05.08Saying Goodbye to a Building, Saying Goodbye to a Home
In the winter of 2001-2002, I was unemployed. I had been let go from my job at CapitalOne and was floundering a bit, getting by on my wife’s income and what I’d cashed out from my meager 401(k). It had already been a rough year. The marriage was trembling, the job had been soul-crushing and the world was sad and angry following the events of September 11. Like a lot of people, I was lost and confused. Beaten down. Embarrassed about having been fired, a previously unprecedented event. Wondering what was next.
A friend was having an art show at a local bistro, so I attended to be supportive, have a couple drinks and for lack of anything else to do. While there, I ran into Diana, a former coworker from my days working at Borders. I mentioned my sob-story about having been fired and she (amusingly tipsy from martinis) told me about National Hotline Services, her current employer. Saying they were looking for part-time employees, she gave me the number and had me call. I did and was granted an interview.
I went to 620 Kenmore Avenue for the first time later that week. It’s an unimpressive brick building with office space and one apartment on the ground floor and four apartments above. The office was split, having housed a dentist on one side and psychiatrists’ office on the other (I think). There’s an alley to the side and a small five-car parking lot around back. Forgettable at first glance, you can pass by without really ever noticing it. I even had trouble finding it when I went there, not sure that was it. It didn’t look like an office. There wasn’t even an outside sign explaining its purpose. It was just there.
I had a very bizarre interview with Diana and another employee named Mike McKenna. I say it was bizarre because the interview had no higher-ups. Diana did HR, but the bosses didn’t deem an interview for part-time answering service work worth their attention. I answered their questions amusingly and honestly. When asked to name someone who inspired me, I mentioned Kevin Smith as I was impressed with how he turned an idea and some credit cards into a movie-maker’s dream empire. This was a good move as McKenna, a New Jersian, was also a Kevin Smith fan. We talked for a while, joked for a while and in the end I had the job. I was essentially an operator for the answering service part of the business a few hours a week.
It wasn’t long before I moved on to full-time work at NHS. I upgraded to full-time operator for both corporate compliance hotline calls and the answering service. Eventually I pointed out that the posters could use some work. I fired up Photoshop and came up with something new. My importance was cemented. Over the next few years, I found myself creating new roles for myself in the company. I worked on new posters, helped build an all-new website, made friends. I was present for site visits with clients, meetings with the owner/president and made myself important to NHS. A big part of it. I went every day to 620 Kenmore Avenue feeling more and more in touch with it every day as it became more and more a part of my life. A life that was changing every year.
During the next few years, I saw the birth of my son, the death of my father and the sad fade of my marriage. When the wife and I decided things wouldn’t work out, I moved into one of the apartments above the office where my son lived with me every other week. The building became a literal home. At around that time, David moved in to one of the apartments in the building as well. We spent some time being confused and crazy and enjoying a little to much what it was like to be free of obligations and being tied down. Eventually I began dating one of the other tenants and David met Meggie, whom he would later marry and create the adorable Lex.
My relationship failed and I moved to an apartment a few blocks away for the sake of distance. I still found myself at the building for work and spending time with David and Meggie, who moved into my old apartment. The old relationship was revived and failed again, so I was there from time to time for that. My new place never felt like home. In the two years I wound up being there, I never finished unpacking. It was uncomfortable and didn’t fit. But it was what I needed at the time.
Even after I left NHS, I still had reasons to be at the building. As I said, David and Meggie still lived there. I still visited the office with a good deal of regularity as my friends continued to work there. I began dating a former co-worker who also eventually moved into the building. Around the middle of 2009, it was announced that NHS’s current owners had sold the company and would be shutting down the office at 620 Kenmore Avenue. I was working in northern VA then and spending much less time around the building. But I still made a point to visit. After all, David, Meggie and my girlfriend still lived there. When I started working in town again at the end of 2009, I was able to spend a little more time there with everyone. That building, while empty in the office, was still full of my life as it had been for almost 8 years.
David and Meggie are moving out at the end of the month. And the girlfriend doesn’t want to be the girlfriend anymore. So it occurred to me yesterday that after so long, I would no longer have a reason to go to 620 Kenmore Avenue when June rolls around.
I moved around a lot as a kid, so I never grew attachments to places. There’s no one place I can point to and say “That was my childhood home. That’s where I grew up.” When I help David and Meggie move in a few weeks and walk away from that building for what may well be the last time, it will weigh on me. But it’s a small town. I’ll go by there from time to time, probably on one of the long walks I find myself taking of late. And down the road I’ll be able to point to that building and say “That was the home of my young adulthood. As much as I have, I grew up there.”