Won't You Be My Neighbor? Part 1 - The Early Years

While I know I haven't exactly done a good job of describing our daily life in Birmingham on this little blog of mine, it has definitely become my new reality - quirks and all. We live in a small two-bedroom apartment with three other people, and they are seriously the best roommates we could have asked for during this international phase of our lives. And while nothing beats living with my Livy (sometimes I even scoff at Patrick and ask him why he can't just sing at the top of his lungs and dance with me around the kitchen like Livy did... hehe), they are truly lovely to live with.

Most days, I have the apartment completely to myself, but I still stick to our bedroom and the kitchen as there isn't really anywhere much else to go. The apartment is very secure, but the walls are so thin here, and they don't do a good job of sound-proofing the front door, so I can hear people coming and going in the hall (or corridor); sometimes it sounds like our front door is opening, but it's someone else. And the plumbing here... it's so noisy! I swear, I can hear every time someone in the building is using the toilet, and I can certainly hear the water flowing through the pipes in the walls. It's that way a lot of places - I was so weirded out when I was at the library and I could hear the toilet water being flushed. So very strange. And when someone rings our apartment, the noise at the telephone in our bedroom makes me jump out of my skin every single time, whether I know it's going to ring or not. Anyway, back to our living arrangements.

Some days, this little apartment complex is completely boring and nothing interesting happens in the least. Other days, I feel as though I'm Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window; our situations are not the same, but we're both regularly confined to an apartment that overlooks a courtyard of sorts (mine is a parking lot) and the dozens of windows that look into individual apartments. It's kind of like looking at a fishbowl with a very limited view, but it's rather fascinating. I love imagining the people and their lives - each as different as their individual apartments.

There is a woman across the way who plays the violin, and I can often hear her practicing with great vigor and determination. She is actually a very good player, and I truly enjoy having a live soundtrack in the background of my day. A few apartments to the right and one floor down, there is a group of female vocalists who sometimes gather in the living room and practice. I don't really know what songs they're singing, but they sound so lovely as they harmonize, and I think they do a bit of dancing - or maybe just swaying and side-stepping. In the apartment above them, there is a couple with a little baby; I don't know if the baby is a girl or boy, but I often see the father holding his child, bouncing up and down, swaying side to side, in an effort to calm his little one. There is also an opera singer somewhere in the building; I don't know where she resides, but you can bet that I can hear her loud and clear. Then there is the woman who is definitely a chain smoker - I see her sitting on her deck several times a day, no matter how poor the weather, smoking like a chimney. If I couldn't see her smoking, I could definitely hear that smoker's cough, all phlegmy and choked-sounding. Gross.

Taking into account all of the above, it is easy for me to say that our living arrangements could be much worse, but I know they could be worse - because they have been worse. Stick with me here.

A few weeks ago, my sister in law texted me and opened up the floodgate of memories in reference to living situations. Hah! Oh my lanta, all I can do is laugh and shake my head at the thought of some of those places, some of those people...

The OBU House

The first place that Patrick and I lived in together (at the tender ages of 21 and 22, mind you) was an itty-bitty house in Shawnee, Oklahoma that was owned by Oklahoma Baptist University and was just off campus. It is a very kind thing to call that place a house; more often, I lovingly referred to it as a cardboard box. That place was TINY at a mere 475 square feet and a really poor layout, and boy was it a load of crap. Haha!

We got married on December 12, 2009 and took our honeymoon after Patrick took his finals the next week. We came home to the epic Christmas Eve Snowpocalypse of 2009 and were stuck in Dallas, Texas without our luggage and with no way to get home. That really was a blessing disguised as a curse, because my dad, stepmom, and siblings just moved to Dallas right before our wedding; however, my dad had to go back to Arizona for work and things, so my poor stepmom was alone with her two smallest kids in a new city and an apartment that needed to be unpacked - then we got stuck in Dallas and she came to the newlyweds' rescue! We got to spend Christmas with my family and it was wonderful despite all the kinks thrown in, but that's beside the point. Just for good measure, though, this is the photo of us on our honeymoon that I always keep on my phone. That was so long ago!

