This weekend I left my home for the last three years and one of the most formative stages of my life, and if you'd humor me I'm going to wax poetic about a tiny little apartment.In January of 2010, my wife and I separated and moved back to north Louisiana. I needed a place I was comfortable with and I needed it fast. I knew two apartment complexes that I'd lived in previously and was happy with. I tried the first and found an available unit. 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, pool and laundromat accessible. Within spitting distance of my office. It was kind of perfect.
My sister and I lived in this apartment complex previously for one year, her Freshman year. She found the place while I was off summer-theatreing and couldn't be bothered with things like "living arrangements" or "moving my own stuff". She had picked it for the pool, the fact that a few of her friends from high school had moved in next door, and it's nearness to campus. I loved it for the walls and the windows and the weird back alley off my bedroom. It fit me, for lack of a better description. I was heartbroken a year later when (while I was off summer theatreing again) Sister decided that we should (with an assist from mom and dad) buy a mobile home for the duration of our college experience. Again, other friends had done this, saved money on rent and then got most if not all of their money back by selling or renting it after their graduation.
I should note here that that is pretty much exactly how it played out. I moved out of the mobile home after just one year (I got married) but Sis lived there until she had degree in hand, job in waiting and a new place in a new city, at which point mom and dad pretty much broke even on the deal. Kudos to the businesswoman.
But I missed the apartment.
So, years later when the need to find a space for single (and single-dad) Joel arose, why wouldn't I check back in on it? I didn't get the same unit, I got it's mirror. The back left corner instead of the front right. But it's familiarity was amazing, and stabilizing in retrospect. Having known people who've gone through a divorce then having my own experience to compare with, I'd say we had it easier than most. But that wouldn't be to say that we had it easy. Divorce is hell. And divorce with children (as long as both parents actually love the children) is a particularly low ring of hell.
The apartment (even though it was host to a series of fights in the early months of the separation) was a refuge from that hell. It was my own personal traveling regeneration chamber. It's where I rebuilt Joel from the ground up. Not without help, of course, but since we're talking about the apartment, I want to focus on its contributions.
I figured out how to be a Daddy in this apartment. I say figured it out, because as anyone who's actually become one will tell you, it's not natural and there is no instruction manual (not that we'd read it if there was). I've always loved my children, but I've not always known what to do with that love. How to show it properly (other than just holding them, which I've always been pretty good at) or how to care for them, which is the primary responsibility and purpose outlined in the Dad job description.
I found my adult self in the apartment. There was a Joel that existed in puberty, one in college, one in early married life and then there was a long period of grey. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees his life as a series of roles. Just as a movie would cast multiple actors throughout a biopic, real people evolve over time. The adult Joel is less sure of himself than early married Joel or college Joel. He's stronger and in better shape than both of them too, so He's pretty sure He'd kick their asses. He found that strength in the apartment. He re-found his religion there too, though He hasn't found (and isn't necessarily looking) for a church. The apartment reminded him that we ARE the Church.
I also found my heart in the apartment. Maybe for the first time. First I mean for other people. college Joel and early married Joel were pretty conservative. "Personal responsibility" and "personal liberty" were my two favorite political catchphrases. The apartment (and the people, ideas and situations I encountered there) helped bring "global community", "marriage equality", "societal good", and above all "Love" to the top of my vocabulary and mind. I've said before, college me would think adult me is a Commie Pinko, but college me was kind of an ass, so I don't mind so much.
Secondly I found my heart for one person, my Beautiful. I was convinced when I moved back in to the apartment that I'd never marry again. After a year there, I was convinced I'd always alone (once the kids were out of the house). But after two years there, I was pretty well convinced that I couldn't live without this amazing woman. She's been as sad to see the apartment go as I have. It brought the two of us together in some ways and all of our "firsts" were there. But a regeneration chamber isn't for permanent occupation. The Houses of Healing aren't retirement homes. The apartment was about getting me ready for what's next.
A podcast. About a dozen websites. Station revamps. Job changes. Another podcast. A new car. Multiple good and terrible girl "friends". One girlfriend. One fiancé. One great new life. That's the short list of things that the apartment helped see me through. All that, with a great landlord to boot, who even during the move has been gracious and friendly and supportive. More like an uncle with some property than the rest of my landlord experiences.
I'll miss the hell out of the place, if for no other reason than it helped me find my way through hell. Thanks and farewell, my friend, may you serve the next traveller as well as you did me.