A family of circumstance

Published October 5, 2011, in MSUM’s, The Advocate

Imagine — if you will — an apartment complex. There’s nothing quite like smelling the sweet aroma of smoke riding the breeze into your apartment window, entering your asthmatic lungs like a stealthy ninja. Waking up to a man beating a hammer and a metal wastebasket against the steel-sided garage directly outside your window is also memorable. Not to mention hearing domestic disputes from the neighboring laundry room like a live-action radio drama.

We are a family of circumstance. And, like many families, we don’t get along very well. We rarely even talk to each other. I get annoyed by them often. We never spend holidays with each other, thankfully. We may live under the same roof, but that’s where the commonality ends.

My experience of apartment living began in the ghetto — the ghetto of Moorhead, that is. Across from our building sat a gas station known for getting robbed. My brother and I lived above a cat-infested dwelling that emitted toxic fumes from the residents smoking four packs a day through our vent. Our only ventilation system circulated throughout the building and was immediately connected to their bathroom, so smoke was not the only common smell that traveled up to our abode.

I loathed them. I loathed their lifestyle, their two cats and their carcinogenic addiction.

After much ado, we were able to leave the apartment complex due to health reasons. My brother and I then ventured to our next destination, just down the avenue. Though it was but a mere three minutes away, the atmosphere changed completely from the ghetto to a retirement home.

This was the place to be. I no longer had to worry about drug deals outside my window, the front door that had no lock or the woman who kept throwing plates outside her window to the lawn below. The game of “China Plate Frisbee” wasn’t played in our new area.

Eventually, our new place welcomed in some rather shady characters, as well. One of them complimented me on my boots, though, so I’ll refrain from commenting on what I could hear them doing below my apartment bedroom.

Besides, out with the new and in with the newer. The residents below my brother’s and my apartment usually were kicked out in a matter of three months anyway. The city and cops were usually involved to add some spice to the regular routine of eviction. I had to let the police in the complex more than once.

After two years of residing with my brother, I moved elsewhere and lived with three girls.  Our neighbors in the dwelling across from our door harassed us throughout the year by ding-dong-ditching and sticking chewed-up gum on our peep-hole. They sent one of their girlfriends over to spy on us by asking for tinfoil. I didn’t need to invite her in because she already had herself.

After handing her the tinfoil in silence, I also handed her the pink gum that had been on the peephole as I said, “Would you return this for me? I believe this belongs to them.”  They eventually stole our entire peephole, so any passerby could look in and plainly see our kitchen and living room.

This year, I am back in the same apartment building I had lived in with my brother those two years.  I keep moving up in the world – from the first floor to the third. My landlord, bless his heart, welcomed me and my friend with new apartment renovations. He even let me pick out paint for every room.

The other week as I was about to leave for school, I saw one of my neighbors lying on the stairs, her body in pain. Another resident had already called 911, so I waited with them for the ambulance to arrive. It just goes to show that when something happens, even an odd, thrown-together family like ours sticks together, to a point, when we’re not annoying each other.



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