Julie’s House

“You know you lose a lot of social skills if you’re a writer. You spend too long alone. And it’s forced me to address that.” Anthony Minghella

While taking a shortcut through my new apartment’s underground garage, I suddenly thought: Hopkins, late 1980s, first apartment, parking garage.

I’m back there again.

But not in the same way, as the same person, in the exact same location.

The next thought was a feeling: a comforting one; one I recognized as security and stability. After that feeling passed, a new thought emerged: How is this place the same or different from all the other places I’ve lived? What were the houses, rented rooms, apartments that have sustained me all these years? And even more importantly, who have I lived with? Why did I live with them, and why did I leave their company? And why am I now living alone?

As I took the elevator up, Leo Kottke’s song “Julie’s House” popped into my head:

“I climbed the hill to Julie’s house,
The place I used to live,
I climbed the steps and tried the door
And let myself in.”

I wasn’t sure I had the lyrics right, but intuitively felt they were somehow connected to the questions I was asking. I was excited by this idea—after all it’s been a while since I’ve tried a “thought experiment” in this blog and maybe it was overdue.

So let’s peer through the keyhole of All Places Past, do some digging, and see what there is to find. Working back from my 2020 parking garage, to the front door of my last place (pictured above), to the place before that, and before that … a theme emerges of old city brownstones with built-in kitchen cupboards, cheap gas stoves and klunky-loud refrigerators, smudged windows, dust, cobwebs, mice and silverfish—all which began when I moved to St. Paul (leaving the Hopkins apartment of the aforementioned parking garage) in 1992.

The first rented room was in a mansion built in 1885. That followed with an old storefront and apartment, built in 1887 and still on the National Register of Historic Places. After that comes the resounding repeat of brownstones, early 20th century, some renovated, some not, all similar.

And since 1992, not a single roommate. The mansion had down-the-hall fellow renters, but no one with whom I’ve shared the questionable intimacy of snoring, bathroom habits, late night parties or grumpy mornings—guests and girlfriends for sure, but no one on a regular basis as a live-in partner.

The last “live together” was probably my family: mother, father, brother. And that ended once and for all in 1986 when I landed that Hopkins apartment. I was overjoyed to be on my own—it was, actually, a long-awaited dream, one I only got to taste in short bursts during my convoluted college years. The tentative “living together” experiments I’d had with old girlfriends included some happy moments (like quiet moments after meals, watching movies and sleeping over, running errands or doing lawn work together) but in the end were unsustainable (the last relationship was probably the most similar to “being in a family,” but the “idea of we two” was more compelling than its execution).

All this begs the question of family influence. After all, I was raised in a loving and supportive family (the photo at left of Mom and Dad on their 45th anniversary, five years before they died)—so what’s the wrinkle? What led me to the state I’ve been in for the majority of my life?

Temperament, I think.

When I was diagnosed with dysthymia in 1987, I was wary of how relationship expectations adversely affected my moods. It was like always being on shaky ground.

But I don’t think this “solo living thing” need be a permanent condition.

Ironically it’s leading full circle, when I think about where this post began, with that Kottke song thrown into the mix.

“Julie’s House” is an object lesson: the clock that the singer remembers always staring at has stopped at five to five. Why then? Well, he knows this house and Julie’s post-work schedule. But it’s no longer his house to enjoy, particularly with Julie. We’re left to wonder why.

A car comes up the drive—of course, it’s Julie. In this object lesson, Julie is “the other,” everyone and anyone you or I have ever known—mother, father, sister, brother, lover, friend, you name it. The “house” is any space where people come together.

So the singer tells Julie he’s back to stay; he wants to live with her again. She laughs at him outright. More questions—what has this guy done to be no longer welcome at Julie’s house? She lays it out short and sharp:

“She said that I’d grow old believing
That I was what mattered most,
That I’d uncover real feelings
When I got close.”

Ouch.

And therein lies the possible solution to my “problem,” right there smack in the middle of the chorus: “That I was what mattered most.” Self-preservation isn’t exactly the key to unlock someone else’s heart. When you’re afraid to be yourself, you live alone, privately with the knowledge you’re failing to connect with other people. To reveal who you really are inside takes work—and only then can you be a solid partner, spouse, roommate, friend.

I’ve failed. I haven’t done the work.

And that full circle? When I moved into the Hopkins apartment, I thought long and hard about my new life, which included a full-time job, good benefits, workplace friends and old pals I’d known since childhood. I knew I wanted to expand my new life, not have it contract. So I threw parties and invited new friends to events and outings. It was a happy, fulfilling, and socially active time.

Maybe I’m not in the same place and time, as the same person, but of course that’s to be expected.

But as long as I’m breathing, change is possible. It’s already started.

~ by completelyinthedark on February 6, 2020.

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