I miss my independence. I think about how good I had it those five years living on my own in NYC, completely free, able to go and do whatever I wanted. The world at my fingertips, nothing holding me back. After my fifth year teaching there, I was planning to move to California. I had just finished up my masters degree and had earned my much coveted permanent state teaching certification. But after I finished my master’s degree, everything fell apart and I somehow fell into an alternate reality, a hell of sorts, and things went pretty much dark for several years. And now I’m shaking the cobwebs out of my head, looking around me, and here I’m in this sleepy little town west of Philadelphia, and I ask myself, “How the hell did I get here?”
I don’t know how I got here. It’s a quaint town. The local train just went by, and the conductor was ringing that old bell as the train chugged by. Nostalgic. The neighbor has a pile of wood burning next door, and the smoke is drifting into my yard. I love the smell of burnt wood. The neighbor at the base of Never Sink Mountain across the way is sawing through lumbar, some home improvement project. The crickets have been singing since early morning, and that means fall is on it’s way. I shiver with no anticipation. I love how melancholy and gorgeous fall is, but there is deep sadness in the air. Crisp cool days are beautiful, but I want to stop the clock altogether. I’m voting here and now: no more winter. Ever.
I’m sitting out on my patio. Relaxing. Thinking about how different my life is now compared to how it was a few years ago.
It’s an early July morning, five years ago. I’m living in NYC. I leave my apartment and catch the downtown B/D train and ride down to Columbus circle. Starbucks on the corner, duck inside for a raisin cinnamon bagel toasted with cream cheese, OJ in a glass bottle and coffee. Eat half the bagel, save half for later. Bagel, please don’t get squished in my shoulder bag. Note to self: remember bagel is in bag.
It’s summer and I have almost three months off since I’m a teacher. Delicious day. Sunny, hot, just enough shade on the other side of each street. Tiny shorts and tank on, and flats. The whole day to wonder around walking in the city, stopping at shop after shop, coffee in hand and a light heart. Slightly on the lookout for cute guys but that’s a side mission, not the focus of the day.
The focus of the day: the perfect workout. Give me the city on a hot day, an iced coffee, and a twenty mile radius of shops downtown. Walking for six hours while shopping is more enjoyable, efficient and productive than wasting time on an elliptical in a cold, air conditioned gym. Yuck. Been there, done that, too many men and women oogling and judging. Give me a huge city and I will use my own legs and I will walk for the day, that’s my cardio. Then I go home and strip to my scivvies and dance and stretch, do lunges while watching a workout video with that dude whose name I forget, Pete T I think. While drinking a banana strawberry smoothie.
Then relaxing in my own apartment, and yeah it is in the Bronx but it is neat, clean, classy even, with an awning out front and neatly trimmed hedges. No doorman, but the lobby is beautiful in an old, tattered kind of way, and there’s some kind of mural on the ceiling that I sometimes look at.
I love my studio apartment and miss it to this day. The first time I viewed it I fell in love with the quaint, old font of the number 44 on the door. I loved how it was studio size but huuuuge as far as studios go, gorgeous hard wood floors and interesting arches between rooms instead of doors. Tiny kitchen yeah, the bathroom was larger than the kitchen but both were super cute. I took it. No more roomies!
Roomies. Wasn’t cut out for living with them, but I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to make my living situation work. I started out in Morning Side Heights with four or five girls who were cousins who didn’t speak much English and had a tiny dog they spoke high pitched baby talk to. They put a smooth round pebble on the mantle behind my bed before I moved in, and I took it as a good omen. There was just that bed and that pebble there when I arrived. That was “furnished” as furnished could be. I brought my comforter and a fan. They were nice, those girls. Never said a word to me except thanks when I gave the rent check. They cleaned the bathroom immaculately every Saturday morning.
