Aliza's Apartment

 (c) Ellen Friedrichs <ellenkatef@hotmail.com>

The year I am in grade nine I go over to my friend Aliza's apartment almost every day after school. I have decided that my own living situation is intolerably normal and as such is incredibly boring. Aliza's of course seems just the opposite.

I first meet Aliza after she transfers to my school to escape the group of girls whom have regularly been beating her up. As soon as I see her standing by her locker, dyed black hair half covering an altogether miserable looking face, I decide that we are meant to be friends and ask her if she wants to hang out. She seems surprised but invites me over to her apartment. We have to take two busses and as we bump down Arbutus and then Broadway Aliza tells me that she is not really supposed to be living at her place. Apparently the landlord did not want to rent to someone with kids so if Aliza sees him, she is supposed to pretend that she is just visiting.

I am worrying about this as we enter her nondescript gray building--so typical of Vancouver's notoriously bland architecture--wondering how I will explain my presence to her landlord should he appear and stand next to Aliza, nervously picking at peeling wallpaper while she opens her door. Door open I take a step inside, drop my bag and embarrass myself exclaiming, "Oh my God this is so cool."

I love Aliza's place instantly. It is nothing like my three-kid, two-parent household where brown carpets and curtains and cabinets seem to make everything seem old and dark and dull. At Aliza's you enter into a bright orange hall lined with books and postcards and candles. In each room the walls are covered with concert posters, The Clash--London 1979, The Sex Pistols--Manchester 1977, Elvis Costello--Vancouver 1986, photos of her mom's friends ("that's Molly the stripper, Bill from this band, Lucy from that one, my rocker-aunt Margie") each more exotic than the next. And plants. Lots of plants. My house has no plants. Even the ones in the yard seem to be dying.

At one end, the hall opens into Aliza's bedroom, furnished in the winnings of a staged radio call in show. At the other is a medium sized living room overlooking the mushy grass that serves as the buildings lawn. Though packed with stuff, the room doesn't seem so much cluttered as in use. A bed is partitioned off from the rest of the space by a wall of shelves that hold baskets of material and ribbon and multi-compartmented boxes full of beads and buttons and sequins. A semi-clothed dressing dummy stands under the window and piles of pattern sketches are stacked on the mantel piece next to a sculpture of a woman, nude save for a thirties style hat. But really what dominates the room is a huge sewing table which is covered in swatches of cloth and upon which scores of friends and passers through have left their mark. A Harley Davidson emblem carved here, a set of initials scraped there. Aliza's mother Rita is an often-out-of-work costume designer, Vancouver, British Columbia in the late '80s not quite offering the same opportunities as had London where she got her start--but her home always feels like a show is in process.

Many days Aliza and I come back to her place to find Rita hunched over the table furiously sewing and smoking. I love to sit at the table and trail my fingers over ancient cigarette burns as I watch Rita stitch and listen to her stories about seeing concerts in London in the '70s while working as a bar maid. "We wore six inch heels and were on our feet for nine hours working. Then we stayed out all night at shows. That's why I can wear heels now. It's nothing after that."

And wear them she does. Spike heeled boots with fishnet stockings and mini-skirts shorter than any I have ever seen on a real life adult. When she takes us out to see the plays she has worked on, strutting down the street in an ancient studded motorcycle jacket and sporting purple streaked hair, I watch the reactions of our fellow pedestrians and hope that one day I too will draw second glances from all whom I pass.

I also hope that one day I will not live in a house where rooms only serve the purpose for which they were originally designed. At Aliza's the kitchen has been converted into something of a living room. The effect has been created by the combination of the purple velvet couch that sits in front of the fridge, the TV and VCR that sit on top and the Oriental carpet which lies on the floor. It had not occurred to me that a kitchen could be used for anything other than cooking and eating. Yet now Aliza and I spend hours lounging on the couch drinking coffee and watching movies that her mother recommends: Suburbia, The Hunger, Sid and Nancy.

At the end of the school year Rita decides to move Aliza back to England. I am invited over for a farewell dinner the night before they leave. The apartment has been miraculously compacted to fit into cardboard boxes and returned to its natural state of white. It feels completely sterile and surprisingly box like. All that remains of Rita and Aliza is the sewing table. Before I leave Rita stops me, "You never got to carve anything into the table," and hands me her special gold handled knife. I sit down, find an empty spot among the crudely etched reminders of people I have never met and meticulously cave my initials into the soft wood.

Then I leave and return home to my gray stucco house with its half-dead lawn and sunless living room to find my family eating my father's standard dinner of hot-dogs and beans at the kitchen table. I mumble hello, decline the offer of a hot-dog and sulk up to my room where I light the candles Aliza and I bought the previous week and turn my music up loud in what I know is a futile attempt at transporting a little of Aliza's apartment back under my parents' roof.


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