We saw the ad on Craigslist, browsing for basement suites together on a whim. We weren’t engaged yet but the serious ring discussions had begun. The ad was for a basement walk-out suite in Langley, with a small cement patio laid outside the “front” (the house’s back) door before a modest patch of green grass. There were two large windows in the main living room space (as well as a window in the door), a smaller window in the kitchen and another large window in the bedroom. The photos online were promising. A clean, bright space, a place we could make our own. I wanted it.
The landlords responded to our email asking a little bit more about Randy. We wrote the most professional, upbeat, please-let-us-live-in-your-home email. Randy and his roommate would move in until the Spring and then after we got married, the roommate would move out and I’d move in. She was anxious about a roommate situation, preferring a “young professional couple.” Bingo – that was us. Just wait six months! We went to look at the suite two days later, Randy and I, hand in hand. We weren’t engaged yet but we were serious about securing this space. We would make them love us! I wore my Grandma’s gold diamond ring on my left hand, instead of on my right, as a faux-engagement ring. (Terrible, I know… but not really. We WERE going to be engaged!)
The landlords rented us the space and a week later, Randy asked me to be his wife. The day after his proposal, we got the keys and started to paint. It was a ugly yellow on our first walk-through but thankfully (with much convincing to our landlords) we were able to paint a light grey. (These people really loved yellow.) For three days, Randy worked twelve hour days at his job only to spend his evenings with a paintbrush in hand. He taught me how to roll paint lightly, in long, consistent strokes up and down each wall. Painters tape was my appointed task. I taped up every piece of trim in advance before he’d cut in the edges with his brush. Around 10 o’ clock, we’d kiss goodnight and I’d drive home to my bed while he’d stay another hour or two. He painted for me, painted to make our future home something I could love.
After the paint had dried we stood back admiring our work, only to realize there was little to be admired. The stained yellow light fixtures on the ceiling turned the bedroom walls from light grey to a purple-grey. A different temperature bulb in the same stained light fixture in the living room turned the light grey walls to a green-grey. It was ugly.
So he fixed that too.
After work the next day he bought six new light fixtures to install and when the job was complete, our walls returned to a beautiful light grey. Now it was time to move. My friend and I cleaned both the old suite (where Randy lived for the last 1.5 years) and the new suite thoroughly. It was disappointedly dirty – all along the window sills and on top of cupboards. Randy and the boys hauled furniture and boxes from one home to the next and when the long day was over, it was just the two of us. We sat on Randy’s couch looking around at the place.
There was stuffed jammed in every corner, masculine looking furniture and things in every room. For the next four and a half months, two men would live here. How was this my home? I couldn’t picture it. I started to cry. Tearing up at the idea of change. My bedroom at home was beautiful. Organized, bright, everything had a place, a made bed (always), photographs of my travels, bookshelves lined with my journals. I was scared.
“I cried on his chest with an emotion that I couldn’t name and he couldn’t understand, but through which he’d gladly hold me.” I read that line in “The Dirty Life” a few years ago. It’s never left my heart because it’s a beautiful piece of writing. And one that has rang true more than a handful of times during our engagement and newlywed months.
He listened, he held me as I wiped my snotty sobs on my shirt sleeve arm and we said goodnight. A few months later, Randy’s roommate moved out and we set to work making the space less of a bachelor pad and more of a home for us. I sold Randy’s kitchen table, the round, glass table we had played Rook cards across with friends in the months before “I like you.” With a hand full of numbered and colours cards, I watched him across the table, wondering what was behind those kind brown eyes. With friends, we’d shared meals on that round, glass table, all the while still wondering what his thoughts held.
