It has been nearly seven years since I landed in Jackson, and in that time I have lived at all three corners of this town’s Kroger Triangle. First I lived on Union’s campus and then in Midtown for a couple years, until eventually moving back north. Then, last summer when the lease was up and I had already given notice at work without knowing the next step, I crashed with my friends Angie and David’s family while I took time to “figure things out” (very millennial of me, no?). For about two months I was unsure of whether or not I would stay in Jackson, but by the end of the summer I was settling in the Lambuth area into a little apartment of my very own.
“Do you smell that?” Angie asked, walking around the empty apartment. I had just picked up the key that day, and we went over excited to see my new home.
“I guess it has a kind of old building smell,” I said. “Dust?”
“No, Josh! It’s character!”
We paced around the whole place imagining where things would go. “A dinner table here, of course. But how will you arrange the living room?”
“This room will be my bedroom, I think, and this one will be my workspace.”
“How much furniture do you have?”
“Not a lot.”
I’m not where I thought I would be at twenty-four. I’m not really sure what I expected for myself, but reality and my expectations were not matching up, thus the summer of “figuring it out.” I think when I was in high school, twenty-four looked like an office with my name on the door, a new car, a studio apartment in larger city, and definitely my own health care and WiFi. I am laughing at myself as I write this, because my expectations for myself have done a one-eighty. I realize I may never have an office with my name on the door. If my car breaks down, I will buy a new bike. Having one’s own WiFi seems like the pinnacle of adulthood (with a password and everything so people like me can’t steal it). And reliable healthcare? Maybe by the time I’m forty, if I’m lucky. In the meantime, I’m just praying that my car will outlive everyone’s expectations, and that I won’t break any bones or contract some unidentified and very expensive virus-cancer breed after I turn twenty-six, which (if I’m any good at falsifying documents) won’t be until 2025. But, despite previously held expectations, I recently changed my voter’s registration address to Madison County on my lunch break and, although it doesn’t feel office-of-your-own-grown-up, it feels right for twenty-four.
“This place is really coming together,” my friend Rebecca told me. She had come by to pick me up to go get empanadas and donuts at the farmer’s market and was walking around my living room while I finished getting ready. She’d seen everything before, but observed all of the details as if it were an unfamiliar place. I hadn’t done anything new to the apartment in a while, but I humored her while I finished getting ready.
“Thanks,” I said with a toothbrush in my mouth. “I think so, too.”
She looked at the pictures on the walls and touched the furniture. She stepped into my reading nook and said how much she liked the bookshelves. She wandered into the other rooms and back into the living room. “I just love your apartment.”
“Thanks,” I said, reaching for my jacket. “You ready?”
The first piece of furniture in my possession was a chair. A beautiful, old recliner with a wooden frame and black vinyl upholstery. It was gifted to me by Angie and David. In fact, it was given to me prior to a new job and the new apartment, in days of uncertainty about the future, on the condition that I stay in Jackson. The apartment remained mostly empty for a couple of weeks (I was still staying with Angie and David until I was able to fill it with more furniture), but I would stop by after work and let myself in with a key that still felt awkward in my hand and walk through the apartment. I’ve rented for years, but my name had never actually been on a lease before. I had never lived alone. It was the first place that was mine. I walked through the empty rooms and took note of how the light came in through the windows at certain hours. There are times in the day when the light is particularly warm and a golden haze seems to accumulate in all the rooms. It made my heart beat fast.
I spent my time making mental lists of what I needed—bed frame, couch, table, chairs, shower curtain, bookshelves, etc.—and mapping out what would go where. Angie and I would stay up late scrolling through Craigslist looking for cheap furniture.
“This looks neat. ‘Vintage Asian-style buffet, $100.’ I bet you could talk them down.”
“Nice. I could put it by the door across from the dinner table.”
“What do we think about the red?” she asked.
“You could sand it.”
“Do you think it’s actually vintage or like Pier 1 Imports vintage?”