What I meant to say was this: when we got home to our cardboard box of a house (a few days after Christmas as we were still stuck in OKC when we arrived at the airport), there was snow everywhere and it was fracking cold. That house didn't have central air OR heat: it had one window unit air conditioner in the living room, and it had a gas heater on the living room wall... which we sometimes had to light with a match. I swear to you, we thought we were going to blow ourselves up every dang time we had to use that thing. Patrick's parents even bought us a CO2 detector to plug into our wall because the gas and open flame made us all nervous. And while the heater somewhat worked at warming up the living room, it couldn't combat the paper-thin walls and the sub-freezing temperatures.

We didn't dare sleep with that thing on, so the newlyweds bundled up in layers upon layers of socks, pajama pants, long sleeved shirts, and sweatshirts, and we must have had five or six blankets on top of us. It was quite comical to look at, actually! However, it was not nice to wake up to. While we tried our best to warm up the house with the heater and the oven before bedtime, it became absolutely frigid during the night when neither of those were in use. It was not uncommon for us to wake up and see our warm breath in the air - INSIDE OUR HOUSE. I kid you not, it was that cold in our bedroom! Haha! Needless to say, it didn't take us too long to realize that we needed to suck up the expense and buy a space heater, and we definitely slept with it on - despite the warning labels and fear of burning the house down with us inside.

There was also a time when I thought I was going to get blown away in that cardboard box by a tornado on Patrick's birthday (I was home alone for that one as well), but that is actually a long story that still gives me anxiety. Too close for comfort. No thanks. I don't miss tornadoes.

Shawnee Locals as Neighbors

Oh Lord have mercy, those Shawnee neighbors. Now, these people weren't awful to live next to, but it was definitely an experience for a girl who was raised in Mission Viejo, California, and Patrick wasn't too used to having neighbors like these at his parents' house in Oklahoma City or in the dorm rooms at OBU. Shawnee is a small town and, while it has thriving sectors, there are parts of town that are very rundown and the people who live there aren't much better off.

The neighbors on the right side of our house (if you're looking at the house from the street) had their chainlink-fenced yard completely full with children's toys and play sets. I kid you not, the yard was completely filled with crap. It looked a thousand-percent awful. Aside from that, they weren't a bother. No one really was, but there was the occasional *visitor* who made me raise my eyebrows.

One night, way past midnight, I had just returned home from a Black Box concert. Patrick was still at the school tearing down the set, and Zach had mentioned that we should all do something. Oh, to be young again - the thought of starting to hang out past 12:30am makes me tired! A few minutes after I got home (alone), there was a knock at my front door. Given the time and the recent conversation, I thought it was Zach. I couldn't check if I wanted to, though, because there wasn't a peep-hole in that door. Stupid. When I opened up the door, it was not Zach who stood in front of me... it was a child. He had to have been about 13 years old. Immediately, I started looking around to see who else was with him, thinking it was some prank or something stupid like that - what else would a young teenage boy be doing at my doorstep at 12:30 on a Friday night?

"Uh, my dad was wondering if he could borrow a cigarette."
"...I don't smoke."
"Oh. Okay. Thanks."

Okay, so it wasn't the strangest conversation, but it was the details that got me. This boy was a complete stranger; it was dark; it was very late; the boy was alone - no additional person or vehicle in sight. Your "dad" wants to borrow a cigarette? Suuuuuure. Okay. Sorry, pal, can't help ya no matter if it's him or you who really wants one. I shut and locked the door, then I cursed the fact that the door had no peep-hole and no deadbolt lock (yeah - just a lock on the handle!!!), because I was sufficiently creeped out. Needless to say, we didn't go out that night. Haha.

- - -

The other infamous neighborly moment was on a sunny afternoon during the middle of the week. It had to have been spring because it wasn't wicked hot yet, and I was enjoying my time at home on my day off from Dillard's. The blinds on the windows were open, so I could see that there was a sketchy-looking woman looking at the house on the left side of us. She kept wandering up to the house, around it, and looking over at our place. Mercy, here we go again. She walked up to our front door and knocked; she didn't seem threatening, just a tad bit crazy, so I answered.

This woman had some shabby looking hair in a messy ponytail, cutoff shorts, a tank top, and I'm pretty sure she was missing at least one tooth. She also had the most hick accent I've heard in my life.

I opened the door. She spoke first.
"Hiiiiii. Ah'm lookin' fer Starrr. Does she live here?" (pointing to our neighbor's house)
"I don't know. We don't know them. Sorry."
"Oooooh, okaaaay. Thaaanks."

