I Once Lived Here
Life in my 20s through the places I once called home
We move to Babcock Street to get out of dorms because they complain that our cigarette smoke fogs the hallways. When we get the apartment — all white and sanitary — we rarely smoke inside.
We smoke in the stairwell or in our neighbor Robbie’s apartment when Boston’s winters get the best of us (plus he always has Ritalin to spare). The winters are without comparison; the winters are eternal.
We eat pizza with a side of ranch from T’s at a kitchen table that you got at a thrift store. We get fat. We trudge to class in the snow. We never take the T unless it’s free. I am too in love with Boston to have a real love. But no one has real love. We are all too young and too urbane and too wildly in love with each other.
We go to horrible, purple-lit clubs that steal our fake IDs. We go to sticky-floor pubs filled with BC bros. We only dance with each other. We binge drink on Popov vodka and Crystal Light before the newspapers start talking about it. We meet in the hazy mornings at Cookin’ Café for egg sandwiches and to discuss who did what with whom last night. We do lots of things we shouldn’t.
The Sorbonne House
South Kensington, London
I move in with my study-abroad soul mate comprised of blue eyes and summery hair — Californian to the core. We think it’s cute to wear Barbie pink wigs in the posh parts of Notting Hill. We drink Strongbow cider and keep pints in our mini fridge to take on the tube with us. You fall in love. So do I.
Our dorm is polite and utilitarian. We have bunk beds. You get the bottom. I get the top. Our view is covered in pigeon shit. There is a kitchen table but we never sit there. We both prefer to be outside under a white English sky. Something in us knows it won’t last forever, will it?
New York, New York
We live in what use to be an old doctor’s office. It’s a two-floor apartment: a basement and ground floor pinned by a wrought iron spiral staircase that at first is charming, but quickly becomes treacherous. We get mice because everyone gets mice in New York City.
We go to the lame bars like Tin Lizzy’s where I meet boys from Long Island with gelled hair. The apartment is horribly dim. I buy thrift shop records judging albums by their covers and put them up on my walls. Gustav Mahler watches me in bed. We all hang out less and less, but that’s what’s supposed to happen when we all got real jobs, isn’t it?
Dublin Street Lane South
I move to Scotland and leave my friends behind to be a writer because I think it’s darkly sexy and pretentiously cool, and I want to see what I can do when I have no shiny things around to sidetrack me.
All I do is drink.
Autumn bronzes Scotland in a fawn glow. Just off Princes Street in the New Town side of Edinburgh, veers Dublin Street Lane South. “Lane” in Scotland means dodgy alleyway. There’s no shortage of commonwealth ex-pats and debauchery in our “working-traveler” frat house. I wake to the smell of fried eggs and pot, sticky floors, the dull sound of off-tune guitars, and an unknown body on the couch like the start of a crime novel.
My tiny room has only a bed and a skylight. I watch the sky hawkeyed that year. I leave Scotland physically sore, visibly bruised with dark circles under my eyes. I have never been paler. I am blue-white.
Terenure Road West
The house is called St. Judes. St. Jude: patron saint of lost causes. I live with a band comprised of lost boys with bad hygiene and anemic faces, but rock-and-roll willpower and animal spirit. I have all these ambitions to be their Kim Gordon. I don a schoolgirl kilt from Scotland with tall motorcycle boots. Terenure is an hour-long walk from town and I do it daily with a CD of Bloc Party on my silver Discman. Dublin accents could just break your heart, you know? I have never been so, so lonely. I should be used to having no friends by now. I spend days with my laptop at cafés that have since been converted into McDonald’s and upmarket baby stores.
I have been back — I pass by the ghost of me in a doorway smoking a Silk Cut cigarette. I have on a moth-eaten velveteen jacket and vintage gloves because I think that makes me interesting. My lips are bee-stung chapped, my phone is buzzing with someone who wants me only for the night.
Erskineville, New South Wales, Australia
It’s Australian winter, which is more like the North American fall.
My house is an ugly sort of bile yellow-green with a rusty wrought iron balcony. There’s a wooden wardrobe in the front yard. I never ask where it came from. The house is infested with cockroaches. The bathroom is outside under a tin roof. I love the plunking sound the rain makes when hitting it. There is a small overgrown yard where I hang my washing on a line making it smell like grass and wind and possibilities.
