When Adam and I first got married, we lived in a 900-square foot duplex. We called it “The Plex.” Partly to sound cool. Partly to make the place feel like it was ours.
After we got engaged, our home search started with realtor websites. Which gifted us with some, erm, unforgettable options.
There was the house in Midland with the decal-covered walls. You know, the ones with the inspirational sayings in black swirly letters? Like, “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” and “FAMILY” and “HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS.”
Those decals were everywhere. The entryway. The kitchen. The bathroom. It was an admirable aesthetic…until you saw the fist-shaped holes that outnumbered the adhesive platitudes.
There was the apartment that looked pretty nice, but smelled bad. Really bad. Like rotten eggs, or dead mice. Or both.
There was the place where the landlord was an hour late to show us around. Adam and I stood under a gray sky on the crumbling concrete stoop and waited. We tried to call. We almost left. Then the landlord finally pulled up alongside the curb. He was an older, wiry man with gray hair and bad eye contact. He grumbled “Hello” as he walked up to greet us. No apologies.
He opened the door with a gold key and a grim face. The hallway smelled like molded food. But the counters were clean and white, and the natural lighting was welcoming. The floors were smooth hardwood. The rooms resembled rooms, not closets.
The landlord took us down a dark, damp staircase. It led to an even darker basement with a low ceiling. Rickety washers and dryers sat in the corner, looming and leering. A small slant of light filtered in from one grimy window. A 20something man with long, stringy hair and narrowed eyes shot us a blank stare as he folded a faded shirt. No smile. No nod. No words.
“People definitely hide bodies in here,” I whispered behind Adam as we headed back up the stairs.
After seeing those gems, I continued our quest for a place by searching Craigslist. A Hail Mary attempt that gave me a huge win a few years prior.
Before—before the Plex, and the wedding, and the engagement, and everything else—I lived in a gray house with a kind roommate named Kaylee and her happy goldendoodle named Cooper. It was my first Craigslist find after wanting (needing) to move out of my parents’ house after grad school.
The house sat in the middle of a Saginaw suburb. It was furnished with a beautiful leather couch, a large table, black bar stools and a glass hutch that held pretty dishes.
Kaylee and I alternated taking out the trash and washing the floors and mowing the lawn with an old, red push mower. There was a porch in the back, a garage in the front, and neighbors that waved. I had my own bathroom. It was the perfect living situation for me. The epitome of right time, right place.
The experience gave me enough hope to try Craigslist again to find a home for me and Adam. I crossed my fingers. Please no creepers, no murderers, no scam artists.
One afternoon while perusing the site, I saw a post for a duplex in a nearby town. I clicked to learn more. The listing showed a small description and few pictures of the place. Tan. Front window. Side porch. Small yard.
The best part? It was a 10-minute drive from my work. Fifteen minutes for Adam. A dream for two country kids who were used to a half-hour commute or more.
Hm, I thought as I clicked though the photos. This looks promising.
Still, doubt tugged at my brain. We had been through this enough to know that the photos always looked good. It was what you saw in person that showed the true reality.
During lunch at work, I sent the link to Adam. My subject line matched the email body: DUPLEX?!?!
I composed a second email. Just say the word and I will send an email.
Adam eloquently responded a few minutes later:
My fingers tingled with the special brand of excitement. The kind that comes with a hint of the Maybe This Is It feeling. I was sick of worrying about where we would live. I hoped this was the answer.
I typed a third message.
My name is Lindsay; my fiancé and I are looking for a duplex to rent and saw your ad on Craigslist. Would love to take a look at the place if possible? Let me know if and when the duplex would be available for us to see.
The owner of the duplex—a middle-aged realtor named Matt—responded right away. We arranged for a tour the next day.
As soon as Adam and I pulled into the duplex’s driveway, we knew it was the place we’d start our first chapter as husband and wife.
“Is that it?” I asked. Adam slowly drove down the back road. I looked down at the address on my phone, then back up at the tan duplex with the small front yard.
“Yup, that one right there on the left, I think so,” Adam answered. He parked across the street: two tires on the road, two tires on the tall grass in front of a large field.
“Oh my gosh, it looks so cute, look at the soybeans!” I said. I stared out the window.
The duplex was even cuter in person. I loved the light blue door. The small, winding sidewalk. The side porch with the brown paint. The pair of short green bushes that sat in the front yard like a chubby welcoming committee.
“This is it, it has to be,” I said to Adam.
“Let’s go in and see more,” he said.
The front yard sat across from a potholed back road that ran parallel to a soybean field. A small tree hugged the siding like a smooth arm across the back of a chair.
Neighborhood kids squealed as they played outside. The springs of a trampoline squeaked as the kids bounced up and down. Large pine trees lined a back yard that butted up to the edge of a subdivision.
