When Greg and I moved into our new apartment last summer—an English basement on D.C.’s Rock Creek Park—it was the first place we’d ever lived together that had a yard.
I often track the years of our history together with the apartments we’ve shared—five so far. This was our sixth. We met in our final months of college, drawn together by the Midwestern towns we grew up in, and our intentions to leave them. Our conversations about everywhere we might live felt electric.
Weeks after graduation we moved to a suburb of Seoul, South Korea and unpacked our things in apartment number one. It was a studio on the thirteenth floor of a massive building. We shared one room and one window, from which we could see inside other apartments, but not the sky or the ground.
I loved our new home, but I also thought of the backyard I grew up with in Wisconsin all the time. I had dreams about the cottonwood that floated between the trees each spring, and covered the screen porch like a fleece.
After Korea we moved to Hungary, then to Virginia, and finally D.C., where we migrated from apartment to apartment. Some had roaches and others original wood floors, but none had a yard or balcony—until the English basement that looked out on Rock Creek Park.
“Yard” was a big word for the space outside our door. It was a brick patio of about ten square feet where we could fit a table and a grill. It sat beside a huge forest, under a canopy of trees, and it was ours. Outside our window we saw things we had forgotten the city contained, like a family of racoons, a fox, a possum. Wild chives grew in the forest, blooming pale purple flowers before going to seed. We filled the open space with potted plants and learned how to help them grow, sometimes by seeing them die. But with time we got the hang of it. A few weeks after moving in we got married. By the time we returned our struggling begonia had bright new flowers, and a pepper had ripened from green to red.
We spent time outside no matter the season, covering every inch of skin with fabric when the mosquitos were thick and wrapping up in blankets when the air was cold. I wished I could take it with me. The patio made me feel wild again. It made me feel more whole.
After a year in that apartment Greg and I decided to leave, not out of the apartment but out of D.C. We hatched a plan to spend a few months in Northern Wisconsin before settling in Colorado. I could part with the high rent and low ceilings, but I would have lived with that patio in the forest for the rest of my life.
To celebrate our first wedding anniversary we threw a going-away party, and then packed boxes for days. We dealt with the plants last. I harvested the bush beans, dried the summer herbs, and gave the wintergreens away. But I avoided the begonia. The ceramic pot it grew in was a wedding gift, and the flowers were in full bloom. I couldn’t bear to dump it or to leave it behind. I knew that the world was full of begonias, and that ours was relatively unremarkable. But it was remarkable to me, so I re-arranged the back seat to make space for it beside our cat’s carrier. Greg shook his head at the absurdity of transporting a seasonal plant a thousand miles in an air conditioned car, but he didn’t object. The begonia traveled with us north. When we stopped at hotels for the night, I let it breathe from the car’s roof. By the time we got to St. Germain, Wisconsin, most of the petals had dropped and it wasn’t looking too good. But I placed it outside anyway, in a new backyard that we’d be leaving after a few months.
Slowly, the plant has begun to grow again. Most days it looks great, but there are times when it looks like crud. I can relate. Most days I am bottom-of-my-heart thrilled with the big ways our life is changing, and by our ability to let it. Sometimes I’m also distracted, by where we’ve been, where we’re going, and where we could be if we weren’t here. But as I monitor the begonia, whose every change feels immediate, I remember the way it feels like to focus on the environment you’re in while accepting that some parts of it will always be wild and uncontrollable.
I’m not sure if the begonia will live, but for now I’m happy to carry a piece of the home we built in D.C. with us a little while longer, while helping it thrive in the place we live now.