit of rage. I imagine that her two sons, Cosmo and Joey (no, seriously, those were their names), did NOT grow up into well-adjusted adults . . .
My goodness, this house was spectacular by comparison!
Well, guess what? You’re in luck, because I happen to have photos of the apartment we left behind when my parents purchased their first house . . . and you will be horrified.
Our apartment was on the lower level of a two-family home. We already knew the family living upstairs, and the mom–oh my gosh, nicest lady! She ran a daycare in her apartment and my mother ran a daycare in our apartment. Odd, I know. The family upstairs used the front yard; my family used the back yard.
I remember my mom transforming that apartment into something straight out of a 1980’s Spiegel catalog. And since it happened to be the 1980’s, that meant that it looked incredible. The family room had mauve wallpaper. The sofa and love seat were slipcovered in country blue fabric. Quaint, decorative straw hats with mauve and country blue ribbons accented the walls. Then the living room–an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, gray and white striped couches, a cabinet full of knick-knacks. And the Hunter Green carpeting in my bedroom . . . perfect.
And so we ended a decade in that apartment and began a new one in a house. For the first time in my entire life, I was living in a house! Not a run-down apartment with a slumlord. Our neighbors now lived “next door”, not just a few feet above or below us!
I truly grew up in that house. I fell in love for the first time in that house. I graduated from high school in that house. Got ready on my wedding day in that house. I miss it.
That’s me on the left, back in 1997, on the day of my High School graduation
I never thought my parents would leave it behind, but they did. They sold it a few years after my wedding and moved to Maine.
My house, the way it looked before my parents sold it and moved to Maine
I still live in the same town, so I drive by it from time to time. But it’s not the same. The two-car garage is now an in-law apartment. The gorgeous garden beds that my mom had planted?
Gone. Ripped out as if they had no significance, no meaning. But they did. My mother’s heart and soul were in those garden beds. And they tore them out. My mother doesn’t care. But I do.
I hate it.
History is very important to me. The history of my family, the history of my town. Nostalgia and I have a pretty intense relationship. So when I discovered that they were going to tear down my beloved 1980’s apartment, I knew I had to see it just one last time.
I may feel overwhelmed by the realities of my life. Jack’s health problems. Gaining so much weight that I don’t even recognize myself anymore. But then there are moments when I . . . LOVE . . . MY . . . LIFE. And seeing my old apartment before it was destroyed was one of those moments that reminded me of how fortunate I am! Because no matter how bad things get, bottom line–my life is hilarious. The stuff that happens to me, the stuff that happens to my family? These things don’t happen to normal people! Absolutely ANYBODY who knows me will confirm that! And that’s why my life is so awesome. So completely awesome! (I need to remember that.)
So on April 20, 2008, I drove to my old apartment. And I did not tell my husband (I actually don’t think he’ll even know about this incident until he reads this post. If he reads this post! Let’s hope he doesn’t . . .). Because he would’ve completely forbidden me from doing so. Why? Um, well, because my old apartment had kinda sorta become a drug den/crack house over the years. And it attracted an . . . undesirable . . . element, so yeah . . . not a place I should be heading to on my own. Or without a police escort, for that matter.
But I secretly went anyway. In hindsight, what was I thinking?! But I know what I was thinking–hearts and rainbows and flowers and memories and nostalgia and wonderfulness!
Naive little Tammy could not have prepared herself for the scene she was about to encounter. I’m literally grateful for the fact that I’m even alive to tell you this story. And that’s not a joke. Because that’s how terrifying my experience at my old apartment was.
Where do I even begin? The doors were all unlocked because the entire house had been condemned. For all I remember, there may not have even been a door attached to the house.
And since every moment of my life conjures up a quote from either SpongeBob or 30 Rock, here you go . . .
I distinctly remember that it was incredibly windy that day. Why? Because all of the hollow core doors in the house kept blowing open and slamming shut. It was terrifying. My imagination was taking me to horrible places, so I was determined to get in there, snap a few photos, and get the heck outta there as quickly as possible!
I was so terrified that I actually wasn’t even able to photograph every room of the apartment. Because the scene that greeted me led me to believe that there could’ve been squatters inhabiting the apartment. And I doubt they would be the friendly, sleepy “Goldilocks-type” squatters who just wanted to sample some porridge and test out mattress densities.
