It was a third-floor walk-up, a condo a few feet short of 500. We were just married, but I did not carry my husband, Paul, over the threshold and he did not carry me. We saved our strength for the newlywed duet of meshing two middle-aged lives into one tiny pied-à-terre.
It was my second “first home,” this time partnered with a husband after a faltered dance with a wife. When we told friends and family where it was, near the Sutherland Road Green Line stop in Boston, a few replied, “Oh, I lived there too, before I moved someplace nicer.”
It had good bones, but you had to look beneath the skin of wrinkled vinyl floors, jaundice-colored walls, and sagging window frames to see them.
We spent our meager savings on the down payment, so our plan was to apply a little “lipstick” — paint the walls and kitchen cabinets, clean the floors, and scrub the counters — but when we peeked beneath a gap in the linoleum, we discovered hardwood.
Eight hours after the closing, the linoleum was ripped out, the kitchen cabinets were deconstructed, and a gaping hole in the wall behind the dishwasher was uncovered. The emaciated carcass of a lonely mouse stood sentry. The rodent’s friends must have left it for someplace nicer, too.
After loading up our credit cards, we made hundreds of trips up and down the stairs, lugging kitchen cabinets, cans of paint, and dilapidated window frames. Like the promise of gleaming hardwood floors beneath the vinyl, there was something we discovered about one another. To us, any task worth undertaking was worth doing all the way. No matter the size of the gem, maximizing the brilliance required the same painstaking cuts.
When we were nearly finished, we proudly scribbled our names, “Bill + Paul,” on the kitchen wall, sealing it with a kiss and covering it with a new set of cupboards. For six years we came home to our little slice of heaven in a third-floor walk-up. If our comings and goings were recorded on a time-lapse camera and played back, you’d see two men performing a staircase ballet, one in perfect step with the other laughing most of the time and once, maybe twice, solo and in tears after a quarrel.
When the time came to move someplace nicer, (but who am I kidding? No place would ever be so nice), we carefully selected an offer to purchase from among many. “Don’t read the personal letters,” some of our friends told us. In this crazy seller’s market, every contract came with the potential owner’s life story. But, I did read them, because anything worth doing is worth doing all the way.
We sold our home to a French ballerina, a rising star with the Boston Ballet. “I could feel your happiness, when I stepped in,” her letter began.
She sweetened the deal with ballet tickets. After the sale, we watched her dance the lead in “Swan Lake,” every ballerina’s dream and nightmare. The role of dancing two lives, white swan and black, is so demanding it can push the artist to the brink of madness. There from the hushed balcony, we watched this glittering jewel, tiny as a music box dancer, move with a gem cutter’s precision.
Perhaps one day she’ll renovate the condo, rip out the cabinets, and uncover the remains of our lovers’ dance painted on the wall. I hope so.
Our second-chance home was a few feet short of 500, but it was both feet in and knee deep in love.
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