The day I went to clean out my apartment it had been snowing. It was the winter of 2015, so of course it had been snowing. This will be important later.
My furniture and boxes had been moved the weekend before, on a Saturday I barely remember because my recent surgery was turning into a not-yet-diagnosed infection that left me exhausted and delirious on the couch (thankfully the first thing we moved). Apparently the day was also traumatic for the movers, at least one of whom quit in the middle, having had enough of combining two people’s apartments into a third-floor unit during yet another snow storm.
But I’d left a trash bag in the kitchen of my old place, and a bag of books I’d planned to give away under the stairs. One day after school I went back one last time to look around that tiny apartment, take out the trash, and say goodbye.
I went in the front door I rarely used because snow had made the “garden-level” rear door impassable. For years I had unclicked the latch on the white PVC gate and hustled down the side alley to use my private entrance, hoping that a neighbor’s light might be on in the back to illuminate the path that I should have known better than to make myself vulnerable on. But in ten years of living in the city and taking the risks everyone told me not to take, nothing bad had happened to me.
But that day I walked up steep steps, through the front door, to then walk down steep steps again to the basement. It was a shock to see the unit empty for the first time in nearly a decade, since the day a local woman decided she liked me enough to rent her basement studio to me for a song. When she sold the building the new landlords, through some miracle, kept the rent low, and I never asked them for anything and always paid on time. The low rent helped me save enough to fund my future while living on my own in the city, a circumstance that epitomizes the combination of hard work, good choices and dumb luck that has characterized my life.
I grabbed the trash first and tied up the white bag. Walking back up to the exterior door I tossed it to the curb with a silent apology: I knew that snow kept covering people’s trash bags. I knew that a white bag was going to get lost. I knew there was a chance that come spring mine would join the piles that emerged as the record-breaking snow melted and we realized how much had been missed during those unbelievable February days.
Next was the bag of books. A few weeks after abdominal surgery I should not have been lifting that bag, but it had to get done. Once again up the stairs, down the stairs, to my car parked near the corner. I’d left work on one of my first days back from medical leave as quickly as I could to get over to my narrow, crowded, soon-to-be-former street early enough to find a parking spot. I dropped the bag in the back seat and turned back toward the building.
This was going to be the hard part. I was never good at goodbyes. I don’t like to think about time passing. I get attached to places. I don’t like change.
After scraping my boots half-heartedly I went back in for one last look around. I’d never had a lot of guests in the apartment. It was dumpy with low ceilings and I could never quite keep it clean enough. It wasn’t that I was ashamed, I just didn’t feel like explaining why I put up with the place, why it worked for me, why it felt like home.
Then I locked the door behind me and I ran, at least as much as my recovering body could. Up the stairs, down the stairs, past the trash, to the car, knowing that someday I’d tell this story but that for now I just had to get away from the memories. It was too much.
Feelings are often too much for me. Sometimes I avoid them, sometimes I blurt them all over the page, sometimes I flee from them, past the thickening mounds of snow whose disappearance, sometime in the future, would reveal the story of the lives we led that snowy, difficult winter.