It was love at first sight. My mom and I flew into Boston for a few days to find a place for me to live during grad school. After touring many depressing apartments, we gave up hope and prepared to settle…and then there it was. The second the realtor walked us through the front door, I knew it was the one. Light streamed in through the huge windows. The birds chirped outside. My mom and I exchanged glances — we knew, even without speaking, that it was perfect.
And so, in August 2012, I moved in. I could barely find my way home through Boston’s tangled streets, but somehow on my very first night in Boston, I managed to take trains and buses all the way to Dedham to buy paint at Lowe’s. I lugged it all home in a plastic trash can, far too late to be out on my own at night, and I felt the thrill of independence in the big city. I picked the most cheerful colors that this college girl could find: pink, peach, and purple (then lovingly dubbed it the Easter Egg Apartment). And I put my whole heart into making those empty studio walls into a home.
I couldn’t afford new furniture, so I hand-painted mismatched items (either hand-me-downs or purchased from Craigslist). I had the brilliant idea to distress all of the furniture and make it “shabby chic,” which meant that the apartment looked like a disaster zone for a week. A new friend helped me paint the drawers, and when we tried to crack open a bottle of wine to make the work go faster, we realized that I hadn’t unpacked the bottle opener. We tried to use a knife to hack open the cork instead. This ended with red wine sprayed all over the white kitchen ceiling.
Two weeks went by, a fury of painting and hanging. I was a girl on a mission: to make this apartment feel like home. At the end of it all, when the last nail had been hammered into the wall, I sat in my finished, decorated apartment and my emotions caught up to me for the first time: I felt supremely lonely. My then-boyfriend had started school across the country in Houston. I hardly knew anyone at school, and I didn’t have a roommate to fill the quiet at the end of the day. The loneliness felt overwhelming, like a pit in the middle of my stomach. I had moved to the biggest city that I’d ever lived in, yet I felt more lonely than I had in my whole life. To combat it, I spent late hours at coffee shops and Trident Booksellers, striking up conversations with baristas and fellow regulars.
After starting grad school, new friends started to make the apartment feel less empty. There was TJ, a fellow flutist who offered insider tips to living as a classical musician in Boston. There was Anne, who brought the kitchen to life by cooking us fabulous dinners. There was Adam, who also lived in Fenway and showed me where I should and shouldn’t go in the neighborhood. The three of them felt like my big brothers and sister, showing me the ropes of city life and helping me forge my path.
As my circle of friends grew, I hosted “Martha Stewart parties,” which meant that I attempted every cute recipe I found on Pinterest, regardless of my actual cooking skills (which were basically nonexistent). I prepared so much food that I ran out of counter space in that tiny studio kitchen, so I used the floors as extra counter space. Anne, the kitchen veteran, would come rescue me at the last minute and we’d pull everything together by the time the first guests arrived.
My downstairs neighbor, a grumpy lady whose landlord eventually kicked her out, always made sure to voice her discontent by banging on her ceiling (my floor) with a broomstick. “Once again, you have forced me out of my home,” she wrote on a note slipped under my door. Needless to say, she was not the biggest fan when my bathroom pipes sprung a leak and started dripping into her unit below. 😉
The apartment had its quirks: a marble countertop that stained beyond repair; cracked plaster walls worn down by 80 years of former residents, steam pipes whose noise scared me when they hissed to life that first autumn, worn wooden floors, and a door that wouldn’t lock properly on humid days. But for all its faults, it had more than enough magic to make up for it. You could watch the leaves in the park outside change color with the seasons. You could see the Pru at the end of the row of brick buildings. And you could listen to the teammates and cheerleaders enjoying the stadium outside.
Eight months after moving in, in April 2013, I found myself stuck in the apartment by myself when all of Boston went into lockdown mode in search of the Boston Marathon bombers. I watched my TV with utter fear as the manhunt progressed. I had never felt so alone or afraid. Finally, as the police emerged victorious in Watertown after five incredibly tense days, I heard the sound of distant cheers coming through my windows. I followed my ears to an impromptu parade of fellow college students, who celebrated the police and our freedom.
In October 2013, people cheered outside for a different reason: the Red Sox had won the World Series. A couple blocks down from my apartment, fans poured into the streets outside of Fenway Park, screaming and singing in celebration. It felt so incredible to live in a neighborhood where history was being made. The next day, as I walked past the stadium on my way to Kenmore to catch the T, I watched workers install the championship banner that would live there for future generations to see. (Five years later, when the Sox won the Series again in 2018, I looked forward to a similar celebration — but Boston had gotten so spoiled with major sports wins that the fans were much more tame.)
