I’ve lived at 23 different addresses in my lifetime, but 1209 Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver, Colorado was the separating residence—between childhood and adulthood, dependence and independence, dreams dreamed and dreams realized. It was the first and only home where I lived completely on my own; there were no parents, roommates, spouses, or children with which to compromise. 1209 Pennsylvania had little to do with the actual dwelling, and everything to do about learning to be at home with myself. How I ended up there is my story of falling in love.
I spent most of my childhood in the Midwest, but headed West as soon as possible; I had longed for the adventures assured by visible mountain silhouettes. Following graduation from nursing school in Michigan, I moved to Denver with my anthem, the Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, blaring from the CD player and pulsing in my veins.
My first year in Colorado, I lived with a group of roommates with whom I never felt quite at home. Missing the community of college, I assuaged the loss by both working and playing hard. A full-time nursing job meant only three required 12 hour shifts a week, so I spent ample free time in nature—skiing, hiking, trail running, camping, white water rafting, and climbing 14ers. I was living the life I’d dreamt of for so long, adventurous and independent, but loneliness settled over me like a cloud; I wondered constantly if I’d find a partner with whom to share these fulfilled dreams.
One evening I received an unexpected call from a college friend, Josh, inviting me to join him on a backpacking trip. He was heading west from Michigan and would be passing through Colorado on his way. With a flexible schedule, a love for all things outdoors, and a complete naiveté to his intentions, I agreed to accompany him.
The trip was platonic enough, but small flirtations surfaced as we made our way along miles of trail in the cold May mountains. I decorated our nightly campsites with plants and sticks, he drew our initials in the dirt with a heart around them and played with my hair. A promising rhythm of life together surfaced as we cooked over a fire and fell into conversations about God, gender roles, and what makes a meaningful life. At the completion of our journey, we admitted we were romantically attracted and agreed to start dating long-distance. After five months apart, Josh moved to Denver to be near me.
We weren’t ready to get married, but knew we were serious about each other. Cohabitation wasn’t an option, but we figured out how to have the proximity our young love required with a creative loophole—we decided to rent separate apartments in the same building. Enter 1209 Pennsylvania Avenue.
We found a vintage brick and stucco building in an up-and-coming neighborhood that advertised two vacancies, just blocks from downtown Denver. Josh took the 350 square foot studio on the 2nd floor, I took a 500 square foot 1-bedroom.
Neither apartment was glamorous, but even now we look back and comment wistfully about how they were, “all we needed,” a framework hard to maintain with the expanding incomes and sophisticated tastes we often develop as we age. It was freeing to live simply, I didn’t have a computer, cell phone, cable, or i-anything.
Because I had dreamed since girlhood about the opportunity to live alone before marriage, I spent hours figuring out my systems of adulting in that apartment. How to pay the bills, how to organize my groceries, what to do with my free time. As a new nurse, my $15.50 an hour salary seemed a fortune. It was enough to cover the lease of my Subaru Outback, my apartment rent, and my school loan repayment, with enough leftover to buy outdoor gear.
My relationship with Josh progressed, he proposed, and as our hearts began the work of weaving into one, we continued to enjoy the closeness of being two floors apart. I surprised him with a stocked pantry when he was low on money, he put the ring back on my finger in middle of the night after a fight where I’d thrown it at him. We packed our gear in tandem before shared mountain adventures and we walked to neighborhood coffee shops hand-in-hand. 1209 Pennsylvania was the backdrop for our engagement drama, wedding planning, and verbally vetting out what we thought it meant to make a lifetime commitment of forsaking all others.
As we packed up our meager belongings a year and a half after moving in, we delivered them to the first of 10 addresses we’ve jointly claimed in our 14 years of being husband and wife, but I will always think of 1209 Pennsylvania as the beginning of our happily-ever-after. I’m still decorating with sticks, we’re still talking about gender roles, and we just got back from a five day backpacking trip in Colorado together. The concrete walls of my first apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue provided the space for me to grow into my own, with the security of true-love near-by. And that’s how it’s been ever since, no matter the address.
Heidi loves to be in community with other women, mutually encouraging each other to health and wholeness of mind, body and spirit. She tries to balance a full plate (and sometimes fails) - mothering four young kids, being married, working part time in healthcare, organizing concerts to help infuse art into faith, and too many other interests. Her work can be found a variety of places throughout the internet, and she's a regular contributor to the MKE Moms Blog, the content coordinator for her town's local magazine, and blogs about faith and family at http://theblessednest.com.