The next roomies were in Inwood, at the northern most tip of Manhattan. The super was a gardener who created a labyrinth of potted plants in the lobby, halls and down in the laundry room. God I loved walking into the lobby and seeing all those plants. He loved them like children. He was from Ireland, and his wife and kids were still over there. He told me the dryers were finicky, and he wasn’t kidding. I had a furnished room, with a bed and desk this time. But my roomies were a married couple who were subletting their spare room to me. They fought and had tension between them even when not fighting.
They expected me to be social and cook with them in the kitchen and hang with them in the living room, but I felt weird and stayed in my room instead. I didn’t have the knack of being sociable then and may or may not have developed it since then. While living there, I had a boyfriend over for the night and they mildly freaked. Hey, they didn’t tell me no overnights when I moved in. Broke up with that bf and reconnected with an ex who flew from LA to visit me for a week. They flipped again. When I stayed out late, they locked the door and pulled the chain across so even though I had the keys, I couldn’t get in. They had the air conditioning on and were asleep. I have never banged that hard on a door before. The guy rolled out of bed and mumbled he was sorry and why didn’t I tell him I would be out late? What, was he my dad? I didn’t know I would be out late until it was already late!
That arrangement didn’t last long. I think the guy liked me, and he seemed nice. Except he tried to make me pay extra at the end and I was smart enough to catch him at it and call his bluff so he was angry when I left. I actually forgot all about this until I’m writing it now. It didn’t really bother me then, or now. I just moved on, stoked to be moving from there into my own place.
It was difficult meeting guys in the city. Many of them were young and flakes, or were older and bitter about a divorce. A few were awesome though.
But living in NYC. I loved the energy, even the trains. I liked being able to walk from my apartment to anywhere I needed to go.
But I didn’t like so much concrete. Not having a back yard. I had to walk to a park to see trees and grass but the park was loud, crowded, dangerous at times. I couldn’t just sit on a bench and close my eyes to rest a spell. I had to be constantly aware of my surroundings. I do need to be around nature and I needed to be able to rest with my gaurd down but I couldn’t do that in the city.
If I had a balcony where I could hang plants and make a private garden for myself, I would have liked to stay in NYC longer. Hah ha, yes! I could have made an oasis and been happy.
My last apartment in the city had a fire escape, but that’s about it. The windows were lined up so they exactly faced the windows on the high rise apartment building a few feet opposite. So to open your window was to look directly into someone’s bedroom or bathroom, unless they kept their blinds down all the time. Which my neighbors did not. So when I walked into my kitchen, I would see my neighbor staring at me, laying on his bed in his red underpants, facing my window and looking in my kitchen. Ughhh. I would duck and crawl on the floor, then reach up and yank the cord to pull the blind down.
I did want fresh air to circulate in the kitchen after cooking so I left the window and blind partially up, or up the whole way if he wasn’t home. Then he set up a mirror on his wall directly opposite my kitchen window, and sometimes when I assumed no one was home over there I would go into my kitchen on a summer day after a long day of work and suddenly I’d see a pair of eyes staring at me from in the mirror that was directly opposite me. Freak city. I would curse and yell “what the ****!” And yank the blind closed, mad because I couldn’t even dare to get fresh air without risking this dude opposite me staring.
The same with the bathroom. It looked into another neighbor’s bathroom. That was disturbing. Our window was bubbly glass though so you couldn’t see through, only if you opened it. So I kept it cracked just a few inches.
One time someone broke into my apartment and swiped my computer and some other valuables. I walked in on it, they had the door still hanging open and were probably on their way back. Had to call the cops, and a pair of private detectives came to dust for fingerprints. It was not glamorous and exciting like in the movies. Those detectives seemed bored and said they couldn’t find prints, that happenings like this were common place, and that I shouldn’t expect to recover any property. The trail ended there. I was too busy to worry much.
I did get freaked every time after that each time my doorbell rang though. Once there was an old woman out in the hall with a hood over her head and blankets around her. She was shuffling about and talking to herself. Most other times there were Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other side of the door. Once I opened the door to them and they were pleasant, didn’t talk much but gave me a book that was printed in vivid ink with happy people on it.