The very next month, my summer boyfriend followed through with a promise that we had jokingly made to each other: that we would celebrate our shared birthday together in Boston. To my surprise, he showed up with months of letters he’d written but never sent, and he told me that he loved me. That day our birthday became our dating anniversary as well, and after showing him all of my favorite spots in Boston, he made the daring decision to sell all of his things and move in with me two months later. My parents and friends thought we were insane, but I knew in my gut that this was a game-changer. I lost the second closet as I cleared it out for him, but I gained the best roommate and friend. Nobody thought we could fit two people into the tiny 450-square-foot space, but I loved it because we were always close to each other.
Above: the day E arrived to Boston for good (on the T, because Uber wasn’t really a thing yet). Below: our first shared birthday cake (23 years + 29 years = 52 shared years).
The first dinner E ever cooked for me…and one of the last 😉
Three years later, we got married in 2016. After leaving for our wedding in Texas, we walked back through the apartment’s door as husband and wife. Little had changed, but everything felt different. Everything felt better. We had no space to store wedding gifts, so our family contributed to our honeymoon instead. After three wonderful weeks of a cross-country honeymoon through Italy, our little Boston apartment still held its spot in my heart as my favorite place. It was our cozy haven. OURS.
(Previous 6 photos taken by Michael Smith of Ash Imagery)
Wanting to make the apartment feel like a reflection of both of us instead of just a bachelorette pad, I undertook the task of renovating. We painted all the walls white (one of E’s favorite memories) and replaced the dusty old blinds. We thought we could change out the ceiling fan ourselves too, but E quickly discovered 80 years of messy wiring in the walls. That warranted an emergency call to an electrician, who told us we were lucky we hadn’t set our house on fire yet. 🙂
Our apartment saw us through many transitions: E’s temporary job waiting tables until he found work as a band director. My journey from a career in classical music into running my photography business full-time. Our engagement and wedding planning. Conversations about starting a family, and saving and budgeting aggressively so that we could make it happen.
There were also the less monumental but still cherished memories: Dozens of lazy Saturdays snuggling and drinking coffee in bed. That one winter where we got 108 inches of snow and our sidewalks disappeared. Hundreds of walks to Back Bay and the Charles River Esplanade. The discovery of our favorite neighborhood joints, especially the cheap and delicious El Pelon Taqueria. Nights eating takeout in bed in our pajamas (because who needs a kitchen table, anyway?)
Accurate representation of the disaster our apartment became when we unpacked from a plane trip:
Carrying home our Christmas tree from Whole Foods. We did real trees for a few years before we got sick of finding pine needles many months after the tree had been taken down 😉
We passed many hours wondering how any home could top this one, even though we knew we would eventually have to leave. I always said it would take a huge life event to get us to leave. We thought we would stay until our first baby was a year old. A friend of ours had spent his newborn months in a dresser- drawer-turned-crib — why couldn’t we make it work too? We contemplated turning our second closet into a tiny nursery instead. We didn’t have a bedroom door, but we’d figure it out when the need arose.
As it turned out, something big did get us to leave — our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. A little magic was sucked out of the apartment the day our dreams came crashing down. I thought maybe it was the sign that we needed that it was finally time to move on. My mom cried with us, and as a project to cheer her up, I asked her to find us a house. It felt like fate that she found the perfect condo for us, in our top-choice neighborhood, within our budget. And so, after seven years in our studio and many indecisive tears, E and I decided it was finally time to move on and leave the only place we had ever shared together.
Our new condo has all the amenities that we struggled without for the last seven years: a dishwasher, a washer and dryer in the unit, air conditioning, and a parking spot. But even though we’re gaining a lot, it feels like we’re somehow losing a family member. This apartment saw us through the happy bubble of early marriage. It got me through my 20s and my transition from a lost, lonely student to a business owner and a wife. I will be forever grateful that I had such a wonderful place to call home during my first years in Boston, and I can only imagine the growth that we’ll experience together in our new condo. Here’s to the next chapter!
Here are a few photos that our friend Lena Mirisola took on our very last day in the old apartment. This was one day after our shared birthday, which we spent packing. The birthday cake tasted extra sweet this year after burning so many calories lifting boxes. 🙂
Ended the session at our favorite neighborhood date spot: Target! I know that it’s so very basic, but we have many happy memories in that place. These photos make me smile 🙂