One week ago I moved out of Howe Garden Apartments, where I’d been a resident for almost four years. New owners bought the property in January and told residents to get out so they can start charging (much) more in rent: $1,099/month for a one bedroom; $1,399/month for a two bedroom—less than a year after a double homicide was committed in building A.
I ended up buying a condo five miles up the road, which many would say is an improvement. It’s an objectively nicer place to live: more windows, two full bathrooms, more square footage, more closets, a deck. Equity! Stabilized monthly housing expenses! Freedom to paint!
It’s not what I wanted.
Last Monday, after I had moved everything out of J4 and up the road to my new place, I stopped by Howe Garden after work to check my mail. Walking up the sidewalk to my building, all I could think was, “I can’t believe I don’t live here anymore.” This was the first apartment I got after college. It’s the only place I’ve lived in Nashville, and it’s the place that had been my home for the longest stretch of time since I was a child: taupe walls, cigarette burns in the broadloom carpet, endless losing battles against bathroom grout mold. I didn’t want to leave.
The titanic oak tree in the courtyard had been cut down. The parking lot was half empty, and the smoky hallways were abandoned except for a knife-scraped plate on the ground-floor windowsill. Before I knew what was happening, I unlocked the door to my empty apartment and stumbled into the bare living room. I covered my face and began to cry.
Thirty minutes later, I got up from the floor of my echoing bedroom where I had been dripping snot into the carpet until my chest ached. I wanted to grasp at something, to put my arms around smooth plaster and hold it in place. I wanted to stay there for four more years, setting off the smoke alarm making pecan pie and stumbling drunk into the shower on Halloween; vacuuming up cat litter from the utility closet, crushed Apple Jacks from under the cold metal lip of the stove, pine needles from the southernmost corner by the window at Christmastime. I wanted to stay until I could see tacky multicolored lights glittering on the second floor when I drove up in the early winter dark.
Otherwise shapeless events were given a spine and hard edges by the dimensions of that apartment: My first promotion at work. The death of my last grandfather. My chinchilla’s ninth birthday. I killed plants there, made breakfast for my niece and nephew, fell out of love. Now each of these years is tangled up in beige carpet fibers and fraying bathtub caulk, and I didn’t have time to comb out each memory like a knotted tuft of hair, gently separate it from tall windows and dusty baseboards, wrap it in pages of Walgreens coupons and pack it away. The end came too suddenly. I had to leave them all there.
When I left Howe Garden for the last time that evening, I sat in Ellington Parkway traffic and continued to cry. Occasionally I caught the eye of a sympathetic onlooker in my rearview mirror, but nothing could shame me into composure. At my new home, I weaved through towers of unpacked boxes and collapsed into my bed where I cried more, until the sun set and a friend brought over tacos.
And what the hell for? A handful of dudes will renovate the property, bring in God knows what kind of people who can pay that kind of money for 650 square feet, squeeze an extra few thousand dollars out of people each month. They will eradicate East Nashville of Nashvillians with Nashvillian salaries and make room for the climbing number of west coast transplants who talk shit about how affordable it is to live here. They’ll invest their daddies’ money in real estate, in vinyl laminate flooring, in granite countertops, in energy efficient toilets. They will force the hands of hundreds of people who didn’t go to Vanderbilt, and we will cry about it sitting in traffic on a Monday afternoon.
There’s a very specific sadness to facing something you didn’t choose for yourself. Maybe the love I feel for Howe Garden is just a trick, like pining for men who rejected me. When you’re herded into a certain pasture, fenced in and tagged on your ear, it stings so much worse than if you’re able to survey all your options, weigh the pros and cons, select the path for your life that seems best, and follow it. There’s a sudden helplessness to being told, “You do not get to decide”—even if the outcome is favorable and you end up in better circumstances than before, as I have. I am heartbroken, and it doesn’t feel like a trick. It feels like the heavy-stomach cloud of grief, loss, and displacement from the only real home I’ve ever had.
To Nick Ogden, Middle Farms Capital, Brookside Property Management, Walt Burton, Howe Garden Apartments, and all those who made this transaction possible: Congratulations on your clever business acumen, your long-fingered opportunistic grasp. You have turned a profit. You have uprooted a life.