The last thing I did before moving out of my apartment was knock a tall bottle of Wild Turkey, which had been sitting on top of the fridge for years, onto the floor that I had just spent an hour scrubbing. It shattered, the vile liquid spreading like a layer of filth across the gleaming, Murphy oil coated wood. “Dammit,” I cried, ripping my headphones off my ears.
After three days of sorting through my possessions, finding old diaries that read like amateur compositions, throwing junk away, and then, finally, cleaning so that the apartment was in top condition, I was ready to get the fuck out of there forever. When it had been furnished, and I knew that I was leaving, the apartment had been a heartbreak. As I tore it apart, it became a nuisance, a dead weight. I wished that I could pack a suitcase full of old photographs and my favorite dresses, close the door, and leave everything else there to rot or be collected.
I would never have done that, however, because it would have been an imposition on my landlords, who lived on the first floor. For the past six years, they had become something of a family to me. I had watched their older daughter, Brittany, become a teenager. I had been there through the birth of their youngest girl, Summer, who is now rotund and jovial. She says my name “Brie-EN,” with an emphasis on the last syllable.
When I slept in my apartment, despite the fact that I am haunted by dreams and paranoia—last night, for example, I had a nightmare that I was standing on a subway platform, watching people step in front of moving trains, and when I woke up from it, I was afraid to get a glass of water in the kitchen, because I was 5% sure that there was a bath salt addict lurking about in the living room—I always felt safe. It was a miracle, really. I spent most of my childhood being terrified of the nighttime. Staying up long past my parents went to bed, listening for noises. Haunting them myself, in the corner of their room. When it got to a certain hour, I would start crying, and then my father, infuriated, would turn all of the lights in the kitchen, and tell me to go sleep on the table, in the cold, because he couldn’t listen to me whine any longer. For a while, I was so afraid of sleep itself, that I developed a fear of falling into it. I believed that I was not capable of it. I wet the bed. I couldn’t go on sleepovers.
In my last apartment, my only apartment alone, I never once woke up in the middle of the night too terrified to move. Partially it was because my bed faced the front door, which gave me a panoramic view of any dangers that might emerge from behind it. Nothing could enter without me seeing it. Partially, it was because my landlords both worked in the enforcement business. He was a parole officer, and she was a nurse on Riker’s Island. They had a dog, Simba, who licked my hand, but growled whenever a man walked in the house, underneath their parlor door, his nose sniffing at their feet. If an intruder came into the house, he would have to get past the three of them first.
Most of it was just the feel of the place. It had a good aura. When I woke up in the middle of the night from one of my lucid nightmares—and it was still often—I would climb out from underneath the down comforter I had saved up for months to buy, from the mound of pillows where I nested, still with a teddy bear, and pad my way to the bathroom. From the end of the bed, a mere three steps took me to the living room. In the dark night, through the wide open windows, the flood lights on the back of the buildings, across the gardens, lit up my room with shadows, making it appear huge. On windy nights, these shadows swayed back and forth, like dancers, across my parquet floor. Before turning on the light in the bathroom, I would look across the expanse of it, and in a state of half consciousness, think, “I cannot believe how lucky I am.”
In my new home, the living room is dark during the day, a forest of chairs, and at night, it’s pitch black. Coated in shadows of black ivy. With the creaky front door right behind the wall that my head touches when I sleep, I’m finding it hard to sleep. There are other sorts of happinesses here, however.
On that last day, the old apartment was full of gray light. It was empty, and without my things, it looked tiny. From a box in the hallway, I pulled out an old white IKEA towel. I used it to sop up the majority of the Wild Turkey. The rest, I picked up with paper towels, the tiny shards of glass pricking my fingers as I gingerly ran my hands over the ground. When it was sufficiently clean, I carried the last bag of garbage out into the hallway. Then, alone, I made my way down the three flights to the bottom of the brownstone with the last of my loads. The things that I had found hidden in the closets. The cleaning supplies. My last suitcase.
It was the way that I arrived in the place so many years ago. I had been living with two roommates in a place down the street. One of them is my eternal best friend, whom I have known since childhood. The other was a nice young concert pianist. The three of us had adopted two cats. When I was gone in Mexico City, one of the cats, a wild thing, had ravished my room, peeing on everything, ripping carpets, breaking mirrors. I opened the door upon my return, saw the mess, and knew that it was time for me to find a place of my own.