During those weeks, I checked Craigslist’s furniture listings with an addiction-level frequency. I would make extra trips to the bathroom at work and lock myself in the stall to scroll through listings for Jackson, Memphis, and Nashville on my phone. I would check hourly, ready to call dibs on whatever deals I could find. I was surprised at how quickly people can jump on a good Craigslist listing, which is why I didn’t expect to see a particular Danish modern coffee table set remain listed for a couple of weeks.
“Josh, they’re beautiful. Are you going to get them?” Angie asked.
“Not sure yet.”
We sat huddled around her computer screen looking at the minimalist oak tables with gilded feet. I wanted them so badly but was hesitant to spend what the seller was asking (a little beyond my budget at the time).
“I think you have to get them,” Angie said. “I think you’ll have them forever—well, maybe not forever, but for years. And you’d be so proud of them.”
From: Josh Garcia
Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2014 11:59 PM
Subject: Solid Wood Contemporary Style Coffee Table, End Table, Corner Table
I was just curious if the three tables you have listed on craigslist are still available and if you would be willing to accept $100 for them. I could pick them up after work.
The next evening, I set out in Angie and David’s minivan after work to some town I had never heard of in rural Tennessee. My nerves began to get the best of me during the hour-long drive. I thought I better text someone the address in case, well, you know. In case this guy needed a new leather suit à la Silence of the Lambs. But the neighborhood seemed to be an affluent one, and when I met Steve I was immediately put at ease. He was so nice and was pretty interesting to talk to, actually. He seemed to be in his sixties and said he worked in advertising in New York City for a long time before moving back to Tennessee to be closer to his mother.
“She passed away recently. This is her house. I’m down here for a couple of weeks getting things in order.”
I expressed my condolences.
“She got these tables in Memphis in the fifties,” he said. “The furniture salesman showed her this new modern furniture that nobody really had yet—at least not here. The style was so very different from anything she was used to, but they’ve been sitting upstairs ever since. Look,” he said, pointing to a discolored square spot in the wood, “you can see how long the lamp sat there.” He threw in the lamp for free. We talked for a while about his mother and his grandson who was about to start college. I told him about my new job and my new place. How I was beginning to feel a little grown up.
Later that night, David helped me take the tables to the apartment. I now had three tables and a chair. I shut the apartment door behind us, imagining what it would be like to live there. The next day I received an email from Steve suggesting, in so many words, that we meet up at my place for nooners when he brought his wife into town for medical appointments. I don’t shop Craigslist anymore.
Living alone felt strange in the beginning. The first week was incredibly still and quiet. I would tiptoe around and keep my music at a minimum and curl up on the couch and read. I hadn’t really heard the other tenants in my building yet, and I wasn’t sure at what volume it was polite to live. I didn’t want my footsteps to disturb the couple living below me, and I didn’t want the girl across the hall to be annoyed by my music—the cross of the over-thinking introvert. Eating alone was weird, too. I sat at my dinner table and looked around at the empty apartment, at its blank walls and its sparse furniture. And honestly, in the beginning, I wondered if I had made a big mistake.
But one day, just because I felt like it, I went on a financially irresponsible shopping spree. At the time, I was quitting smoking and would go on shopping rampages to curb the hours of intense craving. I would drop a couple hundred dollars here and there and then return it all a few days later when I was of a sound mind. So when I decided I was tired of looking at blank walls, I went out and spent too much money on too many picture frames with no intention of returning them later, lest the lady at Target’s customer service counter give me the stink face again.
“Was there anything wrong with these items?” she asked, scanning my receipt for an expensive French press and coffee grinder.
“No,” I said. “I thought I wanted them at the time, but then I remembered I don’t drink coffee.”
