The scent of dust and old wood still lingers in the air. At the bottom of a winding hill behind a hospital, a pile of rubble sits in the center of a chain link perimeter. That pile of shingles and siding was once an apartment building inhabited by nurses, students, young families, and old retirees. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the ghosts imprinted in the rooms and the memories that yet remain.
Do you see the crumpled screen door front and center? That was the door to the manager’s office. Under the debris, you’ll see an oak desk with a scratched surface and a drawer that sticks unless you smack it in just the right place. Melinda once sat at that desk.
It was her first job out of college. She’d been watching the grace period on her student loans dwindle to almost nothing and hadn’t been able to find a job that paid more than minimum wage. She would most certainly need more than that to cover the loans for her art history degree.
Melinda saw the “manager wanted'' sign as she was walking toward the bus stop. She knew nothing about running an apartment building, but she figured “I’ll take some payments and answer some phone calls… How hard can it be?” It was a lot harder than she thought, but that would be later.
She walked through that screen door into an air-conditioned office and saw a frazzled middle-aged man sitting behind the desk scribbling in a receipt book.
“How can I help?” he asked.
“I’m here about the manager job,” Melinda responded.
“Thank the stars. Do you have experience?”
“Oh sure, I’ve assisted in managing for years.” It wasn’t entirely untrue– she assisted the manager at the ice cream shop where she worked. Much different than an apartment building, but still.
“I need someone to start right away. Like now,” the man behind the desk said.
“Sure, I can start now,”
The man put out his hand. “I’m Gus. I own the building.”
“Melinda,” she responded and put out her hand.
He gave her a rambling orientation and shoved a list of names and phone numbers and her and dashed out the door.
Melinda’s first order of business was to answer a call from a tenant whose child had put crayons and paint down the garbage disposal and now the sink was filling with multicolored goo. Right after that, she took a call from someone who wouldn’t be paying their rent until they got a new door.
It was a trial by fire, and she had to toughen up and learn to delegate quickly. After some time and patience, she learned. That desk became her home away from home until Gus sold the building to some developers.
If you were to walk behind the manager’s office, you’ll find the pool. Or what was the pool. Back in the days when it was full of water, Cadie McCoy took her son there to play on sunny days. She homeschooled him and would work the pool into an occasional lesson when the weather was nice.
“Mom?” eight-year-old Eric began one day. “Can you teach me to swim? I’d like to learn, I think.”
Rather than shatter her son’s image of her as Super Mom by admitting she didn’t know how to swim either, she told him, “Sure, but let’s wait until closer to summer so we can practice more.”
“Okay,” he responded, somewhat disappointed. Cadie didn’t miss the tone in his voice.
As he worked on his schoolwork, she watched YouTube videos and read articles on her phone so she could teach herself to swim.
At night, while Eric slept, Cadie went down to the pool to practice what she’d learned. She swam under moonlit nights, in the wind and rain, and on nights she was too tired to do anything. When she thought about skipping her practice that night, she thought of the disappointment in Eric’s voice. That kept her going.
As summer approached, Eric tapped his mother on the shoulder, “Mom?” he asked again.
“Can I learn how to swim now? It’s almost summer.”
“You bet. Let’s go out after you finish your math assignment.”
And that’s the story of how Cadie and Eric McCoy learned to swim, her learning just weeks before him. They still talk about that pool sometimes during their morning swim at the gym.
Look toward the edge of the rubble. That is what remains of what used to be a second-floor corner apartment. If you look closely, you’ll see an old refrigerator sitting there trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s outlived its usefulness. That refrigerator is where a beautiful marriage began.
Clancy and Emma had been dating for two years, and things were going great– they’d even semi-moved in together. Clancy had been thinking of asking Emma to marry him. The only problem was he was nervous she would say no (even though he felt pretty sure she’d say yes). That pessimistic voice in his head continually won.
One night, they were having one of their movie nights. Neither one had to work the next day, so they stayed up all night watching movies. That night was like any other until they decided it was time for drink refills.
Emma opened the refrigerator and peered inside. She twirled a lock of hair around her finger and her face twisted as she decided what she wanted. Clancy’s heart skipped a beat. In that moment, Emma had never looked so beautiful to him. She looked tired, but happy, wearing her favorite band’s latest tour t-shirt and a pair of yoga pants and bathed in the light from the refrigerator. It was time.
“Hey, uh, Em?” Clancy said. He felt thankful that she was staring at the row of soda cans and not at him. He could feel his face burning and sweat prickling on his forehead.
“Mmhmm?” she answered absently, only slightly aware of the clock chiming 2:00 AM.
“Do you wanna get married?”
“Not now, I’m feeling pretty–” her attention snapped from the refrigerator to him. “Wait, what?”
Clancy took her hands in his and repeated his question, more formally the second time around. “Emma, will you marry me?”
Emma’s eye’s filled with tears. She squeezed Clancy’s hands.
“Of course I will!”
Clancy’s chest felt like it was about to burst, so he finally released the breath he’d been nervously holding. He pulled Emma to him and they hugged tight and kissed their first kiss as an engaged couple.
Four years after that proposal, they moved out of their little apartment and bought a house. Since it belonged to the apartment building, they left the refrigerator behind.
It later held juice and sugary drinks for little ones, insulin for a single woman who lived there, and beef for a family who liked to grill and lamented they lived on the second floor and had no room for the smoker.
It just looks like a pile of nothing now, but there was once a time when that building was a home and helped people make memories. Who knows what ghosts the next heap of rubble will hold?
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What a lovely story Jamie - loved how it harkened back to the present and then dipped into the past to explain it. Really enjoyed this!
Thank you! It was fun to write.