I thought we were in love, this old one-bedroom nestled in west Los Angles. I learned, albeit retrospectively, how not to scratch shiny wood floors and which shade of yellow delivers the most cheer. I nurtured my bedroom, coating walls with deep blue, and lighting candles to signal my appreciation. I prune the dust and mop the floors, ever vigilant to crumbs and dog hair and prompt trash removal. I hung pictures and bought furniture pads. I infused red into my vocabulary and enduring trips to Ikea, purchasing gifts for my apartment with the checkbook of the unemployed.
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(Quick aside: I have to say that whomever designed the floor plan of Ikea stores has obviously been well acquainted with torture methods. Heaven forbid you desire to exit while still in the living room section…no, no! There’s no exiting prematurely. One must wander around six other floors before completing the maze and finding the sunshine. I set aside at least 8 hours for Ikea runs, and know to bring packed meals and human guides if I want to make it out alive.)
I polished bookcases deserted in dumpsters and painted tables to match throw cushions. I hung curtains and mezuzahs, trailing fingertips along doorways as I laid claim to my new home. I befriended the neighbors, cat-sitting and sharing Internet access in compliance with apartment living regulations. I hoard quarters for the laundry room and fold forgotten t-shirts left in the dryer. I am a nester, needed to make a space my own, seeking to transform empty corners and hollow rooms into a home. I set my grandmother’s teacup on the shelf and lit my shabbos candles. I framed my mother’s photographs and organized my books by topic. I was home.
And yet, it seems I was blinded by love, and my apartment is ready to bail. It seems my apartment has been having the last laugh, quietly multiplying with mold, marching the floorboards in preparation for a coup. My apartment is not only breaking up with me, but it’s out for revenge.
Apparently, behind plaster and thick coats of paint, these spores have been participating in some free love, procreating like fruit flies, and staking their own claim within the shelter of the walls.
Despite my neatness obsessions and tidy compulsions, I am surprisingly unconcerned with germs. (Mom, perhaps you should skip ahead…) I shake hands and touch doorknobs. I ignore the DSD rule (Don’t Sit Down) in public bathrooms and make my salads with unwashed lettuce. I know, I know. Not smart to eat your apple without the quick rinse or brush off the dirt clinging to the carrots. But for all my craziness, I seem to have been excused from the germ-phobia.
And so of course, it’s the germ’s cousins that are out to get me. Who knew that additional craziness would have been helpful! So I didn’t pause before signing my lease and was, being from the deserts of Arizona, was shamefully ignorant about the perils of humidity and mold-inviting dampness. I complimented the landlord on the fresh paint job, muting the inner nudge that wondered why the bathroom seemed to be insulated in paint, covering outlets, cabinets, drawers and doorways. I drank the tap water and signed my name, unaware that my colonizing roommates were less than enthusiastic about my move.
It’s hard not to feel crazy when the doctors all tell you there’s nothing wrong. It’s hard not to second-guess, to doubt, to toss intuition out the window and sign up for the “All in your head” campaign. It’s hard to detail symptoms that are unquantifiable, to describe the amorphous, and to log the waves of nausea that compose a day. It’s hard to grasp your own truth that something really is wrong in the face of medical diagnostics and expert opinions. It’s hard when you have a background of craziness to defend a sanity of solitude. It’s hard.
So it was with a gasp of glee that I photographed the mold kits, overflowing with little bursts of black blooms and tidal pool images. It was pleasure that topped the list when I found something to point my finger at, the piece of the puzzle located from behind the couch. It was relief, relief that maybe I wasn’t so crazy, maybe the nausea was real, and maybe my intuition could be re-installed as trustworthy. Until the reality set in. Great. I have mold. Now what? How to convince a landlord to fix it properly or allow me to mold without penalty? What to do in the meantime? Visions of red tape mazes, lawyers, and boxes overflowed my brain, and the space between my walls shrunk in overwhelmed anxiety. Wait, somewhere underneath this new hassle was my relief. Somewhere stuck under the boxes was my glee. I just needed to make a list, prioritize, get some advice, and ignore the threats my moldy roommates slipped under my door.
After a brief time out, I locate my poster board, and stage my own protest, with cries of fairness and health as my mantra. I advocate and delegate. I research and document. I wield heavy scissors as I advance towards the rental tape and plug my ears to inner submissive leanings.
If my apartment is out to get me, then it’s going to have to put up a fight. It might succeed in driving me out, but I'm taking my mops with me, along with the essence of home that I’ve created. If my walls are staging a coup, so be it. I’ll find new walls that aren’t plotting for my demise. I will unearth my relief and free my glee.
Because more important than which door my key unlocks is this: In the midst of psychosomatic theories and hints of exaggerated symptoms originating in my head, I choose to stand behind my sanity and be bolstered by my intuition. In the face of “all in my head” musings, I unwrap my earplugs and speak my truth. My apartment is out to get me. I promise…it’s more a statement of sanity that it might first appear.
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