I ran my thumb across the key’s jagged teeth. This was it. This little guy would open the wiggly locks and charmingly off-kilter doors to my first apartment. It was about time.
Last summer it became apparent to me that it was time to move out. I had done the sensible thing most (modern) college graduates did and lived with my parents. I fell into an easy routine commuting to the City of Pittsburgh, working hard, commuting home, doing stuff, etc. It was a lifestyle enjoyed by plenty of folks in the county–each morning flocks of Beaver County workers migrate to the big city, a routine so common that specific cars become familiar traveling partners. But there was something about that summer that snapped me out of it. Maybe it was the size of my parents’ den, where I did most of my after-hours writing and graphic design. The room was too small. My desk was too small. Maybe my responsibilities were too small. Maybe it was the apartment in Shadyside that my (then) friend allowed me to use for a month while she was away, giving me a taste of how great a short commute could be. Maybe it was something my uncle said to me about living in the city now, when I was young, rather than staying in the settled-down suburbs forever. Maybe it was all of that.
A month later, my father proposed an idea: I should split the cost of a new television with him. It’d fit nicely in the den, and then whenever I wanted to move out I could pay him the balance and take it with me. When I move out… when would that be? The phrase, when paired with something simple like buying a new TV, suddenly carried with it all sorts of questions about my future. I had just turned 25. Most people had a positive reaction when I told them I lived at home: “That’s smart.” They’d all say that. It was smart. I was saving money. I could do things like split the cost of a fancy TV. I had convinced myself that spending money on an apartment was a waste–after all, it’s not like I’m gaining any equity that way. Should I really be all that concerned about equity at 25?
By late September, the idea had developed into a full blown need. I was spending more time in the city doing improv, hanging out with new friends, and attending rehearsals for a play I was getting produced. The idea that I wouldn’t want to live outside of Beaver County, that I’d never enjoy crawling through city traffic or paying more for just about everything, began to fade. Beaver County is an awesome place, especially to raise a family, but the commute lost its charm. I needed those extra hours to my day, and I needed a place that could (ostensibly) belong to me. I needed to learn how to live on my own, how to cook something other than mac and cheese, how to identify various kinds of mold.
Funny, when I went back to the people who reacted in the positive about living at home (“That’s smart;” “I’d be doing the same;” “Hell yeah!” *firing guns in the air*) I met with identical support. Like those friends who love your girlfriend until you break up, everyone was suddenly in my corner about moving out. “It’s about time;” “You’re going to love living on your own;” “That’s smart.” I wonder if they would have reacted the same to me announcing I was getting a pilot’s license or opening a boutique that sells country-themed kitsch? That’s smart.
The idea of moving was daunting. My usual “just get it done” approach wouldn’t really suffice for something this large. When you go to college, you’re moving into (more often than not) a dorm controlled by the institution. You don’t have to worry about changing over a gas bill or getting the right kind of internet connection. You just show up, and when you’re a freshman sometimes people are there to help carry stuff for you. This move needed a little more planning, and it was something I wasn’t sure I could do on my own.
By February, after recovering from my tonsillectomy (which was unrelated to moving, in case you were wondering), I began earnestly searching for a place to live. I was anxious to move. I was also trying my best not to fall in love with every place I saw; keeping my enthusiasm close to the vest isn’t one of my more practiced qualities. The experience, filled with ice-cream-headache-levels of stress, was a great one. I wove my way through craigslistings with my incredibly helpful girlfriend, Abby (a veteran apartment finder, and original lender of that summer apartment I spoke of), and via some sugary cocktail of serendipity and intervention wound up with a key in my hand.
As I left the landlord’s office, I added that key to my carabiner. Few keys have received such a prestigious and semi-permanant honor–mainly because key rings are really hard to use. I opened the door to my car and looked down at the key. It had a small paper tag attached to it with my new house number on it. This was the end of my apartment hunt, and the beginning of a much bigger sandwich.