We bought a new queen bed, selling his old (old) king mattress to make more floorspace in our bedroom. We shopped for—I shopped for—area rugs of every shape and size at Target, warming up the laminate flooring. A floral entry rug, an aqua kitchen rug, a grey rug for my desk in the corner, a grey and yellow striped living room rug, a medium blue rug in the bedroom. A new shower curtain, two bath mats, six curtain panels (four white for the living room, two blue for the bedroom) and a new table lamp. While I worked on the decor, Randy handled cosmetic fixes around the rental. (If you are reading this thinking, Why did you need to spend your own money fixing up a rental? Great question. We had the same question. We quickly discovered we were not fans of our landlords.) He purchased a new toilet seat to replace the cracked one and bought six new air vent covers, a fresh bright white to replace the tired musty yellow. From the edge of our cement patio to where gravel down the side of the house started was a swampy patch of grass. The winter rains meant if you forgot to wear boots, you had no choice but step gingerly through the murky, dirty sea.
Randy fixed that too, finding a good price on cement slabs and installing eight for me.
Maybe I was silly, wanting to “nest” before I even slept there but at the time, it was necessary. It was what I needed to process this change and Randy saw it in my teary eyes. He spent his days after working hanging curtains and walking through IKEA with me and setting up my new white Target desk without being asked. I needed things on the walls – my room was covered in frames and empty walls say “rental” to me. I needed things on the walls.
Two weeks before the wedding, Randy watched me pull thirty frames from store piles and lay them on the linoleum aisles. What about this one, or this one? I don’t know what sizes I need. “Buy more than you need,” He said. “You can always return them.”
I bought more than I needed.
Already imagining our wedding photos, I wanted to wait to print photos to fill the frames but I wanted the frames on the wall. Why don’t we just wait, he asked? Because. This way, it’s done and when I print them, I can simply take the frames down while you’re at work and fill them with photos myself. With a tape measure, piece of white paper, uni-ball pen, painter’s tape and a pencil, Randy hung three groupings of frames.
Four months later, those empty frames were filled with photos from the day we became a family. And four months later, our basement felt like home. Every day I hopped, skipped and jumped from one cement pad to the next when I arrive home and I think about him with each step. I think about how he made that place our home. When I walked through the front door, I stepped onto our floral Target rug, the one we argued about many months ago. I need this Randy. I need this to feel like my home. I think it’s pretty! I cried. He conceded. He stopped noticing the floral anymore. I stopped noticing his shoes by the door. (Okay, I stopped noticing some of the time. But if shoes have to be by the door, there must be a 1-2 pair rule for each person. I grew up in a family with no shoes at the door. We kept them out of sight.)
Our kitchen was small, with a stained vinyl countertop, far from the sparkling granite of many of my newlywed friends apartments and the space lacked a dishwasher. But for a season, it was our kitchen – the first one we shared together. We made food and ate around our tiny wood table, sitting in chairs that creak, every creak threatening “we were made to fall apart soon!” Across from our table, the same one we dined at during our wedding reception, was a wooden cart. We purchased it second hand in an attempt to increase our counter space from barely-any to barely-enough. It worked.
Our bedroom was the first one we had shared together. The room held “our” first bed, the first bed we had fallen asleep in together – except for hotels on our honeymoon. Our clothes were in the closet and happily co-existed for the most part, except for a few growing pains. (Randy took out the closet shelves and added two rods, also installed a rod across the staircase for my dresses, placed baskets for sweaters above our bookshelf and bought two big tupperware containers to slid underneath the bed for shoes.)
Our living room was the perfect fit, housing both of Randy’s quite-large brown leather couches, a coffee table and a big screen TV. I tolerated his big, manly couches at first, knowing it was part of the marriage deal. But soon, I loved them and I loved that he loved them. One of the couches easily fit four people, making it a great match for entertaining. And let us not forget, both sides have dual controls to turn the unassuming couch into a full-on recliner. It’s a manly couch. Our manly couch.
I write because I don’t want to forget things. I write about our love story because I don’t want to forget the magic of how we came to be. I write about our wedding day because I want words and photographs to remember the milestone. And now, as we prepare to move in a few weeks, I write about our first home, the only home we’ve known as “one.”
Because I want to remember.
(Yes, we are leaving our crazy landlords.)
(And yes, I have stories you can easily convince me to blog about them.)