Yesterday, when I was sitting in traffic, I counted up all the places I’ve lived since I graduated from college (7 years ago later this month). Good news: I can still count at least to ten!
I should probably be more ashamed to admit that for a long time when I was growing up, my favorite book was Flowers in the Attic
(Much to the chagrin of my father, who wanted me to like Joyce, and to my fourth grade teacher, who was shocked, just shocked, I had read that “garbage”).
But every time I have moved, I have thought of the part where the evil mother assured Cathy, “You’ll live in a thousand rooms before you die.” And of course, the young, naive Cathy tells us, “And I believed.”
And I did, and I do now:
1. Summer after college: I lived in a house share in Sarasota where they never turned the air conditioning on. At the end of the summer, the guy I was dating at the time convinced me that my house mates had been cheating me on the electric bill and I stopped the check I’d written for the utilities, which I feel so incredibly guilty about now that I am older and better at basic math and spend less of my life consuming hard liquor and listening to boys. Seriously, it was probably the worst thing I have ever done.
(don’t correct me on that)
(At least top 5? or bottom 5, depending…)
One of my more vague goals for this year is to pay them back plus interest. In terms of sheer awfulness of living situations, karma already paid me back, if it’s any comfort (keep reading).
(For the purposes of this list, I am omitting the Week in a Shitty Hotel Where I Just Drank Vodka and Watched Footage of Hurricane Katrina on CNN and The Hostel I Stayed At When I First Got to Germany and The Monastery Where the Orientation for my Teaching Program Was, though I guess both were technically domiciles for more than a few hours)
2. Fall after college: I lived in a room in a church hostel in rural Germany on the Polish border. I paid 100 Eurobuxx a month for what was actually a nice, furnished room, though there was no bed and I slept on a couch. The room had a wall safe which did not work properly, which I found out the hard way when the guy I was dating showed up for a visit and insisted on locking his passport in it, I assume to hide it from all the raging hordes of affluent Germans who were desperate to become Americans in the fall of 2005. This apartment was actually broken into, and for a lot of other reasons, I ended up moving to Berlin.
3. January, 2006: I lived in a WG in Kreuzberg with a 40ish artist and her turtle. I slept on a mattress on the floor and I left at 6 AM to get to the Gymnasium where I taught; I returned in the evening. January in Berlin is pretty gray and miserable. After 2 and a half weeks, she said I was “too quiet” and I had to find a place before the end of the month because she was moving to Mongolia anyway to learn about pottery (I did not have a formal lease / agreement). I spent the rest of the month pounding pavement and trying to get voted into a hip student WG. Nobody wanted me, and at the end of the month I still hadn’t found a place to live. My housemate had also disappeared, and the heat, ineffectual at best, stopped functioning. My hair froze on the way to the S-bahn; I wondered if the turtle was alive; I had no money for food because she wasn’t there to give me back my deposit and I took to picking up discarded produce by the fruit markets. The last week or so I was there, I guess I was squatting. One day, my housemate must have come in while I wasn’t there, and left a note on the kitchen table saying she was sorry so here was my deposit. I used it to buy a phone, which made finding a place to live a lot easier.
4. February to June, 2006: So in pure desperation, I moved into the first WG that let me, which wasn’t a WG at all, but rather an apartment share with someone who turned out to be absolutely batshit insane. This is already 1400 words long, and I suppose perhaps someday My Audience will want a fuller description of Gabi and how horrible those months made me feel. But let’s say that within days of moving into what at first seemed a lovely penthouse flat in Prenz’lberg, I discovered that a) I was there to replace her girlfriend’s half of the rent and the girlfriend had left to “get more space” and so every time my flatmate looked at me, she felt angry and sad (as she told me); b) the flatmate was still grieving for her dead cats (which I empathized with, truly, a few years later even more so) and left their (used) litterbox in the bathroom as a shrine even though the last one had died 6 months prior; c) she hated Americans. For a while, this wasn’t even that bad, and sleeping on the floor on a mattress that was on a futon frame felt like a real step up in the world. As I bounced up the 7 flights of stairs I told myself I’d get fit; as she slowly ceased speaking to me in any form except notes stuck under my door when I was at home, I told myself maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me; as I returned home from a weekend away and noticed she had gone through all my things and that many were gone, I told myself maybe I deserved it. She took to enforcing totally bizarre regulations on the wifi, such as I couldn’t use it “when it was raining” and I had to give her a list of every site I visited. In May I finally burst into tears and described my living situation to a teacher at my school. She asked why I hadn’t asked for help before. I fought the urge to say because my accent is so bad you wouldn’t have understood me and just shrugged. She bought me a coffee and introduced me to her 80 year old British friend, who was looking for a flatmate and lived in Walter Benjamin’s old house.