“Hello!” Matt the Landlord got out of his black truck. He wore a suit and looked like the brother of one of Adam’s friends. The random familiarity was oddly reassuring. “I’m Matt,”—he stuck out his hand to each of us—“nice to meet you both. Come on in.”
The duplex’s connecting unit looked exactly the same, but flipped like a reflection.
“He works at Dow,” Matt pointed a thumb toward the neighbor’s silver Dodge truck as we walked toward the front door. A sleek yellow racing boat loomed on his side of the driveway. “He’s lived here awhile. Solo. He keeps to himself.”
Matt got out the key and opened the light blue door. We stepped inside a good-sized living room. Curtains with a brown geometric pattern hung in the front window. A sliding glass window opened up to the side porch. The kitchen window stretched above the sink, and a long, white counter jutted out from the elbow of the wall.
“Can we paint?” I asked Matt as he showed us the two bedrooms, and the washer and dryer in the closet. I don’t know why I was asking. I didn’t have intentions of painting. I was fishing for faults. Just in case.
“Sure,” he said. “We can talk about that.”
As we walked down the stairs to the carpeted basement, I turned mid-step to look at Adam behind me. My eyes bugged out of my head, eyebrows touching my hairline as I whispered, “Oh my God.” Adam smiled with a nod.
The next day, Adam emailed Matt to let him know we’d like to live at the duplex. We went to Matt’s house to sign the lease. It was Official. We had found our first home.
After our honeymoon, we returned to the Plex as husband and wife. Adam carried me over the altar. We lived at the Plex for a year and a half.
We spent our first Christmas there, putting up the tiniest fake tree that gave Charlie Brown’s tree a run for its money. It sat on an end table, the wiry arms proudly displaying our new ornament from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It was painted sparkly red and said “Our First Christmas as Mr. and Mrs.: 2015” in white letters.
“This can be our tradition!” I exclaimed as I readjusted the ornament so it faced the front. “We go and pick out a new ornament every year.”
On the caramel brown couch in the living room—my grandpa’s old couch before he passed away—I answered the call from Kelly on a Tuesday night. I moved as she talked, making my way to the bedroom floor, knees to chest, back to bed frame, as my beautiful friend told me her bloody nose has turned into a cancer diagnosis.
In the kitchen, Courtney and I had our first annual Christmas girls’ day. We baked lemon cookies and painted snowmen faces on glass Mason jars.
Around the coffee table—the one I bought from my friend Leslie in the parking lot of the community center—girls from church sat with me as we talked about God and life and the future.
We hosted our first garage sale…and quickly learned that hosting a garage sale requires a lot of work. And sorting. And pricing. And junk.
I finished my first novel at the Plex.
I paced the living room as my first literary agent made me an offer to represent me as an author.
I got my first agent contract in the mailbox.
Back then, Adam and I didn’t have our puppy.
We didn’t know how to share.
We didn’t know how to decorate.
We didn’t know how to be married.
But we were figuring out. Trying, anyway.
One day, I almost burned the place down while making macaroni and cheese. I grew up with an electric stove, completely naïve and annoyingly privileged in kitchen appliances. I turned the knob on the gas stove but the flame did not ignite. As I stirred the limp pasta, I realized it was not cooking. I dipped my finger in the sauce. It wasn’t even warm.
I called Adam.
“Um, I’m cooking this, but it’s not warm at all?”
“Well, did the flame ignite?”
“Look underneath the pot. Is there a flame burning?”
“You’ve probably got the gas on, but it’s not lit. Turn it off,” Adam said in a hurried voice.
I turned the dial to the left, then turned it back on. This time, the flame lit.
“Ohhh,” I said. “OK. Now I get it.”
“You could have burnt the whole place down!” my mom scolded me later.
The day we moved out of the Plex, I stood in the empty living room and thought of all the memories stuffed in between the walls. I took a long glance back, my heart both light and heavy at the same time. I shut the blue door and turned the key.
We live in a house in a different city now. We know more than we did then. But there is still a soft place in my heart for the duplex. There always will be. It was where we learned so much, and grew even more.
We drove by the Plex on the way home from church today. It looks the same, but different. The field across the street still has soybeans. The neighbor still has a truck. The curtains with the geometric pattern still hang in the front window, but a new welcome mat sits on the stoop.
“I loved the Plex,” I said longingly as I stared at the blue door.
They say it doesn’t matter where you are, but who you’re with. I get that. I do. But I also believe the place DOES matter. Because the place can play just as big of a part in your life as a person.
A place holds memories. They’re in the floors, and the rooms, and the curtains. They’re behind closed doors and in the front yard and stuffed in the mailbox.
A place is part of your past….and it helps you appreciate the present. Especially when the place wasn’t just a place. It was home.