Haha! I know it's not much of a story, but we still quote her on a regular basis 'round these parts. Because we're terrible people.

The Third-Floor Apartment

Our time at our second residence was pretty uneventful compared to the rest of our living arrangements, but getting there was the worst moving experience of my entire life. And that says a lot - I've moved across the country from California to Oklahoma at the age of 16 (my poor mother), I've moved across the world to a different country, and I had my first miscarriage on the day that we moved into our last house in OKC. While all of the emotional baggage behind those moves was worse, the logistics of this particular move was terrible. Ugh, what an AWFUL day!

Basically, we had been married for less than 6 months and were moving from Shawnee to Oklahoma City to a third-floor apartment. We had all of our stuff ready to go, and we had hired a company to bring a truck to us in Shawnee, load our stuff into the truck, drive it to OKC, and unload it into the apartment.

The movers never showed up. EVER.

We called and called, tried to get some information, were told that they were on their way, and they never showed up. They never came. Thank heavens we didn't give them a deposit! We had to be out of that house by the end of the day, and we had to get to Oklahoma City by a certain time because Patrick had to drive down to Falls Creek for a gig. Everyone had gone home because school was no longer in session, and all of our family was awaiting our arrival in OKC where they also lived. WHAT A NIGHTMARE. We ended up being able to rent a truck from UHAUL, thankfully. However, if it weren't for Jay and Jeff, our pastor and music minister, we would have never been able to move. So much of our furniture was either a gift or hand-me-down, and it was far too heavy for me to lift. The four of us could hardly lift our ancient hide-a-bed couch... oh, the number of times we had to move that couch pains me!

We eventually made it to Oklahoma City, but we had to have Patrick's parents scramble to help us find someone to help us get our stuff up those three flights of stairs. Ugh, that was sickeningly expensive, and it didn't help that it was as hot as the devil's frying pan that day, either. Two men who worked for a moving company slaved away in the evening summer swelter and got the majority of our stuff up the stairs and into the apartment. Whether it be from the truck, them, or one of us, there were a lot of things that were broken during that move... but I was almost broken myself! We are blessed with a huge number of friends and family back home, and they came to the rescue when we needed help the most - there were so many people swarming around our apartment, helping me unpack and put things away, and I couldn't have been more grateful or overwhelmed at the entirety of the day. Patrick eventually got home, but boy I wouldn't have wanted to come home to me that night. Yikes. Too many tears and anxiety attacks for one day!

Like I said, living at that apartment was pretty mild, but there was the occasional disturbance from a midnight drunken pool party or our next door neighbor, a student at OCU, practicing his vocal skills - and let me tell you, he needed the practice. Oy. The three flights of stairs were really fun when it came to hauling groceries or firewood (the remnants of which remained in the back of Patrick's car for years).

We did have a family of pigeons that decided to nest on our deck, though. Those dumb pigeons. Oy, they were so annoying! There came a time when the sound of their cooing literally filled me with rage. And these less-than-bright birds weren't too great at making nests, either. They kept pooping-up my deck and bringing piddly pine needles and assembling them in a circle-ish shape and called it a nest. The next time they started doing that, I provided a rag to bring it some sort of comfort; I couldn't bear to think of those little bitty eggs cracking on the freaking pavement. Dumb animals.

There was also that one time that I stumbled upon a real-life scene from Mario Kart in our apartment complex parking lot... hah! Someone had a sense of humor and too much time on their hands. And far too many bananas.

The second Snowpocalypse happened while we were at that apartment, and I had all but forgotten the fact that our cars were completely stuck in the parking lot behind walls of iced-over snow mounds. Cars were stuck in the angled roads left and right, perched behind parked vehicles whether they liked it or not. Hah! We took a few walks around the complex just to get out and enjoy a bit of the weather, and that was the first time we made snow ice cream. Those were good times!

- - -

As this post has turned into a ridiculously long one, I decided to split it into parts. The next place we lived was so ridiculous that I currently have 12 separate stories to write about... and that's only at ONE residence! Hahaha oh, those were the days! But those days will have to wait for another post. Rest assured, though, that post will come - those stories are too good not to share. :)


  1. OMG I had totally forgotten about those damn pigeons. Hilarious!!!


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