Really. I was all set to move in, then he called me and said, very apologetically that his “lady friend” had said she didn’t like the ida of a 23 year old living with him.
5. July, 2006: Eventually through Craigslist I found a sub-sub-sublease in Kreuzberg from an opera singer named Maria. She had been renting the room from a guy named Hussain. Hussain gave me the keys and said that he’d sublet the place to Maria by explaining she was his girlfriend, since he wasn’t supposed to sublet it. “If anyone asks you,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “Say you too are my girlfriend. And Maria knows. And likes it!”
The day I moved out of Prenz’lberg, three of my Berlin friends helped me. It was broad daylight. And my flatmate was home, even. She did not notice. I left all the nasty notes she’d left me on the desk in the room next to the key.
That night, I bought everyone dinner for helping me; I noticed after a while she had called and left a voice message on my phone. I deleted it without listening. Sometimes I still think about that message.
Kreuzberg in July was so different from Kreuzberg in January. I could scarcely believe it was the same neighborhood in the same city.
Once that month, I was thinking about that while walking down the street with my friend Rawley, when he suddenly shoved me out of the way and a bottle fell, seemingly out of the sky and shattering on the ground exactly where I had been standing. It would have brained me. Some kid had shoved it out of a window.
I’d rather be lucky than good,
6. August, 2006: In which I returned to my parents’ house (aka, The House That Dripped Blood). Like a time capsule, I packed up the remaining detritus from my childhood and adolescence, that which I had deemed too insignificant to come with me to college.
7. September, 2006: I lived in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with the two roommates that I had found through NYU’s classifieds; the building was ironically called The Paradise and our unit got infested with bedbugs. I was only sleeping on a futon mattress that they had let me borrow. This turned out to be the epicenter of the bedbug infection. I also turned out to have 4 abscessed, impacted wisdom teeth, and spent most of that month adjusting to re-entering the US, beginning grad school, powering through really intense pain, and sobbing on the phone to financial aid officers in the hopes that they would expedite my loan refunds so I could pay my rent and avoid sepsis.
8. October, 2006 to April 2008: In one weekend, I moved and then got my wisdom teeth removed from a competent but humorless dental student at UMDNJ who would not let me keep the teeth in a jar, or even a little plastic tooth (Dear UMDNJ: Thanks so much for doing it as a “charity case.”). The night after I had my teeth out, the buzzer sounded. I staggered up from the bed, assuming it was my roommate as she forgot her keys relatively often, and hit the door entry buzzer. Suddenly a middle-aged woman was standing in front of the door, speaking to me in a British accent, explaining that she was my neighbor, nice to meet me, and since she was really drunk, could I please let her climb out our window so she could get into her apartment through the fire escape so her husband wouldn’t know she’d been out drinking again? This apartment came with the unexpected bonus of a semi-permanent contact high from the crazy British people downstairs, and the theft deterrent of what turned into a rug of bills left in the entryway that the British people didn’t seem to pay.
Either way, it was still the nicest place I had lived in my life so far, even when the toilet didn’t work and the super wouldn’t work at the weekend and my heater overflowed and spilled the equivalent of boiling bong water on the floor. It really wasn’t bad.
So I was really sad when circumstances converged such that I agreed to come here for PhD work.
With the exception of another brief interlude at The House That Dripped Blood, I’ve been:
9. Here, August 2008 to Present. I seriously love my apartment. It is bourgeois and McMansiony, but partly out of an absolutely hellbent desire to not move, I have stayed here the whole time and feel that I love it sort of the way some people love their children. I should not love it as much as I do, especially given the horrible things that have happened in my life since being here…but I do.
My apartment is the first place I have ever had that is all my own (insofar as a lease is one’s own), and it is quite literally the only thing I can stand about this town. When I think about leaving it I feel almost paralyzed, or gutted, maybe. I am still trying to find a new place to stay. My lease is up on August 2nd. I can’t renew it now. There’s no turning back now. The little points where I could have made this all less irrevocable are being passed, one by one. Their critical mass leads to a massive Life Change.
Dear Audience, thanks for reading that utterly tl;dr (yes! it’s an adjective now!) entry. Now you may choose your own adventure:
A) Hopeful ending to the blog entry. YAY NEW ADVENTURES NEW APARTMENT!
B) Depressing ending to the blog entry. THIS WAS AS GOOD AS MY LIFE WAS GOING TO GET.
C) Ambiguous ending to the blog entry that is technically just a cop out because it’s a reiteration of the same quote from the same crappy novel: And I believed.
The future should speak up now.