She came through the door all smiles — flowers in hand. She followed me through the short narrow entrance hall to my apartment. Clearly everything about her upbeat manner augured she was prepared to bestow a compliment on my digs. But the second she turned the corner and her eyes lit upon my living room, her “What a . . .” was interrupted by an almost imperceptible intake of air followed by “. . .n elegant building you live in.” A sleight of mouth I found highly amusing — for the moment.
What she’d expected, I have no idea. I’d already mentioned I’d scaled way back. “Age appropriate,” I’d said. I shoved her reaction aside and we continued on with drinks and nibbles — filling each other in on our lives. Well, that’s not exactly correct. As my life had been laid bare in my memoir — something she said she planned to read — we were both content with her divulging hers. And divulge she did. Sharing aspects of her life one would expect to learn after knowing someone for years and maybe not even then. It wasn’t as if we had already begun a friendship — we hardly knew each other — one chance meeting at a movie house where we got into a conversation followed by this visit. (I’m always on the lookout for new friends — friends dwindle as one ages and I wondered if she would be a new one.) Still I found it difficult to swat her remark away. It buzzed around my head for days until a layer of discontent began to drape over everything in my apartment much like sheets that cover furniture in a home no longer fit to live in.
I have never compared what I had to what others possess. I knew from early on that there were those with a helluva lot more than me and those with far far less. Yet suddenly I began to compare my apartment to everyone else’s and not just compare, but to do so with envy — something I would have sworn was not in my DNA. Within no time all of my friends’ places were preferable to mine. One couple’s three bedroom with a dining room and an open spacious kitchen — not to mention a huge living area with its grand piano — was no longer a place I loved to visit, but a reminder of what I didn’t have. Another friend’s large apartment was unadulterated proof that I had taken the wrong path — after all we are the same age and she has two bedrooms, a den, a good sized kitchen and yes, after a major renovation, her dining table is now part of her living room, but her living room is huge. And mine? A one bedroom with a small L shaped living room and tight kitchen. What if I hadn’t spent most of my life working at what I loved — art — rather than making money, I wondered. Would I have what she had? Or what if I had married someone who would have contributed to my bottom line? Or . . . The what ifs went on ad nauseum. It was as if an alien creature had invaded my body.
Upon selling my loft I created a list of “must haves” and “negotiables” for my next apartment. Much as one would do on Match.com if one were looking for a mate. Musts: one bedroom, though two would be preferable; definitely 1–1/2 baths, but oh, if it could have two that would be so much better; without doubt, a live-in Super and full-time doorman — I had lived without either for way too long. And finally, it had to have ceilings that would be taller than my fingers could reach if I stood on tiptoe. (Even with the shrinkage that age brings, I’m still tall.) But all the apartments that matched my criteria would have made too deep a dent in my finances and the one I chose, this one, was priced well allowing me the freedom to breathe for the first time in years if not my entire adult life. (Ironically, when I first entered the “elegant building,” I had reacted negatively to the lobby — too posh for my blood. In fact if my agent hadn’t forced me, I would have left before seeing the apartment — the chandeliers almost doing me in.) But time was running out. The overpriced interim rental I’d leased, not to mention upcoming mandatory knee replacement surgery, had made it imperative I stop looking for my panacea and come to an immediate decision. (Unbeknownst to my friends, as well as my real estate agent, the extra bedroom I’d hoped for was not for visitors, but for an aide if and when I ever needed one. Understandable, because at the time my defective knee required me to use a cane and I felt extremely old and vulnerable. Not like now when I climb seven flights of stairs in less than two minutes for exercise at least once a day.)
To be clear, when I first walked into this apartment, I had no doubt I was home — I had seen enough frogs to know. In a crazy way, it was exactly what I had imagined the times I had stood in my loft and thought, “All I’ll need is half of what I have.” And this was half with its one but spacious bedroom, more than enough closets, 1–1/2 baths, and most important, the most wonderful corner wrap-around window with a fantastic view. (All the surrounding buildings are set back from the street — and according to the realtor would always be so.) While the space in front of the window was meant to be a dining alcove, I knew it would be where I’d place my computer and spend most of my days. Okay, so the kitchen has no counter space to speak of, but when my sister-in-law remarked how difficult it would be to cook in, I roared and said, “Thank God, then I won’t!” And as for the high ceilings I’d wanted, well the previous owner had been inventive and made all the doors run floor to ceiling giving the sensation they are higher than they actually are though nothing like the 11’ ones of the loft.
Ah, the loft! A 2000’ square foot space I had lived in for almost forty years — longer than most marriages last. The loft and I were synonymous. That I could never heat it to my satisfaction, that I hardly used most of it except for when I held workshops and the few times a year I entertained more than three or four people was irrelevant. It was my identity filled with my sculptures and works on paper. It was my home and home had always come before every other aspect of my life whether it be friends, lovers and/or family. Home was my mooring. It kept me tethered to myself.
I spent days trying to figure out how I had allowed myself to be thrust into such dissatisfaction by one comment from a woman I barely knew. A woman who at age 70 works full time in order to keep her and her husband in the style to which they had become accustomed. Then it hit. When I lived in the loft, most of my friends lived in apartments. In other words: apples and oranges. And now that the loft was gone I had to deal with apples vs. apples. And mine wasn’t even near the best of the lot. I more than suspected that my guest had represented the world from which I came, a world I had run from. One of always striving upwards, always in competition with what others had, where appearances were everything. After weeks of turmoil, I decided to reclaim me.
I started by reminding myself of where I always end up when I fantasize winning the lottery. After giving a certain portion to friends in need, then to family members and a number of charities, I begin working on enlarging my apartment by convincing my next door neighbors to sell me their pied-a-terre. When sharing my fantasy with a friend she reminded me that if I did win, I would have the wherewithal to move somewhere else and not deal with construction. But I love my window. I have become totally reliant on the wonderful men who work in the building and take fantastic care of me. Why the first doorman I met in this building was named Eddie, the same name of the elevator man who watched out for me when I was growing up. How could I leave here? I couldn’t. I was committed.
I will admit that to get back to seeing my place through my eyes alone I’ve moved some furniture around and while I will probably always wish I had a bit more space, I’ve decided to remain right where I am. It isn’t perfect, but there’s enough here to hold me. And isn’t that what love is all about?
For more of my insights please check out my memoir I Was There All Along