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the story

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last week, i spent an evening wandering around the enormously overwhelming aisles of ikea all by my lonesome. i had biked over from manhattan with a singular goal in mind: i needed to order my kitchen sink and my range hood, both of which, the ikea website told me, were “likely to be in stock” when i arrived.

i had assumed that going to the swedish superstore on a weeknight would cut down on crowds, but i hadn’t expected it to be practically empty. ikea red hook is housed in what is effectively an enormous warehouse; take out the people, and it begins to take on a solemn, echoing feel.

by the time i docked my bike across the street from US fried chicken (an eerie looking joint alongside the red hook NYCHA housing project), it had started to rain, a light sprinkle, glistening in the streetlights above. i picked up my pace, partially because i was the only one walking the quiet streets, partially because i worried it would soon start to pour. i felt, just for a moment, scarily, freakily alone. i plugged my headphones into my phone and called my parents. they were at home, starting to eat dinner. i pictured them bustling around the kitchen, warm with yellow light. there’d be a freshly made salad sitting in the middle of their table, and one mom would be yelling at the other to grab the ken’s caesar lite out of the fridge. the news would be on in the background, or perhaps, an episode of madame secretary.

“i’m on my way to ikea,” i said.

“now?”

“it’s raining,” i said in response.

“how did you get there!?”

“i biked, but i had to dock right next to the projects, and now i’m walking alone on a deserted street, so i thought i’d call.”

good mothers that they are, they stayed on the phone with me until i was safely ensconced in the bright yellow and blue womb that is every ikea store in the world (points for consistency, ikea).

as soon as i disconnected the call, i was, again, alone. and much to my surprise, ikea was almost empty. the emptiest i’d ever seen it, certainly. a lone couple sat at the restaurant, sharing a plate of swedish meatballs, heads hunched together, talking quietly.

a woman rode the escalator ahead of me, her husband bringing up the rear, his hand intertwined in hers.

as i entered the showroom, i did what i always do at ikea: i wandered into the faux homes, trying to imagine myself living in them. could i do it, live in a 420 square foot studio? if it was designed by ikea, perhaps.

i opened the kitchen cabinets, peered inside, exited. a few paces ahead of me, two children skidded into the aisle, nearly knocking into me.

“ten cuidado,” their father scolded, “la señora!”

he shook his head, “lo siento.”

it was fine, i told him. here i was, alone in ikea on a wednesday night, in no particular rush.

i arrived at the kitchen area, and snapped some shots of my soon to be sink in situ. flagging down a sales person, i inquired as to the process of bringing one home with me.

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“well, you have a few options,” she began. “if you want to carry it out with you–are you alone?–you can do that, or you can have it delivered.”

there it was again, that reminder, ever so quiet, yet ever so powerful, that i was, indeed, alone. that i was…that i am, doing this entire thing alone.

“it’s just me,” i laughed, nervously. “i don’t think i could get it out of here on my own. it looks heavy!”

“okay, then, delivery it is. just write down the three numbers, and bring it to the home delivery desk downstairs. they’ll take care of everything for you.”

with that, she was gone. a transaction with zero fanfare. a big moment for me (I AM BUYING A KITCHEN SINK FOR AN APARTMENT IN NEW YORK CITY THAT I OWN), just another hour at work for her.

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i looked at my sink, price tag and bin number dangling in front of me. beside me, a couple contemplated a faucet.

just for a minute, i let myself imagine what it would be like to be the couple next to me, to be one half of a full unit. to not be alone in ikea on a wednesday night, stupidly feeling like i have to explain myself to a salesgirl who could care less about why i can’t tote the sink home on my own.

i let myself think about how it would feel to turn to my partner and say, “what do you think? can we lift it? that would fit in the backseat of a cab, don’t you think?”

i gave myself a moment. i gave myself one shuddering breath and a few tears dotting the corners of my eyes, and then i moved on.

i pulled my shoulders back, i took my chin from the ground to the sky, i took a deep breath, and i took myself downstairs to the delivery department, where i gave a nice woman with fabulously glittery fingernails my information, and scheduled my delivery for wednesday the 6th of october.

and then i treated myself to a $30 car service across the manhattan bridge, and i rolled down the window, despite the rain. as we inched across the iron behemoth, i stared out at the city–my city, of which i now own a piece–and i told myself, over and over, that being alone in ikea wasn’t the worst of things, not really, not even a little bit, not at all.

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yesterday,  i was at brunch with my friend lisa, filling her in on the status of the apartment, complaining about all the red tape surrounding renovation, when she asked me a seemingly simple question.