I found my apartment on Craigslist. It was only ten stoops away from where I lived with my roommates. On the day of the open house, I brought one of my friends, Jon, to look at it with me. Down the three flights of stairs trailed a line of eager young white people who wanted to rent it. It was just as perfect for them—with its tin roof ceilings, tiny bedroom, open light, boarded up fireplace—as it was for me. By the end of the day, my landlords had received 50 applications, including my own. For the first time in my life, my salary was 50x more than the rent, which qualified me to be my own guarantor. I signed my own paperwork. I put down my own deposit. I gave my bank information, and my credit score.
The next day, miraculously, the landlords chose my application. They interviewed me a single time, and then handed me a lease. In 2007, the rent on the place was $1,100. They never raised it the entire time I lived there.
I called my father to help me move in, but my mother said he was busy. They were always busy when I needed them. So, wearing flip flops and skirts, I moved the majority of my things by myself, in garbage bags. My sister came, and we carried my couch. Matt Dreyer helped me with my bed. At Target and Ikea, I bought small things I could afford to furnish it. Cheap frames. Throw blankets. A shower curtain. Blue plates.
For months, I saved, and bought the only piece of furniture I’d ever wanted as a little girl. A chaise lounge. Upon which to read. Above it, I hung a Polaroid. Over the years, the walls became crowded with gifts from friends, and the mantlepiece with vintage photographs I collected on the street.
All of these things, I put in boxes. These boxes, I unpacked in my new home. These things no longer have a place here, without my mantlepiece.
But that doesn’t make me sad. And neither did leaving my keys. After the last box of junk was loaded in the back of the Jeep, I texted me landlord. “Leave the keys on the mantlepiece,” she said. So I did, relieved to finally be done with moving.
“I will miss you,” I texted her. “And the whole family.”
She wrote me back something long, and involved, but it was too heartbreaking to read. It is still sitting on my iPhone, counted in my “message” application. I swallowed my sadness. I didn’t say goodbye to my bodega guys. I let the door close behind me, knowing that I would never again pass through it freely.
Then last week, I realized I was missing paychecks, so I texted my landlord again. “I wonder if you have mail for me?” I asked.
“I do,” she said, characteristically brief, for the sake of saving time. Not only is my landlord a mother and a nurse, she’s also in school. And she owns a number of properties in Crown Heights with her father, a Jamaican man who used to love it when I gained weight, because my ass would grow, and he could admire it.
She was one of those women, like my own mother, who would encourage me to be independent. “Alison,” I would say to her when I would run into her in the hallway. “I am going to Buenos Aires for two months this summer, so I want to leave you the rent before I go.”
“I am so proud of you!” she would tell me. “You need to travel as much as you can before you get married. See the world. Don’t worry about things here.”
Before I moved out, she met Caleb. “You better take care of her,” she told him. “She’s one in a million.”
I asked Caleb to come pick up the mail with me, because I was too shy to go alone. So we rode our bikes, from Carroll Gardens, through Park Slope, up to Grand Army Plaza. As we rode past the entrance to the park, a sadness settled over me. “This is hard,” I said to Caleb. “I miss it.”
I had to ring the door when I got to my old apartment, when two weeks ago, I would have opened it myself. My landlord came to greet me with Summer. “Hello!” she said, and held out her arms to hug me. “Brie-EN!” Summer exclaimed, and ran up. I picked her up, and squeezed her tight.
“Thank you so much,” I said, avoiding her eyes.
“We miss you,” she said.
“I miss you guys too,” I said. Unexpectedly, I think for both of us, my landlord teared up. I held my eyes low so she couldn’t see that I had been crying while I was waiting for her.
“Anyway,” she said. “I hope he’s treating you well.” And then waved to Caleb on the street.
“He is,” I said. “He’s one of the rare good ones.”
I wanted to say something, but everything I felt was wordless. I didn’t know that I had been so attached to her. I didn’t know that moving was like a death. I didn’t know that we shared a common fondness, or that ultimately, I would miss her more than I did the space itself.
“I’ll come visit soon,” I said, not able to bear staying there much longer. From the pain of it.
“Yes, we will see you,” she said, her voice choking.
As I hurried down the stairs, her husband, handsome and gentle, came to the door. He held her from behind as they waved goodbye to me.