My mother gasped when she got her first inside glimpse of The Castle yesterday.
I was standing right behind her as she crossed through the doorway into our apartment, and when she stepped into the living room I heard it: a soft, sudden intake of breath. It was barely audible, but I heard it just the same ... no doubt because I was listening for it. And expecting it.
(It was the exact same sound I made when *I* saw The Castle for the first time.)
"It's even smaller than I'd imagined," she said, as she and Vince -- her gentleman friend/life partner/travelling companion -- sat perched on the edge of the sofa, politely eyeballing the bicycle parked in the kitchen.
She didn't mean the comment unkindly. It wasn't a criticism, or a complaint, or a motherly 'dig' of any sort. It was an unvarnished statement of fact. Frankly, nobody is ever prepared for how tiny our living space is. We can describe it to them over the phone ("You have to climb over the bed to get into the bathroom"), or explain it in an e-mail ("Four hundred square feet of blissful, nose-to-nose cohabitation!"), or post photos on the website ... but until you actually step through that doorway and see the place with your own two eyes, I don't think it's possible to fully visualize just exactly how condensed our living space really is.
Once she'd recovered from her initial surprise, though -- and I must admit she bounced back beautifully -- I proudly took the two of them on a guided tour of The Castle. Which of course took all of fourteen seconds.
"Here is the infamous Ugly Pink Stove," I said, as the three of us stood crowded together in the miniature kitchen. "Before I moved in, David used it to store his tax records and record albums." But Mom knew all of this already, of course, since she reads *FootNotes* the way some people read the morning newspaper. In fact, a lot of the apartment was already completely familiar to her, thanks to the website.
David's guitars. The snowglobes on top of the CD bookcase. The mammoth record collection, spread between the living room and the bedroom. The rest of the ugly pink kitchen appliances.
And a lot of it was familiar to her because I tend to replicate my living space as much as possible, as I move from location to location: Grandma's ashes, for instance, have moved with me through six different Zip Codes in as many years.
I guided my mother around our cramped, silly little apartment with the same combination of pride and nervousness I've always felt whenever I've shown her around my *space* ... whether it was a seventh-grade Home Ec classsroom, a moldy welfare apartment in TicTac, a painfully tidy house in Kirkland ... or a dollhouse-sized love nest in Alameda, California. Over the course of my life, there have been a lot of apartments/houses/living arrangements -- and a lot of first-time visits from my mother, with me playing the nervous tourguide to my mother's bemused/amused tourist. The good news is that Forty-Three-Year-Old Secra can finally hear a comment like "It's a lot smaller than I'd imagined" -- or a barely audible gasp of surprise -- and not interpret it as "Wow, Terri Lynn ... not exactly burning up those rungs on the ladder of success, are you?"
(Forty-Three-Year-Old Secra realizes that that was never her mother's voice she heard, anyway. It was her own.)
As we were concluding our mini-tour, David arrived home from the office. (Even though it was President's Day, he'd felt obligated to put on the suit and tie and make a token appearance at the newspaper.) The four of us promptly packed up our cameras and our water bottles and our Bay Area guidebooks and piled into the rental car to take the world-famous 49 Mile Tour of San Francisco ...
... which, I am pleased and relieved to report, took considerably longer than fourteen seconds to complete.
(And which -- I am even more pleased to report -- had my mother gasping again at regular intervals, all along the way. But mostly with delight this time. Stay tuned.)