My first apartment wasn’t the product of a dozen tortured house tours and a parade of dodgy landlords. A friend of mine called me and told me to sign a piece of paper and because he called me and because he was my friend, I did.
Living outside of a dorm or a co-op or a fraternity for the first time meant we had to figure out the parts of our place that didn’t happen automatically anymore. But the good news is, I got to participate in the delightful business of making a place home.
It started with questions like, “do we really need a couch?” and, “what’s, like, a good brand of dish soap?” Then we decided if we were going to partition the fridge into my shelves and your shelves, or if we could live with it being a free-for-all.
I thought things like, “I could survive with just plastic silverware,” and learned that we needed a spatula and a place to put it.
I discovered that multi-purpose cleaner isn’t omni-purpose cleaner, and not to use soap on a cast iron pan. I learned that we go through paper towels at an alarming rate and that oven spray was something we needed.
I learned how to cut cherry tomatoes without them escaping, and how quickly I can make banana pancakes. I learned how long it takes mixed greens to go bad when I forget to eat them, and how long to wash the rice so the water runs clear. I asked my mom for the recipes of my favorite childhood dishes and made them for my friends.
I learned how to clean a little every day instead of all at once, and that it’s easier to put things where they go than to leave them where they land. I learned why my dad used to get agitated when I’d put a dirty dish next to the dishwasher instead of inside it.
I learned to appreciate how fresh-cut flowers brighten a room and the pleasure of a clean kitchen. I learned how to host a party, and how sometimes, the crackly anticipation is even more fun.
I know what the rain sounds like when it hits my window and how to be still when the world churns.
I know not to feel guilty for buying thick plastic wine glasses after we broke three real ones, even though they clunk instead of clink when we’re cheers-ing. I know how to aim a champagne cork so it lands in the bushes by the trash cans. I know when the trash truck comes, and how to silence the fire alarm when it goes off. I know most of the names of the people in my complex. I know how to time my laundry to avoid the bottleneck of three working washers and two working dryers.
I know to check the locks on my doors so I don’t strand myself on the balcony again. I know which window to open when it’s hot and what temperature to type in when it’s cold. I know that I like space, quiet and drinking tea before bed.
I like that our mugs don’t match. I like that some outlets don’t work and that I can only leave the fridge open for three seconds before it gets mad. I like that I’ve become the sort of person who fluffs throw pillows and lights candles.
I like that I know what kind of batteries go in the remote and where to find the right passwords. I like that each of the streaming services on our TV displays the names of a different roommate’s family members when you open it. I like that there’s one spoon that’s my favorite, and one I refuse to use.
I like that I’ve had the nail-or-command-strip conversation about a new painting in the living room. I like that I can tell if my roommate has made coffee yet by the smell of the air in the morning. I like that I know to keep the kind of ice cream my girlfriend likes in the freezer and a bottle of red wine by the stove.
I learned the quiet lessons of life that make a place home, and how quickly they slip past our notice. I know that the next time I open the door to a place that will be mine but isn’t yet, I will map this place onto the next one and see what sticks. I like that I’ll choose which drawer will hold the spatula and which cabinet will house the spices.
My coffee table will start to have cup rings in new places, and I’ll think to buy coasters but forget. I’ll have a little place by the door like the one my grandmother used to call “shoe heaven.” And the pieces that are broken or a bit wonky, the corners that don’t make sense and the places that gather dust faster than others — I know wherever life is lived next will bring me a new museum of details that I get to discover, one by one, until the next set of keys falls into my outstretched and overeager hands.