Michael and I were very much in love but we had our first serious quarrels when we decided that I would move into his condo. The condo was stuffed with black lacquered Chinese furniture and the artifacts of his life: three tvs, motorcycle helmets, Italian art. I had an eclectic assortment of second hand furniture found in garage sales: a sturdy bookcase, a dining table with leaves to seat 12, a rattan rocking chair, and a pink filing cabinet. I didn’t believe the dining table would fit but he dragged it up the stairs anyway and the glass topped dining table was relegated to our bedroom, to take up space that I wanted cleared. But we learned to live with it and guests thought it was interesting.
When Michael passed away, he left behind suicide notes and wills but nothing signed by a lawyer. Officially the condo was in joint tenancy, meaning his mother legally inherited it. I was given a month to clear it of all of our possessions and find somewhere else to live. Every evening after work I sorted through Michael’s stuff to determine what to keep, what to give away, and what should go in the trash. I left his furniture there.
After 6 months of living with friends and housesitting, I receive a phone call from Michael’s sister. “We want you to have the condo,” she said, “I want to honor Michael’s wishes.” In jubilation, I threw open the cupboard where my clothes were hung and shouted, “We’re going home!”
I decided to make the condo my own. The Chinese furniture was sold or given away. In the study, I chose a bright bittersweet orange paint that reminded me of a sunset. I hung purple velvet curtains in the bedroom (I had always wanted purple velvet curtains), and cleared out everything except the bed, the armoire, and a small Chinese cabinet to be used as an altar. It was a reminder that Michael’s presence was with me. I hung paintings, painted the front door red to bring in positive energy, and even signed a contract with the condo that I would take good care of it if it would take good care of me. But the major project was the kitchen floor. I had left the condo without making sure the freezer was defrosted completely and as a result, when the electricity was shut off, it had flooded and ruined the cheap linoleum floor.
I spent hours choosing the floor tiles. The kitchen was my heart; I loved to host dinner parties. I found ceramic tiles, small 6 x 6 squares colored in overlapping browns, blues, russets, and golds. It took me hours to arrange them and days for the tiler to copy my configuration. Then I painted the cupboards turquoise blue and hung up the yellow colander and the red chili ristra. The kitchen was bright, cheerful and colorful. A place I loved.
Because Michael’s family still owned the condo, information about a recent vote to renovate all the buildings had been mailed to them in Italy. By the time I discovered the news, half of my assessment fee of $12000 was due in two months’ time. There was no way for me to get that kind of money except to take out a mortgage but this had been my home for 12 years and I had a decent if not high paying job. I wrote to the Woehler’s and suggested that now might be the time to turn the deed over to me.
Their answer was that I had a month to move out. Everything went back into storage.
My son asked for help with his children in Minneapolis. I loved the ambiance of Santa Fe but the truth was, I felt stuck professionally.
Minneapolis was a surprise. The first month, on a frigid evening when the temperatures dipped to twenty below, I attended a poetry reading at the Loft literary center. Expecting a small crowd, it was packed. Minnesotans do not stay home in winter if there is an event they can get to, I discovered.
I found there is grant money from the State Arts Board, McKnight foundation, Jerome foundation, etc, for poets and writers as well as artists. In 2008 and 2009 I received grants to teach writing workshops for at risk youth, which led to being hired for an after school program. I was invited to read, which in turn, led to more opportunities to encourage young poets.
I also found out that I needed a hip replacement and was able to get on medical assistance with only a phone call. My doctor is excellent and my two hip replacements went well. I know this would have panned out differently in New Mexico.
I thought I had lost everything. Eventually I emptied the storage unit of the heavy table, the tall bookcase, the rocking chair, the curtains, the new quilt, the sconces that held candles flickering warmly onto my dinner guests. But looking back, I know there was no way I could have kept the job necessary to pay a mortgage. The condo would have been an albatross around my neck; expensive, inconvenient, requiring more of me than I could give. Losing it set me free into the world—new horizons, new inspiration, new energy to follow my dreams and not the ones Michael had left behind.