On Saying Goodbye to a Room of My Own
Two weekends ago, my boyfriend Tom came over for moral support as I began to pack up my room. I didn’t get very far — I tossed a few clothes into boxes, threw away a small mountain range of magazines, and started to pack up my desk by removing the two bulletin boards I had hung on the wall above, where I pinned photos and mementos. I had removed just one of the boards when I started to cry.
I cry often and sometimes unexpectedly, thanks to books, funerals, a rough-cheeked Chinese grandma on the subway who reminded of my late grandmother — but I didn’t think I’d cry about this. I was looking forward to moving in with Tom, just dreading the logistics of the move itself, and though I was preemptively, prematurely nostalgic about my apartment, I was happy to move into a bigger space on a lower floor in a different part of town. A new adventure and all that jazz.
But it didn’t hit me until I packed up my desk that for the first and perhaps last time in my life, the fifth floor studio on West 80th St., represented a residence that was mine and only mine.
“If you hate it we can move,” Tom said, when I started to cry, but that was beside the point. We both knew I wouldn’t hate the new place; I would only miss the thoughtful quiet of the old place where I arrived some two years ago, a single young woman who set up a big white desk and thought that by sitting still and writing, she would get somewhere.
Over the course of two years I turned my Upper West Side studio into a writer’s dream: clean with white furniture, a wrought iron bed, candles I never lit but liked the idea of, and a refrigerator filled with fruit and ice cream. And books. Books and magazines and of course my computer which was my only portal to the outside world on those cold winter days I just couldn’t bring myself to walk down (and back up) five flights of steps
Over the course of two years, I hosted over twenty-five guests — friends, family, friends of friends and family of family. I spent over a hundred hours dancing alone in my apartment to loud rap music, my alternative to getting a gym membership. Sometimes, I would just walk down and up the stairs twice and call it a productive day. I wrote a good few essays and blogposts and letters and emails and made hundreds of phone calls to friends and family back home, often talking late into the night to accommodate west coast time.
On the nights I didn’t feel like talking, I read, always propped up by two pillows on the right side of the bed, in those early days not realizing that eventually a guy named Tom would occupy the left. And before Tom, I spent hours pacing in front of the mirror, examining outfits, applying makeup only to return a few hours later to pacing the length of the apartment, a mere twenty feet, wondering about love and what it was I wanted.
Tidily, the two year and three month lease was up. It was time to move out.
I never cried so hard holding a bulletin board in my hands.
Eventually, I put it down so Tom could hug me, and over his shoulder through tear blurred eyes I could see out my window, with its view just grazing the tops of the trees, now green after a long winter.
I gazed at my neighbors’s windows — portals to familiar strangers: the girl directly across the way who changed her sheets religiously almost every other day it seemed; the man diagonally one floor below her, who was constantly, constantly switching channels on his large screen tv between sports and crime shows; and the invisible man somewhere down below, beneath the tree line, who on weekend mornings blasted show tunes on his staticky radio.
I thought about the creaking and slamming of apartment doors, dogs barking, children shouting and laughing, celebrating the openings of Yogurtland and Pinkberry when I moved in and lamenting it just three weeks ago, when both businesses shuttered, rivals who didn’t have the chance to align themselves against the onslaught of juice bars. I thought about the tree-lined route I always took to Central Park, past all the elegant brownstones and the Museum of Natural History and the small but delightful stretch that was Roosevelt Park. I remembered the aged, content-looking Jazz musicians outside of Zabar’s, and my building’s super, Damien, a Puerto Rican who was never available when I needed him but could always be seen on the phone either on the stoop of the neighboring building monitoring the trash bins or on the phone in his BMW X5, which was always parked, always gleaming.
I thought about the faces I saw in the stairwell when I first arrived and how I no longer see them anymore, because they moved somewhere else, except for the pretty girl in the unit diagonally across. A bright-eyed strawberry blond with a wide, generous smile and always a polite but warm hello. A few times on my way out I ran into a boy on his way in and when he smiled it reminded me of her until once I saw them emerge from her apartment together, on their way to dinner, and thought that if we had met somewhere else, we might have all been friends.
And I thought too, about another girl — a writer named Liz — who would take over the apartment after me. I had left her the microwave and shower rod and a bottle of detergent. I knew she was a writer too, because I had looked her up on LinkedIn. Now she was a teacher, but she would always be a writer. I wondered what she would write during her time there and whether this studio would be her first or last room of her own. Or both.
By then I had stopped crying. There was so much packing to be done and I felt neither old nor new but just ephemeral.