Just three images provided me with untold amounts of fuel for my dreams. A fireplace complete with slate mantle, two windows looking onto lush trees, and a kitchen devoid of the clutter and Pier 1 kitsch I had been living with for the last six months. No hundred-bottle wine rack loomed in the living room. Light spilled through unseen windows and reflected off freshly painted drywall that bore no trace of grubby handprints. In a word: heaven.
I prayed for my apartment search to end here.
My emails to the owner of the building were frantic and worried, like a girl who had just been on a date with the man of her dreams but she wasn’t quite sure that he thought that she was the woman of his dreams. Instead of the whole “I hope he likes me” saga of unrequited, desperate infatuations, mine was the “Dear fucking sweet Jesus, I hope I get this thing.” I hadn’t even seen the place in person. I didn’t need to.
The apartment was in a section of Brooklyn I had not yet attempted to conquer. Admittedly, my familiarity with the borough in general did not stretch far beyond the Bedford subway stop, the shortest distance across the water from Manhattan. And even then, I would get lost once I surfaced from the underground immediately. North 7th? Manhattan Avenue? Driggs? Where the fuck am I? I routinely spun around, squinting like a tourist and always heading in the wrong direction.
Brooklyn signified unchartered territory, territory that I was initially uninterested in. The landscape always struck me as drab. The small homes that lined the residential streets were wrapped in wood siding; the old brick so common in Manhattan architecture seemed in short supply on this side of the East River. Everything felt scaled down here: the masses of people, the building height, the energy. This wasn’t my New York, I thought.
Then I started to think about “my New York” and what it meant to me now – nine years after I landed at JFK airport for the first time, eight years after I moved here for school, seven years after I moved away. It had been ages since I lived here full-time, but I had been shuttling back and forth for the better part of my tenure in Los Angeles. I didn’t realize it, but I had been experiencing New York in the same way I had been experiencing LA – working, partying, living carelessly within the nonexistent confines of my early twenties.
But I changed.
That lifestyle wore thin around two years ago while living in Los Angeles. I stopped going to the same club three nights a week. I put my heels away, favoring more sensible footwear no matter what the occasion. I started enjoying more subtle social interactions, ones that I could hear clearly enough and didn’t involve the uncomfortable spray of saliva that inevitably occurs when a drunkard forces his/her voice over the thumping bass of a 2 a.m. party and into your ear. It could have been that my sober lifestyle was catching up to me, or maybe I was just growing up.
I was boring now; I had unknowingly primed myself for Brooklyn.
I waited on the subway platform to transfer. Trapped heat from the day stood lazily around me, steeped in that same dirty-earth smell it always has. A man sweetly picked on the metal strings of a steel guitar and when he stopped no one clapped. The moment made me feel awkward.
The subway arrived and I entered, noting that the line used the older trains that had been steadily replaced more modern ones when the chance arose. This was the kind with the orange and red chairs and the silver-sided walls etched with the nonsense graffiti of bored teenagers. Like being in the belly of a robotic Ronald McDonald.
It was quiet when I exited the subway. No one pushed past me. No one spat or blew snot out of their noses and directly onto the street. My heartbeat remained at its own version of homeostasis – a chronic and mildly stressed flutter that leaves my chest only in sleep. And so I walked.
Trees greeted me with greater regularity as I moved further from the subway stop and soon I was under the closest thing to a New York canopy a borough can offer. A fading blue sky peered through the green, making me feel small. I inhaled, happily.
I sat outside of the building, watching nervously as a couple that had just finished viewing the apartment exited onto the stairs. “It’s really beautiful,” one of the two said as I passed. I smiled, saying, “Oh, good” though I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t want them to say it was beautiful; I wanted them to hate it. I didn’t want to have to compete for my future happiness. I wanted to live in those three pictures.
The landlord shook my hand. We introduced ourselves. I stepped into a lobby with a paper chandelier and thoughtful jute carpeting up the stairs. Already I felt at home. Above me, a door stood propped open. Through it, wood floors, appropriately aged with the wear of ninety years, gleamed in the dusky light. And when I eventually stepped on them, they welcomed me with comforting groans.
My voice wavered nervously as I toured the apartment. It was too beautiful, too large, too perfect for words – and when words sometimes came out, they were clunky and stuttered. I praised the owner for the attention to detail and the obvious love and care that went into making this place feel like a home. We discussed typical renter topics but my mind was elsewhere. I wanted to live here. I had to live here.
I bid the landlord farewell, telling her again how beautiful the place was. I waved goodbye and took off down the street, my chest expanding with the air of hope and my eyes welling with overwhelmed tears. Save me, I thought. Save me.
Beyond the trees, sun danced its last dance with the water. A boat passed, obliterating the shimmery wet. Again, I inhaled. It was nice to see the city from a distance; the separation was welcome. It would always be there if I wanted it. It would always be there if I needed to return. If ever I was to be exciting again, if I longed to dance until sunrise, if I ever cared about all of the expensive clothes in my closet or looking beautiful… it would welcome me back.
But I don’t think I’ll be accepting the offer any time soon.
*As seen on Flipcollective.com