Alphabet: A History, (M)

The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self).

Alphabet: A History (M) Mattress

It’s June, 2004 and I’m moving into a 1-bedroom apartment on Winnemac Street. I’m a ten-minute walk from the park in one direction, a ten-minute walk from the lake in the other, and I’m right around the corner from the Hopleaf. It’s the first time I’ve lived alone in almost four years, so I’ve bought a new mattress to honor the occasion. It’s a Sterns and Foster, which is the only kind my mom said is worth getting.

It’s hot and I’m wearing a t-shirt and underwear while I paint the place and wait for my mattress to be delivered (none of my other furniture is here yet). I’m painting the kitchen the color of a watermelon because the black and white splash board reminds me of seeds. I paint my living room mocha, my bathroom light purple, my dining room apple green, and my bedroom a golden yellow. I don’t have AC, but I’ve got the ceiling fans on high and all the windows open. I’m playing a song by Wheat called “I Met a Girl” over and over on my little CD player and I dance around my empty apartment, barefoot over the newly-varnished hardwood floors.

A year and a few months later, after another date that leads to nowhere, I spend an evening lying on the same floor, staring at the ceiling, listening to Mazzy Star’s “Halah” on repeat. It’s getting cooler now, the bars and cafes have moved their outdoor tables and chairs to wherever it is they keep these things in the winter. I ride my bike around aimlessly, with the left leg of my jeans rolled up, my blue jacket zipped to my neck. I eat mussels for two at the bar at the Hopleaf, sharing my meal with a rotating cast of friends and forgettable dates, most of whom I meet online these days. Saturday mornings I spend at the bookstore, a stack of magazines and a small skim latte by my side.

I adopt a kitten from the shelter where I volunteer a few hours a week. He’s a grey striped tabby with a big white belly, and I take him home and name him Miles. My last boyfriend was allergic to cats and I wait over six months after we break up to get another one just in case he decides he wants me back. He doesn’t, and it’s for the best. I give Simone extra love now so she won’t get jealous. We feel like a family.

In the winter, Miles grows four times his size, easily twice as big as Simone. He likes to sit in the living room window, watching the courtyard and street below, occasionally making little twittering sounds when he sees something he wants to chase.

I have a new song I listen to over and over. It’s called “Girl in a Hood” and it makes me think of living under water for some reason, floating through life in slow-motion. I lie on my bed, on my Sterns and Foster mattress, and sing along to some of the lyrics. “I wanted to ask you to run away…”

I live in this apartment longer than I live anywhere else my whole life โ€” three years and four months. The ceilings are too short, the layout is awkward, and I don’t like the bathtub, but leaving it is bittersweet. It’s mine, and when I go, I know it’ll be the last place that ever is. I bring my bed with me to New York, I move it into my boyfriend’s place, we get married, the bed seems small. I think back to my watermelon kitchen, the kitten who grew four times his size, my Saturday mornings at the bookstore, and I think: maybe it’s time for something bigger now.


  1. kerrycontrary says:

    Aw Wendy…I think this is my most favorite essay of yours yet. I’m unmarried (but with a bf) and live in this little studio that I LOVE because it’s the first time I’ve lived alone and its all mine. It’s small and the tiles in the bathroom are cracked and my kitchen light fixture is rusted shut so I can’t change the lightbulb, but it has character and hardwood floors and no one lives there but me and my dog. While I’m looking forward to the next couple years of my life I just love being a single girl in a city ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I love these stories, I think it’s really cool to hear the random details you remember about your past. And thanks for listening to whoever requested more Miles photos yesterday ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Awww ๐Ÿ™‚ Kitties make me so happy!

    1. SweetPeaG says:

      Me too.
      Nothing takes the edge off my stress like playing with my fiancee’s 2 kitties… well, let’s just call them MY kitties at this point ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. sarolabelle says:

    I have a lot of things. A house, two mattresses, a bedroom set, a living room set, a dining room set, breakfast nook table that is ALL MINE. And I’ll soon have to give some of it up to live my my husband when we get married. I feel sad about losing my things sometimes.

    1. When my husband and I moved in together, we both had a bunch of mismatched furniture that we smooshed together, but now that we have bought this duplex we are finally buying brand new MATCHING furniture and I’m stupid excited about it. It is an amazing feeling to know something is all yours.

      1. Buzzelbee says:

        I’m going through this now. My husband and I close on a condo on Monday and are crazy excited about it. For some reason he is super into eclectic chairs at the moment and gets all excited at pictures of chairs with crazy patterns. I did not see that coming.

