A first pregnancy made me buy my first home. It wasn’t my pregnancy, but it nonetheless altered my life. I was 24, working three jobs, and renting the third floor of an old Colonial in Hartford’s West End. It was the mid-’80s, and I lived in a hip neighborhood with a young liberal couple who liked having a hard-working writer upstairs.
Until they got pregnant.
Reality swiftly trumped liberality. Suddenly they needed my apartment. Evidently the two spacious floors below were not big enough for the imminent infant. Everyone suggested I find another West End rental, or better yet, move to West Hartford (“much safer for a single woman”). Having lived in Hartford during college, I’d never seen it as the danger zone others claimed it was. So, I did not go west, young woman; I went east, deeper into the heart of Hartford. When the realtor showed me a small condo in the historic and aptly named Asylum Hill neighborhood, I ignored the rest of the advice. I bought it.
Rather, I assumed the mortgage, in those good old days when that was relatively easy to do. I broke the news to my parents after the closing, and despite her initial distress, Mom enlisted my grandmother to help me scrub the tiny two-bedroom spotless. Nanna, God bless her, silenced Mom’s concerns.
“Huh,” she grunted, thrashing a sapphire-blue throw rug within an inch of its life, “this is better than the dump we lived in after they let us off Ellis Island.”
I painted a room and moved everything into it, continuing to ignore the naysayers.
“It’s not safe!”
“You’re too young to take on a mortgage!”
“You’re a minority in that neighborhood!”
That’s the one I loved. Asylum Hill was what we would today call authentically diverse. I was indeed a minority; we were all minorities. My neighbor Roger was a wonderfully cranky gay man, whom I later visited in the hospital after he’d had a heart attack. He was in intensive care, so we neighbors became “family” in order to sneak in. My best friend, Jonathan, who’d shoo the prostitutes off his corner, continues to this day to work on his beautiful old house and lavish garden, providing an oasis on a gritty street. I bonded with Lorrie and Carl, a mixed-race couple down the hall, over cheap white zinfandel. PC, a self-described “half-Jewish, half-other stuff” realtor, lived upstairs with a Kenyan artist she’d married so he could stay in the country. The small church across the street housed a rehab program that I most fully appreciated one snowy night when a crowd of former gang members and drug addicts materialized out of the white darkness to lift my stalled car off the curb and into my parking spot. With me in it.
My Asylum Hill home, the people I met there, and the friends I still have shaped me and showed me what life in all its colors and variations could, should, look like. I was raised on the Connecticut shore, but I grew up in Asylum Hill.
I lived there for eight years and probably would’ve stayed longer if the building’s furnace hadn’t died. Actually, I sort of did stay. I bought a town house one block away. And this time no one said a word.Marci Alborghetti is a writer with more than 20 published books on faith and social justice. She lives in New London, Conn., but misses her Hartford town house. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and your 550-word essay to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.