“what made you decide to do this now?”

the implied subtext of the above, of course (whether she meant this or not), being “why do this now, when it’s just you, alone?” why not wait until i was married, or at least, in a serious relationship? that’s when most people make big real estate purchases, right?

there are a myriad of reasons why i bought the grand apartment now: i came into a small inheritance. my parents were willing to help me with a down payment. i finally admitted to myself that i wasn’t leaving new york anytime soon. i am lucky enough to have a good job where i make good money. i was sick of throwing thousands of dollars a year in rent down the drain. i wanted to own a piece of manhattan. i wanted an investment.

but the number one reason? in my heart of hearts, it’s very much connected to the “just you” subtext of lisa’s question.

see, i turned 30 about six months ago, and suffice it to say that relationship-wise, i’m not where i thought i’d be at this point in my life. all around me, people are getting engaged, getting married, settling down with the loves of their lives, even starting to pop out little humans. and then there’s me. still alone, still single, still unwed.

all throughout this process, i’ve had a certain sex and the city episode in the back of my mind. in it, miranda decides to set out on her own and buy a place. touring an apartment with a middle aged broker, miranda marvels at the pre-war charm.

“just you?” the broker asks her.

“just me,” miranda replies.

the broker proceeds to try and set miranda up with her (also single) son.

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later on in the episode, when miranda applies for her mortgage, the broker asks her again, “just you?” he wrongly assumes the down payment is coming from her father (it’s not). begrudgingly, he tells her to check the “single woman” box.

now, this is television, not real life. i don’t recall checking any boxes marked “single woman” over the past few months, and i have completed mounds upon mounds of paperwork. but i’d be lying if i haven’t wondered, ever since i started this, if the men guiding me through this process have been biting their tongues, secretly asking themselves, “what’s wrong with her? why is she doing this alone?”

it’s like every time i take a step forward in this process, cartoon versions of the question pop up around me, clouding my vision. just you? just you? JUST YOU? really, it’s just you?

towards the end of the sex and the city episode i’m referencing, we see miranda, all moved in to her new apartment, surrounded by mounds of boxes. she feeds the cat, turns on some shitty television, and pops a bite of chinese takeout into her mouth. almost immediately, miranda starts choking on the food, and runs around the apartment, grasping her throat while the cat looks on.

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her cat can’t help her. there’s no one there to help her. she is alone in the new apartment that she bought, just her. eventually, she runs into a cardboard box stomach first, performing her very own heimlich. the offending piece of food pops out, and miranda calls carrie, panicking. what if she dies alone? what if she dies alone, and when the paramedics come to find her, she’s been eating shitty chinese food, and the only one there is her cat? 

i can’t lie. i’ve never choked on my chinese food, but i’ve spent many a night on my couch consuming it while watching endless episodes of law and order: svu with my cat by my side. and i’ve had that very same thought: what if i die here, alone, and there’s no one to find me but my cat, who, despite her undying love for me, will eventually be so overcome by hunger than she decides to eat the human who has loved and cared for her for the past 10 years.

i’m being overly dramatic, of course, but you catch my drift: it is a scary thing to be “just you” in the world. all around me, i see happiness, i see partnership, i see marriage, and babies, and people “moving on” with their lives and becoming real grownups. and then there’s me, moving on in so many ways but still so stagnant in this one department.

that’s why i bought this apartment. because no one can have it all, but i can have this – this one thing, this one place, this one corner of the universe that is mine, and mine alone – just me.

when i was home for july 4th, my parents told me they’d recently spoken with a financial planner. that planner had set aside a decent chunk of money for both my sister’s wedding, and my own. i can’t speak for my sister, but speaking for myself, the news crushed me. a tiny little bit of my heart snapped off and disappated into thin air. my parents, ever the optimists, planning for a wedding that may never come to fruition. my parents, seeing the good in me, believing that someday, someone else will see it too. my parents, planning for a future that could never come.

it hurt. because as much as i want marriage and kids and the white picket fence for myself, i really, really want it for them. i want them to live long enough to walk me down the aisle, two moms flanking their daughter. i want them to bounce baby grandchildren on either side of their hips, to hear them sing lullabies to my babies, to hear my mom say, just like my grandma did, “aw aw bay-by, aw aw bay-by” over and over until their tiny little eyes close and their breathing slows.

i want that so bad it hurts. some days, i wake up and i think, holy shit, i’m thirty fucking years old and i have nothing to show for it. and i just see myself as a ticking time bomb, like before i know it i’ll wake up and be 50 and my parents will be dead and gone and they’ll never have gotten the chance to see me twirl around in a white dress or waddle around as an enormous pregnant lady.

