This house is where my husband lived for three years; I moved in during my senior year of college. I always tell him to consider himself lucky because no other girl would have moved in there.
It all started when my husband (then my boyfriend) was looking for a place to move off-campus after our freshman year at Shawnee State University. He and his friend Cory found a nice rental property near campus and planned to live with several other guys. However, on move-in day, three of the others backed out, leaving Neil and Cory to split a $900 rent. They both worked on campus for $5.15 an hour. Obviously it wasn't going to work. They were stuck in a bad position since the quarter was about to begin and most apartments and rental houses had already been claimed by other students.
Neil and I headed back to Cincinnati to his parents' house to regroup and try to figure out his living arrangements. We had just settled in when Cory called. He'd found a place, he said, and the rent was less than $200. Surely this must be some sort of mistake, we thought.
I clearly recall arriving back in Portsmouth that night to see the place Cory had discovered. The previous tenants had already moved out, he said, but the landlord didn't know that yet. The guys said we could just walk right in because they left the door unlocked.
Immediately upon entering, I noticed a huge piece of furniture blocking our way. We reached to flip the switches, but the electricity had been shut off. In total darkness, we made our way through the foyer with its chipped and missing tiles, then up a rickety staircase. With flashlights, we peeked into each room. One had a dirty mattress on the bare floor and a floor model television. The bathtub was black with mold. The fridge drawer was filled with...(warning!) maggots and rotting food. I looked at Cory and asked him if he was kidding. He wasn't.
Out of options, they talked to the landlord the next day and moved in. I helped clean and paint and pretty soon it was livable. Not up to standards most people would accept, but it was what it was.
Eventually, Cory moved out and his friend from Australia, BJ, moved in. Lastly, during my senior year, BJ was gone and it was my turn to experience life in what was affectionately called "The Rat's Nest." Over the years when I both stayed and lived there, we experienced an ice storm, when we had no electricity for a week and the toilet was frozen, a bat crawling in through a hole in the ceiling and more bar fights in the alley behind the house than I care to admit to watching.
We were poor. We both attended school full time and worked when we could get hours at the library or communication office. Every dime went to simply living. The only saving grace in those days was that the house was directly across the street from campus.
The photos above are from the day before we moved out (top) and what the house looks like now that it has been renovated and rented out again (bottom). It's a lot cleaner and safer these days.
Today, we're back in Cincinnati living in a comfortable ranch home. We were married a year after college graduation. We've been through master's programs, first jobs and are settling into careers. For all of life's blessings, we are not quick to forget where we lived on Third Street in Portsmouth. We keep a framed photo of the house on a shelf as a symbol to remind us that we once lived far below our present lifestyle and we survived. When money is tight or we hear someone complain that they can't afford life's luxuries, we simply smile and know that we are safe if we ever have to live like that again. We made it.
This is a poem I wrote in jest when leaving and moving back to Cincinnati:
Sonnet for 927 ½ 3rd Street
Shall I weep to part from thee, you old house?
Your leaky ceiling and windows rattling
with each passing Portsmouth wind that doth rouse?
O! This landlord’s lease we seem to be battling!
Sometimes, this house in summer a hot hell,
and often, in dread winter, as cold as ice.
Why? Tell me, why here of all places dwell?
Is there no fairer place, for better price?
It has seen the flood, and often students
who paid the paltry sum destroyed its halls
Undergraduates, oft less than prudent,
kicked in doors, ripped up tiles and scratched the walls.
As long as I breath, shall always recall
Complaining, but surviving, after all.