      2. kerrycontrary says:

        “I did not see that coming”…Just made my day better. Thanks.

      3. ugh closing, has it made you feel like ripping your hair out yet?

      4. Buzzelbee says:

        I can say I have started to have a personal hatred for my lender. I am just ready to have it over with and own it. We are also remodeling the kitchen right away to get more storage since it’s a teeny tiny kitchen so we are dealing with that at the same time. The whole thing is such a PIA but then we will own our own corner of the city!

      5. i keep telling myself that the end result will be worth it. but, i definitely have hate the listing agent and some days my lender. our closing just got pushed back to mid may and i almost cried at my desk when i found out, haha. i’m just so ready to be done!

      6. I’m buying a house too (closing May 30th), and it’s really a nightmare! The paperwork- dealing with all the people from the agents, to the mortgage and insurance people… I’m ready for it to be over! Luckily we’re moving from a rental into our house- I couldn’t imagine what this would be like if we had to sell a house at the same time, too! I wish you guys the best of luck!

      7. good luck to you too! thankfully i’m moving from a rental too or i’m pretty sure i would have lost it by now. i keep telling my husband after we get the keys i’m going to just go sit in the new house and drink a bottle of wine, haha.

      8. Buzzelbee says:

        Good luck to you two as well! We are also moving from a rental which is what makes it worth it. This will be our 4th move in 6 years so hopefully we wont be moving again any time soon! And I fully second the bottle of wine.

        The crazy thing is that my brother closes on the sale of his house and the purchase of another on Monday as well. It’s a big real estate day in my family!

  5. lets_be_honest says:

    Something about your first apartment alone. Like your first car.

    1. Not my first apartment alone — it was my third, actually — but the first in a few years. And perhaps last ever.

  6. I bought a townhouse on my own when my husband (boyfriend at the time) were broken up. I didn’t know if he was coming back to me, but I went ahead and moved on like he wasn’t. I had to move across town when we ended up getting married. We sold the townhouse a few years later, and I still think about it every now and then. I miss it because it was MINE. It was just the right size for me and my meager belongings at the time. To save money, I didn’t have cable or the internet, so I could drink green tea at night and watch Sex and the City dvds by myself. Even though I would never want to be without my husband like that again, it was a wonderful time in my life.

    I totally know how you felt Wendy. Even though I was moving on to my marriage, it was still bittersweet.

    1. I loved living alone, not having cable and watching DVDs while drinking wine. Living alone was pretty awesome for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I’ve never commented before, this will be my first time. I’ve been reading the site for a while, enjoying what others say. This piece resonated with me the most. Currently, I’m living in a studio apartment in Logan Square, and it’s the first place I moved into by myself. I’ve been here for 5 years now, and I’ve recently decided that maybe it’s time for me to move to a ONE bedroom apartment, but it’s difficult to force myself to make that transition. I’m still single, just my dog and me. When one is comfortable, why is it so difficult to make that big change? I might be inspired to make it now.

  8. I think this is one of my favorite entries also! Especially being a single Chicagoan and considering a move to the Andersonville/Edgewater area. I’m continually working to have gratitude for this time and space in my life, thanks Wendy.

  9. your cats are quite cute! ๐Ÿ™‚ and i love this essay. it’s nice being able to pick out all the paint colors and not ask anyone else isn’t it?

  10. I love this post. I’m getting my first apartment by myself in September and I’m so scared/excited. I am an extrovert and I don’t do well by myself for long periods of time, but I feel like it’s something I have to do, plus for my last year of college, I don’t want any roommates distracting me from getting my work done. I’ll miss my apartment I live in now a lot because I have a really great location in the city but I can’t afford an apartment by myself in that location, so I’ll make do.

  11. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

    This is all so Sex And The City! And by that I mean it sounds fabulous… The random “snapshot” approach to all these little life moments is clever and well done…

    I also live in the world’s smallest studio. Right in the heart of Los Feliz Village in Los Angeles. It’s tiny! (Maddeningly so at times.) But I completely redid it a few years ago and it’s pretty fabulous, actually. I boldly painted it in some great 1960s colors (Orange, Off-White, Brown, and Turquoise.) It’s all very Mad Men — though I did all this six or so months BEFORE even starting to watch the show. Long story short, it kind of looks like I live in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. I even have my front door painted turquoise like on the show… It was sure weird later seeing THAT on the TV screen so soon after I had revamped my own space. I’d been inspired to do this bold front door after seeing it on a nifty mid-century era Native American jewelry shop up in Carefree, Arizona…