but those are the bad days. on the good days, i am able to remind myself of a few things:

first, just because i am alone now does not mean i will be alone forever.

second, there is no timeline. there are wants, there are wishes, but i am on no one’s track but my own.

third, alone does not have to mean lonely. because 99% of the time, i am NOT lonely. sure, i want someone to stand behind me while i flip pancakes on a sunday morning, but i do not lack for much in my life. i have incredible friends. i have an amazing family. i have a job i quite like, coworkers i adore. i have a city that is so alive it literally vibrates with energy at all hours of the day. i have oh so much to be thankful for.

at the top of that list? this little home i bought. the little home i am going to make my own. and on my good days, i’m not just not upset that it’s just me. i am really fucking PROUD that it’s just me. that i have this opportunity, that i took this opportunity, that i am doing this, really doing it, on my own.

just me.

 

 

 

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lots of work to be done here. hence, the need for an architect.

when i first started this process, i figured i’d have to deal with an asshole or two. this is new york, this process is complicated, the industry is filled (mostly) with me. assholes were bound to be a part of the puzzle.

still, i hoped to be wrong. and for the initial six months, i was. my broker, eric, is nothing short of an angel. my lawyer andy thinks i’m the most obnoxious person ever placed on this earth, but he has yet to yell at me. and doug, the mortgage broker eric referred me to, is a man with a never-ending supply of patience. he has answered approximately 5,000 questions, assured me that i’m capable and smart, and promised me that not only will he not let me fall flat on my face, he’ll see me through all the way to closing.

those are the good men. but the bad ones–well, let’s just say they’ve made me question my faith in dudes. one of these bad ones is an “architect” (quotes are necessary, i will explain why in a bit) we’ll call B. B was referred to me by my contractor, Shmulik, who has, thus far, also placed himself firmly in the “wonderful and helpful and very much not an asshole” category.

but let’s back up a bit. why, you might be wondering, do i even need an architect? that’s a good question. it’s one i had myself. turns out, when you want to renovate an apartment in new york city, you can’t just bust down walls and go all peter paul and mary “if i had a hammmmmmmer” on this bitch. quite the opposite, actually. first, you have to get approval from the management company in charge of your building, and by virtue, their engineer and architect. then, once management has approved, they can (and usually, will) dictate that your plans are submitted to (and approved by) the new york city department of buildings. you know those permits you see pasted on the windows of construction zones? if you want to renovate your teeny little totally not important to anyone apartment, you’ll need some of the babies below.

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and guess what? you can’t do any of that on your own. first, you have to hire an architect, who will draw up the plans for renovation, and help you prepare what you need to submit to the management company. then, you’ll also need an expeditor, a person whose sole purpose is to go down to the DOB and wait on line for you, moving your shit along so that you don’t have to wait 6-8 weeks for DOB approval. your expeditor usually comes from your architect, as does an asbestos inspector (also needed for DOB approval).

{for more on this process, see this nytimes article – which nearly gave me a heart attack}

in short, an architect is pretty important. you can’t do it without them. so it’s important you find one that you a) like, and b) can do the job and do it right.

now that we’ve got the basics covered, back to B. B was, i was told, a guy who could draw up the plans and help me submit to the board. he was fast, and he was cheap. those two things alone should have been a giant flaring WARNING WARNING symbol to me, but as a girl who knows she likes pretty things, anywhere i can save money and reallocate it to, say, a lighting fixture, i’m inclined to do so.

i first spoke to him on a friday morning. he was the epitome of a fast talking new yorker, a guy that seemed determined to “educate” me on the phone about all i didn’t know. i wanted to work with him, so i kept my mouth shut when he talked down to me like a stupid child who didn’t know her ass from her elbow. he said he had plans of my unit in his files, and he’d send me something by the afternoon.

the afternoon rolled around, and guess what? nothing came. he’d asked me to email him some info; i’d done it first thing. no response to the email either. i waited until monday to follow up, at which point he made an excuse about being busy and said i’d have it first thing tuesday.

by friday, i still didn’t have anything. that was week 1. the same thing happened in week 2. i’d follow up, he’d promise to get the plans to me, i’d receive nothing. by memorial day, i was fed up. so when i got him on the phone that morning, two weeks after his initial promise to get something out to me same day, i told him if he couldn’t get it to me when he said he was going to, i would find someone who could.

i meant it to come out as a firm but respectful missive. just because i was a woman didn’t mean he could walk all over me. i might be new to this process, but i know when i’m being jerked around.

to say that B did not respond well to being threatened is an understatement. he inhaled deeply, and then said, practically vibrating with anger, “GIVE THE JOB TO SOMEONE ELSE. I DO NOT WANT IT.”

