Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pumpkin Formica

I used to crouch just below the window and listen to the neighbors fight. The metallic clink of bent, off-white mini blinds against the frame betrayed my occasional peeks outside to catch a glimpse of the action. He would yell. She would yell. She would get into her black Trans Am and peel out. He would go back inside and slam the door. She would drive to the end of the street, wait a second, and return home. She would kill the engine, lower her shoulders and walk, resigned, toward the door. Every time.

The single-paned windows in our first apartment let in wind and cold and all of the neighbors' business. I was twenty and newly married; I thought I was privy to a new and unique soap-opera of odd characters. What I didn't realize then was that the same drama exists in suburban neighborhoods, but I'd been sheltered from it by the space around my growing-up house. All of the sudden I got to see just how messy people's lives could be. I hated and loved it with equal measure.

Our apartment was spacious by anyone's standards. Both bedrooms were of decent size and it had two full bathrooms and a fireplace. It was always cold. We didn't care. We looked beyond the odd, pumpkin-colored formica countertops, the thin carpet and the dated rock-wall of a fireplace. It was home, and it was ours. Not having lived on my own before getting married, I was just happy to fill a place with my own things and play a lot of Donkey Kong with my new husband.

We didn't just play Donkey Kong, either. We played a mean streak of Tetris on our Nintento 64 and the nineteen-inch TV set we bought on a 2:00 AM run to Wal Mart. Weekends, we pushed our second-hand hide-a-bed sofa up in front of that set so the controller cords would reach and we could play video games until we fell asleep in a heap with our cats. We stayed up late and slept 'till the afternoon, just because. E introduced me to Boondock Saints and Star Trek Voyager. I'd buy vegetables, but they'd rot because nobody would eat them. We were young enough that vegetables didn't matter.

Sometimes we were hungry. I'm barely sure of how we made it each month. He worked at the auto parts store. I was apprenticing (unpaid) to Sacramento Ballet and waitressing at Chevy's. I kept the singles from my tips in a plastic box at the bottom of a cabinet in the dining room. My pointe shoes--in varying states of decay--I kept shoved in a plastic tub at the bottom of the closet.  Those $85 ballet shoes were the single greatest cost in our first year of marriage since I needed multiple pairs per month. The garage was his, entirely, though he had to walk outside, downstairs, and around the corner to get to it. Our dining room table was too short; we had to bend, awkwardly, to eat dinner. Pigeons lived in our attic.

Were we happier than we are now? Not really. Just differently happy. Sometimes it's hard to remember we come from that place.


For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.


  1. this is beautiful. i love the stories from early days of love, when you were somewhere different, and the knowledge of how two people can grow together. i, too, wrote about something regarding a first home. awesome first post!

  2. Oh but this is just lovely. What a way with words you have and your closing is so true and so perfect.