There was one problem with the plan: a pre-existing picture frame anxiety. Yes, picture frames stressed me the hell out. I think the anxiety started around the time we got lockers in school, and the kids would tape snapshots of all their friends inside their locker doors. But how do you decide whose pictures to hang in your locker? I wondered. You hang a picture of these friends but not your others? What if you hang a picture of a friend and then find out that they didn’t hang a picture of you? So my locker went sans snapshots, and I covered it with comic strips instead. Imagine, then, how much more stressful picture frames are. They’re more or less permanent. You buy a frame, you think intentionally about its placement, and then you put a nail in your wall to hang it for all to see. It’s a declaration that says, “Look, these people are important to me, and I think I probably am in some way or another important to them also.”
But one evening, despite my anxiety, in a nicotine-less (and probably wine induced) mania, I put on some loud music, put pictures in the frames, and started hammering nails into my walls, and I wasn’t worried what my neighbors thought.
I’ve since outgrown my fledgling shopping addiction (mostly) and my picture frame anxiety. Now when people come over for dinner, they sometimes look at the photographs hanging on my walls and will ask about who this person is or where that photo was taken, and I tell them, thinking of the people in the photographs fondly. As time went by, my apartment began to feel less sterile and increasingly felt like a refuge. A place where I could blast La Bohème as loudly as I wanted and take hot showers and watch the sunlight from the bathroom window bounce off the steam and the water for as long as I wanted. It became a place where I could welcome people, to prepare them dinner or listen to them talk over tea or drinks, to cry and to laugh with them. And now that I’m back in midtown, many of these people are much closer. I can walk to Angie and David’s. I often see friends running by. I almost always bump into people I know at the Lynwood Kroger (which is the best Kroger in Jackson btw). And, with some exceptions, most of the people I love and see regularly are within a five-minute radius of myself. It feels like a community.
I woke up early the morning after I turned my heat on for the first time. I felt like a cat in a sun spot or a child nuzzling into a parent’s side. Rather than dreading the slight chill of the oncoming winter, getting out of bed felt like stepping into a warm bath. I walked around the apartment in my birthday suit (pros of living alone) doing miscellaneous morning tasks. I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Taking my time, I flossed, too. I packed my work bag with a book, a water bottle, my badge, a pen, a notebook, etc. I packed my lunch. Spinach, croutons, grape tomatoes, and a sprinkle of parmesan. I sliced up a green pepper, discarding its core and its seeds, washed the cutting board, and put the slices in a mason jar. I watered two plants, a palm and some basil. As I walked around the apartment doing the things I do every day but less rushed, I could feel little waves of gratitude washing over me. I stopped and looked at the photos on my wall and began to thinking of all the people I’ve known and the places I’ve been that have led me to this place in the middle of Jackson, TN. A place that, for a year and a half post-grad, felt totally known. But looking at the chair in the middle of my living room, I remembered why I am here and realized that things have started to feel new again.
I thought back to my friend who said that my apartment was really coming together, even though I hadn’t done anything new to it. I thought of a friend who recently came over and cried while sitting in her favorite spot, and of the weeknight I stayed up way too late finishing off a cheap bottle of Burgundy with another friend because the conversation was so good. I realized that it’s not the stale apartment it felt like when I first moved in. That it is coming together, because it’s being lived in. And not just by me, but also by all the people I welcome into it.
I put on some music and went to my bedroom to pick out an outfit for the day. At some point I abandoned the task and started dancing naked to Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child” in front of my bedroom mirror. I shook my arms and my legs and my buttocks to the rousing beat of the drums and bust out laughing and howled, “I am the happy genius of my household!” I swung my arms this way and that. I shook my legs, kicking them back and forth. I shook my belly, totally amused with myself. I was probably running late for work, but I hit replay and continued to dance in and out of all my rooms and to delight in the mirror, because, for the first time in a long time, all the pieces seemed to fit.
Josh Garcia is a writer and photographer who landed in Jackson in 2008. With a B.A. in English from Union University in his back pocket, he’s abandoned other adjectives for “home” when describing this city. He enjoys reading, writing, photography, and cultivating community around the dinner table. #INFJ
Header image by Josh Garcia.