It seems strange to think we have lived here for two years, yet only in the last month, we have created a place to call ‘home’. Every piece of furniture we have crafted so carefully together. Some nights we would stay up late just to finish the last coat of paint on our bed frame. During those days, we would sleep on our bare mattress in the living room, with the windows wide open to let the smell of paint escape. Uncomfortable as it was, I didn’t mind, as long as the day ended with my body wrapped in Pete’s arms.
I remember the first day we began our journey in minimising all the junk we’d accumulated in our cozy apartment. We argued so fiercely about all the pieces we would keep. I can’t help but laugh thinking about all the hundreds of receipts I found that Pete had kept since 1998 (not even exaggerating). When I secretly tried to throw them away in a rubbish heap, Pete caught me and grabbed me by the waist, the receipts falling around us. “You seem to forget that I’m forty, honey. Those are from my first job after uni.” He’s right, often I do forget about our age difference, but I’m always reminded with unusual surprises such as these.
I make us some hot tea and I look back to the living room, watching Pete rummaging through the mountain of receipts. I smile to myself. At times like these, I want to grab him and tell him over and over how much I love him. Other times, though, we may as well live on Mars and Venus; we are so different that I wonder how we haven’t smothered each other with a pillow yet.
I drive him mad by hyper-focusing on things like cleaning and organizing… at 1 am. And he drives me mad by hoarding a hundred t-shirts with holes in them (one of them says “Liquor, she’ll love it”, which apparently he bought back in ‘96). And then there are moments where I want to put it all in one big rubbish bag, and throw it over our balcony.
In hindsight, I realize I was probably not very amicable about what material items we should or shouldn’t keep. And even though we drive each other crazy, I’m so grateful that Pete tries to be understanding with me. It’s not that I mean to be so unsentimental, but I have had to learn to let go of my own personal things and being unattached is the only way I know. I know I’m not perfect, and sometimes I forget the way I do things may not always be right.
That same night we had finished decluttering our living room, I surprised Pete with a bottle of wine; my way of apologizing for being so difficult. I tried to find some wine glasses but all I could find were twenty coffee cups. At first, I could feel the frustration building up inside me, but instead, all I could do was laugh at the irony of our cluttered little nest.
No sooner had we begun drinking and teasing each other about our silly habits, we fell asleep with our arms and legs warmly intertwined on our bare mattress. In this moment, everything is so perfect. Maybe it’s something about the cool night air or absolute exhaustion after a long day, but we hold each other tighter than ever. I never want to let go.
Sometime during the week, while I’m redecorating an old office chair, Pete reminds me of his work trip to Salt Lake City in just a few days time. He says something about conferences and training courses, but I’m hardly listening. It completely slipped my mind that he was leaving for a week. I hear his voice saying, “Sweetie? You’re coming to meet me in Las Vegas straight after. We’ll be together again before you know it.” I swear Pete is the only person I know who knows how to read my facial expression before I’ve even said anything.
I try not to look worried about being on my own for a week. I mean, I’m used to him flying all around the world for work conferences, and I’ve always been able to look after myself, so this shouldn’t be any different. I give him my most believable smile and kiss him, though deep down I really want to say “Please don’t go. Everything is so perfect here with us.”
I kneel down and pretend to focus on fixing our old chair. I don’t know why I’m feeling like this. I usually love having time on my own; I fill all my spare time with writing obsessively, photographing, seeing old friends. I have so many lists of things to do, I know I’ll never be bored. I try to shake this feeling off and put it down to just silly worries. I put some music on, soothing my thoughts with Ed Sheeran playing in the background, and I let my worries go.
I try to keep myself busy and yet I’m distracted, as usual. I look at my phone too often and I chat with a sweet friend who seems to understand exactly what I’m going through. I feel myself pouring out my emotions out all at once, and I realize what a huge mistake I’ve made. I really should be opening up to Pete.
Hours later, when we are curled up on the couch together, I tell him how much I have loved fixing up our little apartment together. I want to say more but I tend to go off on tangents when I’m feeling so much. Pete beams at me and says “I feel like we understand each other so much better since we started doing this. Don’t you think?”
And I do, very much so. For the first time in weeks, my head is clear. Like when the rain stops on a warm summers day.
Everything makes so much sense.
All this time I’d been trying so hard to get Pete to throw things away, trying to get him to understand me better, that I hadn’t stopped to try to understand him. I’d been so caught up in making our place into a home, I’d almost missed who really made this feel like home. And there he was sitting next to me, staring lovingly at me and I just couldn’t stop myself from grabbing him and telling him over and over how much I love him.
We talk until it is dark, and the moon seems to glow more than usual. Having those “difficult talks” doesn’t always come easy for me, yet I’m also terribly honest. I tell Pete about me feeling overwhelmed when I’m decluttering on my own. I find myself opening up to the deeper parts of me that I had buried, and then I finally stopped. Naturally, I feel so much better, but now I’m worried what Pete is thinking. Often I wish I could just read people’s thoughts, but mostly Pete’s because he can be as reserved as I am.
He doesn’t speak for a minute. It feels like the longest minute of my life. When he finally talks, he tells me how much he loves me, and wants to do anything to make things easier for us. I’m so relieved that I start crying into his chest, my mascara is on his shirt more than it’s on my eyelashes, but I don’t care. I’m just so happy.
The following day, we finish donating the rest of the bags, and we collapse in a heap when we arrive home. Though we're exhausted, I can finally see a difference in our apartment. Pete turns to me and says, "I'm proud of you, baby." But I am far more proud of Pete than I, because I had the easy part of decluttering. Pete had donated things he'd had for twenty years. I didn't see at the time of how hard it really was, but now that I do, I have a new perspective on sentimental value. And I think that's all because of Pete.
A few days later, I can’t believe Saturday morning is already here. I’m half asleep and reaching out for the warmth of Pete’s body against mine. I slowly open my eyes, the sunlight is drifting through the gap between the curtains. His side of the bed is already made neatly, the blue quit tucked into our newly painted bed. I place my hand on his pillow and sigh.
I feel a twinge of sadness that he is already leaving so soon for his work trip. I’m used to him flying all around the world for work conferences, but this feels different. We’ve finally made a place to call home, and there’s still so much to do here. So many hopes and dreams that we have whispered and promised to each other between these walls.
I help pack his clothes into his suitcase, and I secretly take one of his shirts and tuck it under my pillow. After we say our goodbyes, I watch as half my heart disappears into an Uber.
I allow myself to cry for just a minute, and then I drive back to our little home we have made together, and pour myself a glass of wine. I look up to the whiteboard on our fridge, and I instantly recognize the messy love note scrawled across it. And I can’t stop smiling.
Only 7 more days until we're together in America. x