It was one of those houses dropped on the corner of the street, squeezed so tightly by the ones on either side that it was hardly noticeable. It was one of those houses where the hot water never ran out in the winter and the air conditioner never broke down in the summer. All of the neighbours in the similarly shaped houses, although never perfectly identical, shared gossip and brought over casseroles and generally pretended to like each other until the door closed and the lock clicked and their sincere thoughts on the daughter’s new husband came to light. It was a neighbourhood with the level of superficiality one could usually find in the suburbs.
I was drawn right in.
There was something about the idea of having a comfortable little life, a quiet life where I would often be alone and always lonely, that somehow appealed to me. It’s easy to be lonely; all you do is turn on the TV or open a good book and it goes away. I could never sit around feeling sorry for myself in a house as warm and welcoming as that one, and I didn’t plan on being alone for very long. To me, that house was a symbol, the promise that after a home in the suburbs would come the faithful husband, the stable job, and the laughing children and grandchildren. This was the first step.
I carried in the boxes myself and dumped their contents on shelves that, crowded with blank picture frames and trinkets, still seemed empty to me. I struggled to put together the bed and plug in the fridge, and the neighbours soon came in with their casseroles with which to fill it up. They asked me prying questions that I answered awkwardly and pretended not to notice how hard I was trying to like them. They waved cheerily when the door closed and the lock clicked and my smile collapsed into an exhausted sigh that I tried to ignore. I went back to work the next morning.
Life went on. In the evening, when I got home from work, I took hot showers for so long I couldn’t tell a minute from an hour. On the weekend, I went to my neighbours’ dinner parties and barbecues and made friends with the smiles etched so deeply into their faces that I wondered if there were such a thing as jaw massages. The nights were the worst. In a bed too large for me, I sat up and waited all night for a husband to arrive. Anyone would do, really; I was in desperate need of a friend. A husband would be the sign that I had made the right decision in moving here, that all this nonsense would be worth it, in the end. A sign that my dream life, the one in a cottage on the edge of the sea knitting hats and slippers on a front porch, was on its way.
So, I waited.
Still, one can’t simply wait for something to happen. I realized one morning at 2:54 that no one was coming, so I grabbed my coat and drove into the city. The blinding lights were a wake up call for me. Barely shading my eyes, I drove around, basking in the neon signs that lit up like a trail I was supposed to follow. I’d always preferred superficial light to superficial people. Sitting on a park bench, I ate sushi out of a box until sunrise, when the night owls pass out and the early birds stretch their wings. There was a strangely peaceful hour after the drunkards staggered home and before the suits marched to work. When I stepped back into the car, shivering, it was 6:32.
My little excursions into the city became increasingly frequent, as I rediscovered my old haunts and even some old friends. However, I spent most of my time alone, admiring the differences between this skyscraper jungle and the suburbs I called home. I wandered around, strolling down the streets, going farther and farther until at last, I saw it.
It was absolutely nothing like I had ever known; tall, dark, almost looming. Balconies hung from it like words from lips, and I thought to myself, “That’s the one.”
An apartment building, surrounded by a bakery, a thrift shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a library. A man was opening the door.
Hurrying up to him, I asked, “I’m sorry, but do you know if there are any apartments for rent in this building?”
“I don’t think so,” came his reply. “You should call the landlord.”
I did. He told me a lady on the top floor was moving out in the next months, and that he was still looking for a tenant.
Packing up my boxes once again, I left the empty shelves on the empty walls looking even emptier than they had before. I took my bed apart and unplugged the fridge, and the neighbours threw me a half-hearted goodbye party, promising to write and suggesting I come over some time for dinner. I politely agreed, then promptly lost their number and changed my email address. I gave them back the pots I had always been too scared to return, thanked them for the casseroles, and when the door closed and the lock clicked, I smiled, knowing there would be no more hopeless waiting.
It was one of those apartments that always felt too small, no matter which way you arranged the furniture. The hot water always ran out too quickly, and the washing machines in the basement were always full. Everything broke at the slightest provocation, and I quickly made friends with the plumber, the electrician, and the landlord. The neighbourhood was nice in the day, filled with little shops selling trinkets that were either inordinately expensive or insultingly cheap. The rate was high for murders and stolen hearts, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t need a doily-filled life or a crocheted misadventure.
One day, while I’m window shopping or browsing the bookstore, I’ll find him; tall dark, almost looming over me, and I’ll think to myself, “He’s the one.”