Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Once Upon A Time We Lived Under A Willow Tree

...and I was "the lightning guy" for a living.

In 1994 I was working on an Education and Programs fellowship at the Boston Museum of Science , while Darcie worked as assistant manager for a travel book store in an upscale mall downtown. Things had gotten out of hand in our dirty apartment on the Allston-Brighton line; after a few fights I had ended up living next door with a raver chick and her wiccan friend for a few months until we had decided to move the hell away from there, as it was unhealthy, and take some time off from each other.

I ended up in a wood-paneled, run-down house share in Kendall Square with two strangers, one a professional English as a Second language teacher who slept on a matress on a bare floor with one of his students, an overwhelmed girl who barely spoke English, the other a classically-trained porn afficionado who temped as a librarian at Symphony Hall while he pursued his real love, writing letters and stories for Penthouse and Oui. The primary benefit to this living arrangement was its proximity to work, a three-block bike ride through a back lot and to the edge of the Charles River. The drawbacks included the roommates, both of whose girlfriends eventually moved in with them, the fact that I was sleeping on a futon in a tiny room with thin faux-wood paneling, and the fact that Darcie wasn't there.

Meanwhile, after living on the Fenway across from a drug-dealer's park and the Museum of Fine Arts with baby pigeons hatching on the windowsill for a few months, Darcie had answered an ad in the paper and moved into a room on the second floor of Val and Bob's Somerville walk-up. The house was a block down and behind the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, easily accessible by Boston's public transport, the T; this was back when Davis Square as yet had no McDonalds, but was a fun funky neighborhood with good bars and music halls, Redbones cajun restaurant and a real diner, and a Store 24 and a dollar store, useful when you're mostly broke or up regularly at 2:00 a.m needing cigarettes.

Katherine, a nun in the Church of Euthenasia, lived downstairs; to visit Darcie, I'd wave my way past Katherine smoking on the steps outside her back door, climb up the rickety back stairs, and open the wondowless neverlocked back door into the warm kitchen with its woodstained walls and a fridge painted like a Holstein, where there tended to be a half dozen random people, our roommates and their very cool friends, to greet us. It was an odd layout. The kitchen was the communal gathering place; off it was a small bathroom, Val's room, and a phone nook in a hallway which in turn led to an outside door. The bedrooms all opened up into each other linearly; to get to our own room on the corner of the house we either had to walk through Val's room or, stranger still, walk out of the apartment into the hall, past the stairs of the invisible men who lived upstairs, unlock the door with your key and walk back into the apartment, or, more specifically, Bob's room, and then into ours. Our best guess was that Bob's room had once been a waiting room for a therapist's office; that would explain the two ways into our own room, once -- in this scenario -- the office itself.

When, after a few months, I was living there in praxis, we decided I should sign on for rent and live there in theory, too. I got to know Val and Bob pretty well; mostly, we didn't have much to do except sit around all day and drank cheap beer and smoke cigarettes at the kitchen table while Darcie worked.

Val was a big earthy woman with a skinny boyfriend who was the guitarist in her band; her only form of income seemed to be a yearly yard sale, for which she scoured the streets on trash day all year, filling our house and garage with knickknacks and paddywhacks and shelves of scalloped bone. After she moved out and was replaced by Chirs, the taciturn alcoholic sound man for the Boston House of Blues, we discovered a cache of sealed jugs of tapwater hidden in the floorboards and behind the sink, over 60 of them. Our best guess is that Val, ever the crystal and feather spiritualist, was preparing for the apocalypse.

It was Bob we really took to. Bob's life was in a holding pattern, although he was so settled it wasn't really noticable when seen head-on. He was drinking far too heavily, working a little as a receptionist in a small hospital, dating a guy who he loved but wasn't good for him. We spent hours in that little kitchen, smoking and drinking and laughing and singing; Bob I had joined old schoolmate-and-friend PJ Shapiro in a band, Not Earthshaking, which played a gig at the Hard Rock Cafe surrounded by the original bricks of the first place the Beatles played in Liverpool and then disbanded --, When it got warm again, on the porch, we sat late into the evening looking out on the marvelous garden he was building at the base of the willow tree in the backyard and talking about anything and everything.

Ah, the willow tree. Bigger than a three-apartment home, it towered over the neighborhood, jutting out even over the fenced-in half acre of garden we cultivated at our house on the corner. Branches rubbed up against the bedroom windows, providing just enough shade in the summer and just enough beauty in the fall to fall asleep to; they beat in the wind against the cardboard box Darcie kept in the window as a kind of poor-man's refrigerator to keep food, mostly orange juice, cool.

The tree owned us more than we owned it, but somehow (it was never clear to me how, with three apartments in the house), the yard had become ours, and Val and Bob took it over. Val grew wildflowers and tomatoes and placed garden Gnomes and bits of bark; Bob build a barbecue patio in the shape of a guitar around the trunk of the tree, We left the house in late '94, I guess, when I went to live in the dorms at Marlboro College and Darcie went to live with her parents ten miles down the hill, and I miss the firends and the sense of cozy comfort of each darkened room, but I miss Bob, and the garden, most of all, and I know Darcie does too. We'd never trade it for what we have now, but we love it, and the people we were when we lived there, all the same.

Things come in threes, y'know:

Bob called tonight, we're going to try to get to his house out in the real suburbs, in Revere, where he's got a new gardening business and is going on six years with Tom, they have a Lhasa Apso and they're talking about a ceremony of some sort in the next year or so.

Also, my brother asked for a dinner out at Redbones for his birthday dinner tomorrow in Boston, a family tradition, because you just can't get good catfish in New Jersey.

Also, of course, we named the baby Willow.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:49 PM |

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