Fire House #33 in 2016 and circa 1916.
Fire House #33 in 2016 and circa 1916.

After four years together, Jim and I were trying to combine our lives and were experiencing some turbulence. Jim had grown tired of living between his bachelor basement in Georgetown, Seattle’s gritty, hipster neighborhood, his fire station and my house, in the more gentrified, though still quirky neighborhood of Madrona. When I moved from New Jersey to Seattle in 2005, I had found my dream house. Full of light, a view of Lake Washington, in a fun, beautiful neighborhood. It was a perfect place to raise the kids, but I assumed when they left home, I would downsize. Now that time was drawing near, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to leave. Finances, however, looked to be making the decision for me.

Plus, I didn’t account for Jim in that vague downsizing plan. In my imagined relationships, dreamed up before Jim came along, I never considered the move-in together phase. Or if I did, I just assumed he’d move in with me. I had no any idea what it would mean to combine two well-established lives.

No matter what way Jim tried to fit himself into our house, he just couldn’t quite settle in. It was like squeezing a puzzle piece into a hole that looks to be the right shape, but isn’t quite. You turn it one way and then another, and finally just try to jam it in there with your thumb. Jim was feeling the squeeze. His desk was under the stairway in my office, his wheelie chair often rolling into the middle of the room, where it was necessary to walk around it or try and shove it back in place. With nowhere to put the picture of fighter jets his father flew, he placed it in front of the large mirror, but would come home to find it pushed out of the way, whenever my daughter needed a full-length view of herself.

The garage, which I had given over to him in the midst of our compromise was slowly being fashioned into his dream garage, with large metal cabinets to which he attached wheels, tools moved into them, plastic tubs organized.

In its new pristine state, the garage became a lure for my son who was rebuilding a motorcycle engine, a project that Jim had introduced him to. After two years of Jim mostly working on the engine by himself, my son finally discovered that having a motorcycle was cool and had taken a new interest in the project. Jim now returned to his garage sanctuary to find his tools in disarray or lost, plastic bins dumped and filled with old oil, garbage littering the floor. How to both encourage my son’s industriousness and teach him responsible tidy habits?

Jim and I went for brunch one morning, trying out a new, trendy spot located in a renovated warehouse. We forked chorizo hash, sitting in a loft area overlooking a large ground floor, filled with rusty September sun.

“Look at those huge glass garage doors,” Jim said. “This would make an awesome workshop.”

I looked around more closely. Two sides of the large space were walled with giant glass garage doors that clearly rolled up in the warm weather. We sat beneath thick, old growth, roughly hewn beams, surrounded by exposed brick walls. My imagination took over. An old warehouse, with a large garage area below and a funky renovated second floor for living. For the first time, I could see how Jim and I might combine our disparate lives. He with his planes and motorcycles and tools, me with my books and writing and cooking.

“Maybe we should look for an old warehouse,” I said. Looking back, I laugh thinking about how many young, hipster, Seattle couples have likely uttered the exact same sentence. Excited, I took it a step further and right then and there called a realtor friend. I’m glad I couldn’t see him roll his eyes when he heard my request.

We drove around after brunch, looking at warehouses in various semi-industrial areas of Seattle. At home, I hunted the Internet. We wandered around a strange old place with what looked like a few cool, white-washed and brick apartments with a working train track that ran along building with barely four feet of clearance.

I quickly realized we were looking for a unicorn in the hot Seattle real estate market.

So I set up a series of Zillow searches, providing glimpses into houses, workshops, and garages, and tried to picture a life combined with Jim’s. For a year, the emails came every morning. Sometimes I’d look at them, but more often I’d delete them, not having the time.

But that Thursday morning in June, I clicked. The first property listed was a tall, tutor-style house. The price was in range. I clicked further. Jim at his under-the-stairs desk was right behind me.

“Oh, my God,” I said aloud. “Look at this place! Jim, it’s an old fire station!”

And thus the saga began.

See all episodes of The Firehouse Chronicles.

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