On a Friday morning in July, I went back to the apartment on Drayton Street one last time. After we had collected the odds and ends that didn’t make it into the U-Haul, emptied the kitchen cabinets, cleaned out the fridge, wiped down the smudged and dusty surfaces, and hauled bags of garbage to the dumpster, I wanted to spend a few minutes alone in the empty apartment. To confirm that we hadn’t left anything behind. To say goodbye.
After two and a half years of a pandemic that – no matter how many politicians or media personalities declare over – still has its tentacles into our lives, my sense of time feels more elusive than ever. I can tell you that it has been five years since I left Los Angeles, three years since I was accepted into grad school in Savannah, Georgia and decided to move here, and that next week, it will be ten years since I lost my mother. I know all these facts and yet they still feel apart from me, as though, through the film of my memories, I have been watching those experiences happen to someone else.
As soon as we saw the apartment on Drayton, we knew. At the time, we had been trying to talk ourselves into renting a Victorian one-and-a-half bedroom in the heart of Savannah’s downtown historic district. The apartment, on picturesque Jones Street, was adjacent to an old town square, walking distance to trendy bars and restaurants, and had a look that was quintessential “Savannah.” But something about it gave me the creeps. It could have been the cleaning crew hastily scrubbing the walls during a viewing with a real estate broker I didn’t remember contacting, the mysterious locked door leading to nowhere at the back of the kitchen, or the suggestions planted in my impressionable brain by the ghost tour we’d been on the night before. Whatever the reason, as we moved through its airy, vintage interior, goosebumps formed on my arms and I felt, more than heard, the word “no” echoing throughout my body. So, when the (fully furnished!) apartment on Drayton came along, with its gated parking, utilities bundled into the rent, and a nice, former Midwestern landlord named Claire who offered to use her connections to help Jake find a restaurant job, it was all too easy to say yes. And after Claire took us up to the top-floor roof deck and waxed poetic about drinking coffee on an outdoor floral loveseat while watching the sunrise over Savannah, we signed the lease.
Of course, no one could have foreseen what would happen next. We had no idea that our new home’s location, in the center of Savannah’s hip Starland District and walking distance to my writing classes at SCAD’s Arnold Hall, would scarcely matter. That Covid-imposed lockdowns would mean I’d end up completing more than eighty percent of my master’s degree online, taking Zoom classes in the bedroom and writing essays on a portable laptop table in the living room. That the picture I had in my mind of what life would look like attending grad school at a cutting-edge art institution (Film festivals! Fashion shows! Museums and art galleries and endless inspiration!) in the middle of a romantic, riverfront Southern city was so very different than it would turn out to be.
Still. Despite the harsh realities of the pandemic and the pain of lowered expectations, the apartment on Drayton Street was, in many ways, a dream. Even after more than two years of living next to train tracks and enduring the early morning blare of a freight train, two years of homeless drifters camping alongside those tracks and (sometimes) outside our front door, two years of climbing the apartment’s two sets of steep staircases with twenty (!) steps apiece, we loved it there. Leaving – as it is with leaving any place you love – was bittersweet.
But, post-graduation, we found another place to love: a rental house in a slightly less-hip (read: cheaper) neighborhood in midtown Savannah. A house with an actual backyard, a sunroom I could convert into an office, and a location on a quiet residential street with an equally kind, former Midwestern landlord. So, we signed the lease, and, nearly two months later, haven’t looked back.
Over these last two years, the world has changed, and I have changed within it. Mostly, I took time away from Extra Dry Martini due to the demands of SCAD’s MFA Writing program, which turned out to be far more rigorous and all-consuming than I had anticipated. But also – over two years that have seen lockdowns, political upheaval, a deadly insurrection, and an escalation of aggressive, hate-filled rhetoric across all forms of media – I’ve become averse to certain online spaces, and have tried to limit my time on them (on social media in particular) in order to safeguard my mental health. Put simply: the less time I spend online, the better I feel.
But this space, this blog, means a lot to me. Writing Extra Dry Martini was a lifeline through the often-fraught decade of my thirties. It helped me navigate crippling grief and became the launching pad for the major life changes I made as a result of heartbreak and loss. I miss it. And I miss the people who read it.
Post Covid, Post MFA, I find myself looking for a way to reimagine my relationship to this space, to continue to publish writing that is honest and vulnerable but also honors the place I’m in now, and the person I’ve become during the time I’ve been away. Something that – while still personal – is less about me and more about the process of writing down our stories. Something that acknowledges that writing while living real life – with all its demands, distractions and interferences – is both possible and a worthwhile endeavor. For all of us.
So. This is the beginning. The beginning of something that I hope will be both familiar, and totally brand new.
Thank you – as always – for reading. Until next time, friends.