Two. The Lobby, 2002
This thing happened around this time, when we moved into that godawful house in Crown Hill. If that house was a ship, I would name it “Marriage-Ender,” and don’t you just want to bust a bottle of champagne onnit and say “bon voyage” to all that? I know I did.
If you are new, as in, if you started reading *after* 2001, ha ha, or if you need some refreshening, I will give it to you. SeaFed’s father decided to set him up in the business of house-flipping. This decision didn’t really have anything to do with me, in spite of the fact that I would be living in renovational squalor with a toddler while trying to start grad school. That was fine, whatever. He bought this terrible little house on Crown Hill with moldy windows and boogers and foundation makeup smeared on the bathroom walls and YOU BET I cried the day we moved in. I guess if I was selling a house as is I wouldn’t make my renters clean it, either, but come on, have some pride, people, at least with where you put your boogers. The booger-wiper was also a culinary student so the kitchen was covered in grease and tomato sauce.
I am a pretty optimistic person, and I don’t shy away from hard work with a purpose, but I knew my Waterloo when I saw it. This house would not be finished, and certainly not in the year’s time that SeaFed promised to do it in. I got very Cassandra about things in the latter years of our marriage, because you would have to be a giant dummy to think things would turn out well.
SeaFed’s parents went out of town, leaving their condo empty, which was deemed the perfect time to cut a giant hole in the living room floor and hire a carpenter to build stairs to connect the upstairs and downstairs, which were being used as separate apartments. The house started its life at least 50 years ago as a Ballard-style fisherman’s cottage, with a tiny living area above and a basement dedicated to storage and a wood-burning (I think?) furnace, unconnected by interior stairs. So we went downtown to stay in a condo that was blessedly free of sawdust or exposed wires.
Staying downtown meant that Franny was less in danger of getting tetanus, and more in danger of losing her mother to an aneurysm as she crashed one of her grandmother’s very expensive pieces of art. Before my mother-in-law died, their condo always looked like a pastel version of Lydia Dietz’s parents’ house, which I loved, but I always worried about breaking things that looked like giant kinetic spork sculptures. Needless to say, to avert disaster I kept her plugged into their giant TV and the Cartoon Network every hour she was awake, which was a vacation for her as well. The breeze off Elliot Bay was lovely, and Pike Place Market was practically outside the door. SeaFed was either off “working” or supervising the stairs-building, which I was assured was “almost up to code.”
I think we stayed for three or four nights, watching TV in a real living room that did not have a bed in it, and went to bed fairly early most nights. I was pretty tired out from running around after Franny all day.
One morning I woke up and the answering machine was blinking. This was very slightly before the complete proliferation of cell phones, so part of our job was to record and relay any important messages to my in-laws when they would call and check in. SeaFed had the day off and he was noodling around in the kitchen, probably making coffee. I pressed the machine button, pen poised to record what I heard.
The machine announced that the call was from around midnight the night before. Then, a desperate man’s voice, older, came out of the answering machine. It was a call from the condo’s lobby. “Help me…please…I’ve been beaten very badly…please call the police…help me, I need help.”
“Oh my god, did you hear that?” I said.
“Hmm?” SeaFed said. As usual, he wasn’t paying attention.
“Someone got beat up in the lobby last night! They were pressing the buttons for help and left a message on your parents’ machine!”
I played the message again for him to hear. It was just as heart-rending as the first time and my eyes filled with tears. SeaFed cocked his head to one side and then shrugged.
“Don’t you think that’s sad?” I asked.
“I guess…” he said. He stopped and looked at me. “Yes, it is very sad,” he said, slowly, in a strange voice. I felt strongly like I was being humored, or like he was trying to find the right response that would satisfy me. “It was probably a B&E scam, though,” he finished.
We had a very moments like this, where I felt he was grasping for a proper human response and trying to appear like he gave a shit. I was stunned and felt very alone. I wondered what I could do for the man who pressed our bell, but there was no trace of him in the lobby, and I didn’t know the other residents. I hoped he was okay.
That wretched living room with a bed in it, because there was no other room. A tiny Franny. I still hate this color orange. 2002.