Thus, I give you EXIBIT A:
Our Family Room. The room that used to be enveloped in mauve wallpaper. The room where my mom and I watched as Baby Jessica was rescued from the well. And where we saw footage of The Challenger being . . . where we saw footage of The Challenger. The room where I accidentally spilled a cup of chocolate milk all over the back of the TV, essentially frying it. The TV had been a gift from my dad. 😦 PS–that blue couch? Not ours. As I mentioned, our couches were slipcovered in country blue fabric. Want to know what was hidden beneath those slipcovers? BEHOLD! The furniture that I’d known since birth!
Yep, that’s me and my sister, circa 1981! Poor little girls didn’t know what they were in for . . .
Another view of the living room. When my mother got remarried, my step-father brought along his “bachelor coffee tables”–literally two lobster traps–and an industrial spool that was once wrapped with heavy-duty twine or wire or cable or who-knows-what. Hideous? Yes. But my mom had just fallen in love again, so apparently she also fell in love with those lobster traps and that industrial spool as well . . .
This was our kitchen. The same room where my sister, step-brother, mother, and I were photographed before her marriage to my step-father:
(In hindsight, no wonder my step-father always called me “the debutante”. Guess which one I am?)
Me, my step-brother, and my sister. If memory serves, my mother had painstakenly painted every last slat on those laundry area blinds behind us.
And yet, this is what I saw now:
“Decorative” beer bottles and a particle board entertainment center in the middle of the kitchen. Which makes perfect sense. Having an entertainment center in the kitchen gives you a place to store cookbooks and newspapers.
My bedroom! What had happened to the Hunter Green carpeting? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love what they’ve done with the place. Sheets used as makeshift curtains. A chair in the middle of the room. Very minimalist.
My sister’s bedroom. The graffiti on the walls really gives the room that je ne sais quoi? And the floor littered with debris? The artist in me sees “swords” in the background and “shields” in the foreground being thrown down. A symbol of peace. Truly, an inspirational scene.
The living room, formerly adorned with floor-to-ceiling mirrors? Now reimagined as a bedroom. And the positioning of the full-size mattress truly takes advantage of the gorgeous views of the split-level house across the street. The white staining on the carpet? Could it be plaster dust? Or perhaps a cocaine fight gone awry? One may never know. But somehow the tenants managed to take the decor to a whole new level. Incroyable!
My (terrifying) time touring this now-unfamiliar landscape was abruptly cut short by a male voice. As if I wasn’t already scared enough by the wind violently slamming the doors closed, suddenly I’m (presumably) alone in this . . . crack den, and I hear a man saying “Hello? Hello?!” (Now this is the part in the movie where the blonde girl inexplicably runs up the stairs and then is stabbed to death by a guy hiding in a bedroom closet, wearing a hockey mask and wielding a knife.)
Thankfully, HUGE sigh of relief. The man happened to be the owner of the house next door and he was desperate for this drug den to be demolished. He had been waiting for YEARS for this place to be torn down. And then suddenly he sees someone pull up to the house in an Audi (Let me clarify that it was a 1997 Audi and the year was 2008. So yeah, we didn’t have any money, but we had an Audi. Apparently, that’s enough to fool the masses into believing we have a dime to our name), brandishing a camera. He truly thought his worst fears were coming true. He thought I was a real estate agent who intended to put the house on the market, in hopes of selling it, instead of allowing it to be demolished. Seriously, the poor guy!
Once we were both out of the house and on the deck (where I felt much safer), I did my best to explain to him that I had lived in this house in the late ’80s and I was just hoping to see it one final time before it was demolished. I’m honestly not sure that he believed me. Because he kept asking me questions about when I lived there, and seriously, come on now! I was eleven years old when I lived there! I’m trying to answer your questions to the best of my ability, but we’re talking about an apartment that I lived in TWENTY YEARS AGO! And guess what, pal? You didn’t live next door to me TWENTY YEARS AGO. In fact, I remember the family that did live next door TWENTY YEARS AGO and their 33 year-old son is now in jail, so let’s take it down a notch!
In the end, it didn’t matter whether he believed my story or not. In time, the bulldozers came and leveled the house. In its place are several new modest-McMansions (aka houses completely devoid of character or personality). But at least they’re not a blight on the neighborhood. And I’m sure the property value of that man’s house has since significantly increased.
Am I sad that my apartment on Maple Road was bulldozed to the ground? Um, no. We may have lived there for several years, but I don’t feel as if I grew up there.
Honestly, I don’t have any happy memories of living in that apartment. But it was a part of my past and I wanted to capture it before it was gone for good. And I did. It doesn’t matter that the photos I took bear absolutely no resemblance to my old apartment. What matters is that I was able to definitively close a chapter in my life. And I was able to document the ending to that chapter with photos. Photos that only make me appreciate how far I’ve come.
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