and then he hung up on me. HUNG UP ON ME! what is this, kindergarten?! the only person who ever hangs up on me is my mother, and she’s allowed because, well, you know, she birthed and raised me.

i was so shocked that i literally stood on the street with my phone in my hand, staring at the screen, wondering if that had actually just happened. i waited a few minutes for him to call back and apologize. he did not. so i called my contractor, and told him that if he didn’t mind, i’d need another recommendation for an architect.

lucky for me, he had another name. to read part 2 (and to see the renovation plans!), come back tomorrow. 

unnamed-4above: my friends sara and martha, who i took to see the grand apartment over memorial day weekend. i thought i would close a few days afterwards.

you know what i’ve heard a lot of lately? this:

“so, what’s going on with the apartment?!”

it’s my own fault, of course. because i’ve been, you know, chronicling it on this here blog, and on instagram, and also telling all of my friends and some of my acquaintances and basically anyone else who will listen that I AM BUYING AN APARTMENT.

except that right now, i’m not. right now, i’m doing a whole lot of nothing, because i’m waiting on other people, who appear to be doing just that: a whole lot of nothing.

unnamedme, explaining to sara and martha how i intended to bust out that wall and create a breakfast bar

see, everyone told me that as soon as the co-op said yes, i was good to go. that was the final frontier, the last hurdle. after that, the closing would happen “asap” or in real life terms, “within 7-10 days.”

guess what, folks? it’s been 7-10 days. and AIN’T NOTHING BEEN SCHEDULED. ZILCH. NADA. 

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what am i waiting on? just another lawyer. specifically, the co-op lawyer, who apparently has to sign off on the “estate paperwork” from the sellers before closing can officially be scheduled. did anyone think to tell me this, i don’t know, at any point in the process?

of course not. all they said was, “board approval is the last step! then you’re golden and everything starts moving.”

meanwhile, the only thing moving is my heart, which is beating exceptionally fast because it’s trying to keep up with all of my (slightly misplaced) aggression. sorry, heart.

suffice it to say, i am frustrated. and that word barely covers it. i’m angry that no one thought to mention, way back in january when i put in an offer, that buying from an estate would be INFINITELY MORE COMPLICATED and take WAY LONGER THAN AVERAGE. instead, all they said was, “oh, but the potential!”

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is the potential there? sure. i mean, can you see it in the above photo? not really. but i could see it in my imagination. and i know that someday, when this is all said and done, the grand apartment won’t just be grand. it will be great. but i am oh so sick of waiting around for everyone else to get their shit together. where is the urgency? these are NEW YORKERS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. 

and yet, things are moving like molasses. like turtles wading through molasses. like the slowest turtles you’ve ever seen, DROWNING IN MOLASSES. and all i can do, beyond bitching and moaning on the internet, is wait. wait, and preemptively meet with my architect tomorrow (which will hopefully bring about some actual motion in this process, and maybe even a real blog post!). stay tuned, friends. hopefully soon i will have some actual news to report. until then, i leave you with this gem, of me in the kitchen, thinking about just how much work there is to be done, and how much time is a wastin’ every minute that i am not doing anything.

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stephanie march interviewing a witness on SVU//how i felt last night at my co-op interview

my thinking around the co-op board application process went a little something like this. i was all, PLEASE LIKE ME. PLEASE, PLEASE LIKE ME. TELL ME I AM A GROWNUP AND THAT I CAN DO THIS AND THAT YOU THINK I’M FINANCIALLY STABLE AND EMOTIONALLY CAPABLE OF BUYING A HOME.

and they were all, sell us your soul, give us your first born child, oh and while you’re at it, can you please do a full audit of all of your financials, and tell us how much is in your 401k (you haven’t been saving enough…), show us your tax returns (geez, you lose a lot to taxes each year!), and tell us where, exactly, the money for your down payment is coming from, because it’s CERTAINLY NOT COMING FROM YOU, YOU 30 YEAR OLD FAILURE OF A HUMAN.

okay, so that’s not exactly what they said. what they actually said was nothing – not to me, at least. they communicated through my broker, a post-modern game of telephone that was NOT AT ALL FUN. through him, they told me to fill out a boatload of paperwork, and also, to get four references: two personal, two professional. i think these were to rule out that i wasn’t a) party animal, b) a lowlife with no job,  c) an axe murderer and d) a crazy cat lady who’d let her addiction to all things four legged and furry get out of control.

thankfully, i am none of the above. i gave up whatever sort of partying i used to do years ago, i am gainfully employed (#fridaynightjustgotpaid), i’m DEFINITELY not an axe murderer, and i currently only have ONE cat (key word here being currently).

