Dinner Conversation: Anina Moore
Coming back to an earlier love: a house
by Anina Moore
Photograph by Casey Chapman Ross
I MOVED RECENTLY. I hired professional movers for the first time in my life (grown-up lady alert!). Each time they carried in a bulky piece of furniture, I could say, “Well, it fit in that doorway before.” Initially, it surprised the movers, and then I explained that I’d lived here before.
It turns out that you can go home again. You just don’t do it as the same person. With this move, I returned to the small house I’ve owned since the last millennium, after a breakup with the boyfriend I’d been living with for five years.
And with the end of the relationship, I find myself eating alone again at my bringing-the-shabby-to-shabby-chic table. There are surprising new water stains on the ceiling of my small dining room; just as I am dining alone, I have to solve this problem alone.
I am eating from dishes I got as presents for the marriage that ended before the relationship that just ended. It’s a growth industry, my relationships. I have lived in this house with a boyfriend, alone, with a male friend, then with a boyfriend who became my husband (and then my ex-husband). And then I lived alone again, and then I left to live with another man, and now I’ve returned. All this is to say that I know how to cook dinner for myself and for others.
I missed this house when I lived away from it, but when it became my home again, I walked in, expecting euphoria, and instead thought, “What a dump.” I saw my tiny, over-valued house for all its flaws. Still, I walked back into it and bought new rugs to adorn it because it has been more constant than any other love, even if the concrete front steps seem to be cheating on the pier-and-beam foundation by literally going in a different direction. Yes, the shower stall is ridiculously tiny, but shaving my legs in it counts as half a yoga class.
I talk to myself unapologetically. Sometimes I can pretend I’m talking to my two cats. But when I’m alone, who cares? I recite my shopping list, the first two centering lines of Auden’s poem “The More Loving One,” (“Looking up at the stars, I know quite well/ that, for all they care, I can go to hell”) and frequent, stopping-in-my-tracks inquiries of “What was I doing?” This year, I can say that I have begun to listen to myself as well.
Seriously, if you’re not sure how to enjoy your own life, just rent your house out to graduate students for a while, and they will show you the way.
What I listen to includes the fact that, when I first bought this house, I decorated it like a personal version of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It had a candy-apple red fridge; a purple front door; built-in bookshelves filled with games, puzzles and books; and brightly colored walls covered in my purse collection. I had a visible personality. And now I live with the remnants: evidence of that younger, enthusiastic personality. At dinner, I think about optimism. The optimism it took for the younger me to pick this “starter” house with its negligible closet space, its age, its size and character. The optimism it took to embark on yet another romance, to try it out and see it through to an ending.
I regained a lot of optimism from seeing how my younger tenants lived in my house. They covered the trees in fake spider webs for Halloween parties and showed movies against the side of the house (or so I hear — one thing about being the landlady is you’re never invited to the house parties, no matter how cool you try to act). They advanced their own relationships toward permanence. They showed me how to enjoy this house more fully, no matter the grasping, flailing way I’d gone after marriage and love on my own. Seriously, if you’re not sure how to enjoy your own life, just rent it out to graduate students for a while, and they will show you the way.
Hiring movers means that the people helping you move will not stick around for pizza, beer, jokes, reminiscences or furniture reassurances. And so I found myself wondering how to carry myself across my own threshold with any form of ceremony. I wanted other people for that. I wanted to be honest and to not wait for a staid housewarming, reheating the first one I had in 1998 (when, to act like I had it all together, I hid so much clutter in the dryer and the washing machine as well as the shallow 1940s closets). And so I invited my people to my August “warmhousing” for pizza and beer the afternoon that I moved. It started pouring rain and I had no idea which box my towels were packed in. One by one, my sodden friends arrived. They wiped themselves with tea towels, toured the house, sat at my table, ate a few slices and gave me all their enthusiasm. It was marvelous. They left; I was alone and it was still marvelous.
Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2016