this probably goes without saying, but the part of this process that i am MOST excited about is the decorating. it has long been my dream to design a place from scratch (though i’m learning that doing a place truly from scratch is actually quite stressful and, well, REALLY HARD. i commend you, designers), and the grand apartment is my first chance to design a home that really feels like me.
i’ve lived in my current apartment for six years now (an eternity in new york), so i guess you could say that it “feels like me.” as much as i love it, and as good as it’s been to me, it holds a lot of memories, and not all of them are good.
let’s back up a bit. a few months prior to moving into my current place, i went through a traumatic breakup with my college friends. in an instant, they cut the cord on me and our years together, and as a result, the cord on the apartment which we had all shared. they gave me a choice: move out and leave us, or we will leave you. what followed is a long, complicated, emotional story, but suffice it to say, the experience broke my heart. i’ve never had my heart broken in a romantic sense, but i think, in some ways, this experience was much, much worse. it was like 5 breakups in one. it was akin to someone stabbing a knife into my chest, tugging it down the breast bone and then yanking out my bloodied, still beating heart. and then stomping on it, repeatedly, on the sidewalks of new york city, while curious passerby watched, but did nothing.
the experience sent me home to massachusetts, into the sweltering humidity of mid-summertime new england and to a childhood bedroom in which i hadn’t spent longer than a few weeks since high school. for the first two weeks, i didn’t leave my bed. each morning, my mother would come into the room, wake me, and offer me breakfast. and each morning, i’d tell her i’d never felt so empty, that i didn’t believe i could ever get out of bed again, that life wasn’t worth living without my friends. i was 24, alone, and untethered, spinning aimlessly in the universe. or so i felt.
after a few weeks, i made it out of bed, and into a therapist’s office (god bless talk therapy, amirite?). after a few more, i made it to main street, where i sat at a coffee shop with an old high school friend and attempted to carry on a “normal” conversation.
after two months, it was decided that i should go back to new york. a good part of me, probably close to 95%, was convinced i could never set foot in the city again. new york was ruined for me. i had failed. it wasn’t meant to be. i was small town, small time, not the brave big city girl i’d thought myself to be.
but my parents said no, that wasn’t true. my friends could take everything from me – but they couldn’t take new york.
and so back to the city i went. this time, i saw apartments on my own, not with the safety net of three best friends. i saw “one bedrooms” in the west village with bathtubs in the kitchen, and tiny roach infested studios in gramercy. i saw spaces so tiny i wasn’t sure i could fit my bed in them, let alone my entire life. the pickings were BEYOND slim.
so when my broker told me, gently, that in my price range, looking on my own, i wasn’t going to find even close to what i would get with a roommate, and suggested i look at a place in the very property i’d been kicked out of, i told her no. no way. i couldn’t live anywhere near those people. what if i ran into them on the street? what if i saw them in the supermarket, casually browsing cereal boxes in aisle 4?
so we saw more tiny places. and more five floor walkups. and eventually, i relented, and agreed to sign a lease just six blocks north of my old home.
it’s a funny place, new york city. you can live literally on someone’s doorstep, and never ever see them. we always assume that our ghosts will trail us, that we’ll find ourselves following their footsteps on the street, ducking into alleyways to avoid awkward confrontations. the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. most of the time, we don’t run into our ghosts; we see them once in a blue moon, if at all.
my particular ghosts moved out and moved on after just a year, and somehow, someway, i stayed. for six years.
i remember move-in day like it was yesterday. i’d convinced my friend caroline to live with me, and the apartment, a converted one bedroom, was supposed to have a wall dividing the living room and the newly created “2nd bedroom.” key phrase here being “supposed to.” because when we walked in, it was not there. no wall. just a giant, empty, open living room that echoed my cries of frustration, sending my tears bouncing off the walls and the cheap parquet floors.
it was raining (and by raining, i mean pouring) as my mother and i attempted to shuffle my life in boxes from a uhaul into the elevator, while hired “moving men” lifted my sofa and bed from truck to sidewalk.
i remember thinking, of course, of COURSE it has to rain today. of course there is no wall. of course nothing in my entire fucking life is going right, because WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? my life had already been torn apart at the seams. here i was, trying to rebuild, to start over all on my own, and here was the man upstairs, sending me a big fat fuck you.
i remember screaming into the empty room, at the management company on the phone, at my poor, beleaguered mother, who was trying oh so hard to keep it (and me) together. never let it be said that she is anything less than a saint.
all i had wanted, all i had asked for, was a goddamn wall. ONE wall. ONE thing to go right. one thing to signify that i wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life in coming back to new york. one thing to signify that i was still worthy of happiness, of deserving anything good at all.
and i couldn’t even get a wall.
here’s what i could (and did) get: a mother who didn’t throw me out on the street. a mother who didn’t, despite my complete and total meltdown, disown me. a mother who took the phone out of my hand, and calmly arranged for the wall to be built the very next day.a mother who continued to move my boxes. a mother who helped me unpack every single one of those boxes until i felt some semblance of a life, what used to be my life, building itself back up around me.
it took months for me to walk around the streets near my apartment and not check my peripheral vision for my former friends. it took over a year for my newly developed severe anxiety to wane. and it took years – years – for the apartment i started over in to feel like home. to feel like a place that was mine, and not just a place where i’d sought shelter following the worst months of my life.
six years later, i can finally say that i am almost over it, if one can ever be over such a thing. slowly but surely, i rebuilt my life. i reconnected with old friends. i made new ones. i put time and effort into cultivating the relationships around me, and into making sense of the role i played in my dismissal from my friend group. i have, as they like to say in therapy, done the work.
somehow, i’ve come out the other side. i’m not the same girl i was six years ago, not even close. i’m stronger. braver. more independent. a little harder, even. and the apartment i live in now? parts of it – okay, a lot of it – feel like they belong to the old sarah. t0 24 year old sarah, a girl who was trying, and often, failing, to find her way in the world.
the sarah i am now…well, let’s just say mama deserves a new media console. i want this home, my grand apartment, my very own little corner of the sky, to feel like it’s mine. really, truly mine. and not the kind of mine i’ve been forced into, not the kind of mine i’ve created out of a sheer need to feel safe in the world. but the kind of mine that i’ve created out of the realization that i am, finally, pretty damn close to where i need to be. and that i got there all on my own.