    But the best part about my place is the secret garden outside my window… Yep, I literally have to climb out the window to get there. But I created a curious patio (6 X 24 feet) oasis in this walled off from the world area… It’s filled with succulents and potted palms. There is even a large fig tree that just started growing after I first started watering out there. For three years now I’ve gotten a bumper crop of california black figs come August. I really need to take some pics and submit them here to show it off a bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Your patio garden sounds awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

        It is pretty cool. It’s a big reason of why I don’t move. That, and rent control. And then Los Feliz is amazing. Especially for LA — the city where you have to drive anywhere. I live right on Vermont Avenue, so I walk out the door of my building and there are dozens or cafe’s, bars, and shops. Even two movie theaters I can walk to — which is so nice. It’s cozy. It’s home. I’ve lived here an insanely long time.

    2. We have a gardening topic in the forums!! (under general discussions) Come on over and post!!
      Having an outdoor space can really transform an apartment, no matter how small. When I had my studio I didn’t have any outdoor space, but I loved being outside, so on nice days I’d sit on my stoop, drink dirty martinis and read. Those were the days…

    3. lets_be_honest says:

      Your garden sounds like something in a dream. Awesome!
      Time for a tour submission!

      1. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

        I will take some pictures soon. It’s strangely cloudy lately in LA whenever I am home, but I will do a submission soon, I promise… The garden looks as good as it ever will as I just did all the spring cleaning and trimming and what not. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. this may be a weird thing to take away from this piece, but i have never -never- painted a space of mine. i have only ever lived in white, or the occasional off-white that comes with a little nicer place.

    is it normal to always paint before you move into a place? i know i have some friends who have done it, but all of them have to paint it back to white before they leave… i have never stayed in a place more then a year, and so i feel like whats the point? thats a ton of extra work just for some walls to have color… i dunno painting is like something you do when you own a house- when its REALLY yours, because there arent any rules about painting it back! although i guess, me not wanting to paint a house is related to my total aversion to decorating because i dont know how to… maybe thats it lol

    1. I’ve never painted an apartment, but then again, I also rarely stay somewhere for more than a year. It’d be nice to be able to personalize a home like that, though I probably wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to start making it look good.

    2. I’ve rented since I was 19 (now 30), and every single place I’ve lived I was never allowed to paint! We’re in the process of buying a house right now, and I’m really looking forward to living in color!

      1. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

        When I was thinking about redoing my apartment, I asked my landlord about painting. They said if I did so, I could either paint it back, or forfeit my deposit. Hah! Well, when I moved in they had a crazy special going, so my deposit was a whopping $250.00. ๐Ÿ™‚ Needless to say, I was now very free to paint my apartment. Having lived in white boxes for years, I was thrilled. So I went REALLY bold! Two and a half years on, no regrets!! The fact that orange is so HOT right now in design helps. But then, I’ve always loved orange. And I’ve always loved the 1960s mid century look. That’s the great thing about going super retro — your place will never look dated, as it kinda already does from the get go.

      2. When we moved into our current house, I tried to paint the dining room a caramel color. It ended up being quite orange. I wasn’t so sure about it right at first but it has totally grown on me. And I’ve gotten tons of compliments on it as well!

      3. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

        I bet it looks great. Oh, it can be a tricky color. But when it works, it REALLY works…

      4. We have a bright orange couch, and all sorts of little bits of orange in the apartment that harken to it, and I LOVE it. So sunny!

  13. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    I cannot get enough of the alphabet series. So sweet, unique, and genuine… *and* relatable (to me, anyway!). You’ve got skill, Wendyboo. (I dunno.)

    1. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

      It is clever. Reminds me of those mystery novels. The alphabet series… A is for Alibi…

      1. I LOVE Sue Grafton!!! I just got V, now i just need time to read it!

      2. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

        I love a good gimmick. I’m toying with starting a blog where I pen similar little snapshots of my own wacky life — then title each piece after a Madonna song or if I long to be more clever, just random Madonna lyric. If one takes snippets of her songs out of context, there are some great potential titles. And it would probably take people forever to figure ouy the gimmick. Of course, I’ve now just spoiled the surprise. Holding me back a bit is this is probably the GAYEST blog idea ever… . ๐Ÿ˜‰

      3. I say go for it! It sounds like a great idea.
        Today a Madonna song came on the radio while I was driving and it reminded me of you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I love these Wendy, they’re so relatable. This one definitely captures that sometimes lonely, but very free and amazing experience of living alone, being single, and feeling like anything could happen. I think every life stage is beautiful and happy and sad at the same time, because change is scary, but that is how we learn and grow.

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