When we were 20, we rented a house.
It was a big brown house not too far from campus, in the neighborhood where all our friends were gonna live now that we’d outgrown the dorms. The four of us paid the security deposit and signed the lease, swelled up with pride at the adults we had become.
We moved in at the end of August, and none of us had any idea what this house, and year, would bring.
I would wash the floors between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays because that’s what adults did. We took long, meandering trips through the grocery store and we bought $11 cardamom and whole wheat flour and we cooked, because that’s what adults did. We spent our nights together in the living room on the low yellow couch, the one we inherited from Jack’s grandpa. I would wake up in the middle of a blackout night sometimes and see Brett sprawled out on the other end, the two of us having passed out watching basic TV. We’d spend mornings there, the four of us. Brett would make coffee and Jack would do homework and Amy would take photos and I would always have the words for “Our House” floating through my brain: “Our house/is a very very very fine house/with two cats in the yard/life used to be so hard/now everything is easy ‘cause of you.”
Sometimes you move in with people you love, and sometimes you grow to love them. It happens over time, even nine short months can grow a family. The four of us were so different, but we nested, we laid down feathers in that house. When you live with people, you grow close quickly. You hear them fuck through the skinny white walls, you stay up all night painting your bedrooms and crying into your beer, you throw parties and find people sleeping in the closet the next day. You fight, you pick at each others’ edges. We all had sharp edges, and that year smoothed them down.
College teaches you a lot of things. You learn a lot in class, but you learn more in the hours you spend unoccupied, the days you pass lazing about with those people, those strangers who’ve become siblings. We would stay up late getting drunk and listening to the radio. When you’re that close, you don’t need to talk. The house kept us from drifting into grey, kept us grounded in a way that nothing else really could. We’d drive around St. Paul at night with the wind whipping through the windows of Jack’s car and I would be singing and fiddling with mouthfuls of harmonies along with the radio, and it always felt a little like summer even if it wasn’t.
The four of us needed that year to grow. We all got our hearts broken, our dreams dashed, our futures shaped. We made big, grandiose plans and none of them came true, at least not in the way we’d planned. We all hated each other at certain times but then loved each other even more. The boys took me to the emergency room at 4 AM, they were there the whole night with me. There was something there for each of us to take, something we desperately needed. I needed those people to keep me breathing, to keep me from retreating into my grey-painted bedroom and locking myself in. I needed them to yank me down. They needed me to fret over them, to make that house a home with thrift store decorations and piles of books and garage sale treasures and armfuls of lilacs when spring finally came. We needed one another more than we needed anything else. We each took something massively important from that house, found what our hearts and brains were searching for.
It nearly broke my heart when we moved out of that house. I hate leaving places I’ve lived, I hate mopping away every trace of the life that happened during that year and turning in keys and cashing that security deposit check. The four of us moved out and away and our lives took very different paths, but we have that, we have that house and we have that year. And when we came together after almost four years apart, it was clear we still have each other.