Mar 20, 2011

Why a safe space enables hope

A week or two ago I did a story about an owner of a set of apartment buildings who was fined for fire code violations. I went to look at the buildings, and I thought that they did not look well kept. I later heard that there actually had been a fire there last year, a fire that put a family out of their home. The family is suing the landlord for injuries and emotional distress.

All this made me think about the place where I live, and how I am grateful for my home.

The apartment where I live is roughly triangular, with odd walls and chimneys sticking into the main living space. It feels like when they constructed the building they were pleasantly surprised to discover that they could fit one more person in it. But all in all it's a cosy little place, and I love it. I wake up in a place I feel safe, where things look neat and beautiful, and it helps me get out of bed every day.

However, there was a time when I almost moved somewhere else, somewhere that would have made a big difference in my life.

Just before I found this apartment, I was in a bit of a time crunch. It was a breakup with a live-in partner, and living in the same space as my ex was nearly impossible. We tiptoed around each other for days, avoiding being home as much as possible. I had to find a new place, fast, but my budget was roughly comparable to a university student's budget, and since it was the beginning of September, every place I could afford seemed to be taken.

One day I arrived home after viewing an available apartment with an application in my hand. I filled it out, and then sat on the edge of my bed and looked at it.

My ex, Jake, was home. He saw that I was filling out a form, and he poked his head in to find out what the news was. Then he saw that I was sniffling and he asked what was wrong.

I told Jake about the cheap apartment, deep in a dodgy part of town. I told Jake about the superintendent, who opened the double-locked door and told me, "If you ever have any problems, you call my cell, and I'll call the police right away." I told him about the dingy florescent lights and the washing machines that were constantly being busted for quarters.

I had a form in my hand that said I was asking to live in a place where I felt drained and vaguely frightened. Why? Because the rent was cheap and I'd despaired of finding anywhere else within my price range.

Jake listened patiently, and then he did one of the kindest things I've ever seen anyone do. Remember, at this point, I had told him approximately one week before that I was moving out and ending our nearly eight-year relationship.

He took the application out of my hand and held it up. "This is for people who don't have hope," he said quietly. "That is not you." He put the sheet of folded paper back into my hand. He picked up my other hand and put it on the paper, so that I was holding it pinched in my hands like clothes pins hold a sheet on a line.

"Why don't I help you tear it up?" he said.

And with his hands assisting mine, we tore the application in half, and then in half again. I dropped it in the green plastic wastebasket that was standing beside my desk. And that was the end of that.


  1. So many people have the life sucked out of them by their surroundings. Thanks for reminding us all of how lucky we are.

    Also, Jake is one classy guy.

  2. Aw, gosh, I just teared up a little.

    That was a lovely story, Shaina. Thank you for sharing it. :)

  3. Thanks, Mom and Meg! I'm glad I get to share it with you :)