Page One


By Esther Stone
Friday December 29, 2006

Seventeen years have passed since the day I signed the rental agreement on my one-bedroom apartment in November, 1989. The day before, my husband Ed and I had shared in the Thanks-giving festivities at my brother’s house, and chose not to reveal that we had decided to end our seven-year marriage. But, bright and early on the following day, I set about looking for a suitable apartment for myself.  

I checked the listings under “Apartments for Rent” in the local paper and by noon had appointments to see two apartments in Albany, by coincidence a block from each other. 

The first seemed adequate, but I wanted to see the second one before making a decision. As I approached the building, it looked very appealing, with two tall palm trees in front and attractive landscaping—much nicer than the first apartment, which was located on a busy street, over a storefront. 

I greeted the rental agent, and we climbed two flights to the top floor. The door of the apartment opened onto a long hallway. There was a good-sized bedroom with a wall-long closet to the left, and a bathroom on the right; and a coat closet and a walk-in storage closet in the hallway. 

Ahead was a large L-shaped living room, a dining area (which the first apartment lacked), and a galley kitchen. The apartment had new carpeting, had been freshly painted and had lots of wall space. It was bright and airy, had a desirable southeast exposure and, from the balcony, a view both of the Berkeley Hills and San Francisco. It was perfect! I remember spontaneously doing a little dance in the dining area and saying “I think I’m falling in love!”  

The rent was reasonable, and within minutes we were finishing off the necessary paperwork. The rent was on a month-to-month basis, starting Dec. 1. “How long do you think you’ll stay here?” she asked idly. “I have no idea,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders. “A month, a year, forever…” 

My future was a blank page, a blank book, and I liked the idea of renting month to month. I was starting a new life and wanted to keep my options open. If something interesting came along, why not pursue it? I would be able to switch gears quickly, without the encumbrance of a lease or the demands of owning a house. 

I had been living and working as a travel agent in Walnut Creek when Ed and I first met, and when we married I moved into his house in the Oakland Hills and commuted to work. I now had a new job at another travel agency in Berkeley. I was to start at the beginning of the year, after a week’s computer training class in Dallas, giving me a chance to settle into my new apartment and my new life in a leisurely fashion. 

I hired two young men with a truck for the move, and as they toiled away I was surprised at how many possessions I had. Their work was doubly difficult, because our house was cantilevered over a hill, and my furniture had to be carried up three flights of stairs at one end, and then up another two flights at the other. 

They were exhausted by the time the job was done, and as I was writing out a check, one of them turned to me, shaking his head, and said, “I don’t know where you’re going to put all this stuff, lady.” As I surveyed the chaotic scene I agreed with him. “I don’t know either,” I replied. 

Furniture was scattered about helter-skelter. There was a welter of tables, chairs, bookcases, beds, dressers and lamps surrounding me, along with cartons of books, dishes, kitchen appliances, and clothing.  

Over the next few weeks I felt like a new bride as I shopped for cleaning supplies and utensils, measured, cut and applied shelving paper, bought and installed a shower curtain, filled my bookcases, hung pictures and arranged my sundry souvenirs from my years of worldwide travels.  

Day by day and bit by bit everything soon fell into place and, amazingly, it seemed almost as if the apartment had been custom-designed to accommodate all my possessions, and it became my home and my sanctuary. From the first I had a feeling of happy anticipation each time I turn the key in my lock to enter, and that sensation has never left me.  

My life these past 17 years has not been uneventful. As a travel agent I have visited a host of exotic places and had encounters with many fascinating people. Although I retired nearly ten years ago, I still travel whenever the spirit moves me, and just in this past year I’ve been to both China and back to Italy for my umpteenth visit. I have many interests and pursuits; I have loved and been loved; I have family and friends close by; and my health is holding up.  

The apartment is holding up, too. Although the paint on the walls is no longer fresh and the carpet is stained and frayed in spots, it still looks much the same as it did all those years ago, and still manages to accommodate itself to my needs. When, a few years ago, I bought a computer desk and three new bookcases, almost magic-like, with a little ingenuity I was able to find space for them. 

If, years ago, I imagined that I might some day leave to pursue some passing fancy, that likelihood is long past. But I do sometimes wonder how long I will remain here. I no longer navigate the stairs as casually as I once did—my balance is now somewhat precarious, and I need to hold onto the railing as I slowly trudge up and down. My future seems as uncertain now as it did when I first moved in. Might I actually end up staying here forever? It’s hard to say. Only time will tell.