I fall into a strange sort of obsession with a blonde Dionysus with a south Irish accent. I kiss all his friends, and then wonder why he doesn’t love me. Years later, I will still regret the way I treated him. I stop eating when he stops talking to me. I stay out until dawn and I bring big, black sunglasses along to the Courthouse, the after hours pub. I stain my dirty white carpet with red wine. When I leave Australia, I will never see the boy again.
Red Abbey Court
I fall in love.
But first, I move in with a sarcastic nurse with a killer black bob. We smoke in our “garden” (a slab of concrete surrounded by a tall fence) or in front of the TV watching X-Factor. She has white, graceful fingers that I will picture longer than I’ll know her. We’re regulars at Crane Lane and the Oval where I torture Dave, the ginger doorman.
I don’t think I can ever go back to Cork because that was where I first met you.
But I don’t want to talk about you.
Winter comes hard and early. The city is fairytale beautiful like a half-remember dream. I don’t like to remember it fully, whole, fleshed out and filled in because then the pain will hit me like a physical force. I wish I could strip you from my memories and just remember her and the early winter afternoons and the cheeky hot ports.
Upper East Side
New York, New York
You break my heart.
I bring you back to New York with me and find us an apartment on the Upper East Side. I think it will be our summer love nest. I am wrong. I am always hot. When I find out about your double life it will shatter me and my certainty into delicate shards. I kick you out but you won’t go back to Cork. I stay with friends often. After all this time away, they still live here.
I sleep restlessly in a bedroom with a window facing someone else’s bedroom: We kept both our shades closed as a compromise. The apartment is doll-house tiny with an exposed brick wall spackled with messy white cement that dried oozing out of the spaces between bricks. I hate to remember it. It makes me think of you and you are a bloody wound, disgusting and embarrassing.
But grieving you is more about me than it is about you: it casts me in a sepia-toned sadness that shows everyone that I was once loved. Once I understand this, I move out.
Holland Park, London
I move to London and Amy Winehouse dies. She was my age, so that meant something, you know? I wear thick eyeliner and drink lager in Camden dive bars.
I find a flat with a French actress, an African model, and their three-legged cat. The red velvet couch, the hammock on the stairs, the lazy pot addictions, I think it’s so beyond bohemian, baby. Money doesn’t matter because no one has any. We stay up way too late discussing things that matter only to people who stay up way too late.
Then there’s You. You have a posh accent and Paul Smith shoes, but hair like a rock star. I fall in love with you over steamy coffees and Full English Breakfasts at the Front Room in Finsbury Park. I need your honesty. I need to hold your hand when we walk along the tea-toned Thames on the way to the Dove, a most charming pub with honey beer on tap.
When you move to Little Venice with the coked-out roommates, we spend Sundays walking along the canals filled with gypsies on houseboats and church-white swans.
I wear lots of red lipstick. I write at the Starbucks by the Holland Park tube stop. I work there prolifically and one day a novel is born. When I miss America, I walk through the Westfield mall in Shepherds Bush. Teenagers are teenagers everywhere.
My room is in the attic. I rarely close my curtains because the sunshine in the morning is breathtaking and the acoustics from the street sound like a church. At night you can hear the foxes fighting over the rubbish bins. They shrieked like chased women, high-pitched and chilling. I weave their calls into dark stories.
Upper West Side
New York, New York
You got your job to transfer you so I didn’t have to worry about a visa in England, and I found us an apartment on the Upper West Side facing a courtyard. I’d never seen so many blue jays in the city. We put on cozy, wool sweaters and go for coffees at Irving Farm.
You tell me it’s good that I’m back around my friends. We only all make an effort for special occasion though. These days it’s you and me and we both don’t like having too much stuff around.
You take my photograph obsessively. You let me pump the AC in the summer — two brand new, built in units. We run at the same temperature.
We scar the hardwood floors with our flurry of movements. We over-talk. We scheme. We can talk each other around. We can talk each other in circles. We are not yet grown, but this feels like a good start.