despite the fact that i’m a relatively responsible, relatively normal 30-year old with a good job and a steady income, i was terrified, and i mean TERRIFIED that this part of the process would go horribly wrong. if i’m being honest, i’ve been terrified every step of the way. see, rejection is, in emo therapy terms, my button. it’s my biggest “thing”. hearing i’m not good enough – for anyone or anything – can easily send me on a downward spiral towards dejection and the sense that i am 100% meaningless on this earth and will never succeed at anything, ever.

i’m exaggerating.

sort of. the point is, at every point in this process, from the offer to the mortgage to the coop board, there has been a chance for someone older, wiser, and manlier than me (did i mention this process has been ALL MEN?!) to shut me down. to point a finger at me and laugh in my face and tell me they’re shocked that i ever thought that little old me, she of previous credit card debt and bad saving skills, would be able to buy an apartment in new york city.

incredibly, amazingly, no one has done that yet. at every milestone, i’ve held my breath until the moment my face turns blue, and then, magically, i’ve exhaled. because instead of hearing “no” at every turn, i have heard “yes.”

last night’s interview the co-op board was the last chance for someone (9 someones, actually) to reject me. to crush my dreams and my burgeoning social media stardom (HA) and tell me no. but this morning, instead, i got this text from my broker:

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sure, it’s not 100% official. i’m waiting on an email. but impressing a group of people who had every reason to look at their sarah dossier and say, you know what, we can do better? that feels pretty damn good.

the next step, from here, following official official approval, is to close. i’ve been told that once i’m approved, i can close in 7-10 business days, which will put me in early/mid june. the board told me they’d love to me close as soon as possible ($$$), to which i said, GURL, ME TOO. DUH. the sooner i close, the sooner i can draw up my renovation plans, and get them approved by the board. from there, it’s on to get approval from the city. only at that point (more chances for rejection, BUT OF COURSE) can i start knocking shit down and making it new again.

to my two or three dedicated readers (hi, friends!), thanks for sticking around. i promise the good stuff is coming soon.

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the awkwardest, and apparently, crankiest kid at summer camp. i’m second row, fourth from the left. I HATE CAMPING.

the first time i left home, i was eight years old, and en route from a T station outside boston to belgrade, maine, where i was to spend the next four weeks at a jewish summer camp called modin. i went on to spend 9 summers there, long enough to learn how to share a space with 15 girls, to clean a toilet and scrub a shower, to have my first kiss (and my first few other things, too – thanks, wolves hideaway), to have my heart broken by mean girls and to learn how to stand up for myself.

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me and my friend hannah, the night we graduated from high school

the second time i left home, i was 18, and en route from my hometown in western mass to upstate new york, where i was to spend the next four years in saratoga springs at a college called skidmore. there, i took my camp skills and applied them to sharing a dorm room with a woman who would go on to become one of my closest friends post college. i learned how to write a short story, how to survive on a dining hall food plan, how to exist amongst people with more money and privilege than i’d ever imagined, how to roll a proper joint, how to go out on tuesdays, thursdays, fridays AND saturdays, and how to sleep in.

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me and my oldest friend kim, our first summer in new york city

 the third time i left home, i was 22, and en route from saratoga to new york city, where i was to spend my first year in a teeny tiny bedroom on 13th and 1st. i have the most vivid memory of this moment, of speeding down the interstate in my little toyota corolla, packed to gils with clothes and tchotchkes and 4 years of college life. i was blasting the fray’s “over my head” (#college), one foot up on the dashboard and the other on the gas, and i had this terrifying feeling that i was leaving behind perhaps the best four years of my life, that things were, from here on out, going to be totally, completely, irrevocably different.

oh, how right i was (the story of how i moved from my third to my fourth apartment, is, well, a mouthful. the story, if you’re curious, can be found here).

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my current bedroom

this will be the fifth time i will leave home–but the first that i will leave a home that is mine, not my parents. a home that i have spent seven years making my own.

this week, i have my co-op board interview, also known as the second to last step in this process. if they approve me, closing will be scheduled, and the grand apartment will officially be mine. i’ll embark on the crazy process of renovation, tearing out the old and building back up with the new. and at the end of it, i’ll move into a new home – a home  i OWN – and i’ll start again, at another address, in another apartment, on another city street.

the thought is both magical and terrifying. so many people think of new york apartments as “a place to sleep” and nothing else – they do their living out in the world. but i’ve always ascribed to the belief that your home should be your sanctuary, and have worked to make mine so. and soon, i’ll be starting that process from scratch. godspeed, self.

 

 

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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.