Yesterday was, as swarms of optimistically half-dressed people trying to find space at porch and rooftop bars can confirm, like real spring. It was a similar day two years ago that I moved into a 4th-floor walk up in Hoboken, New Jersey. The 2-bedroom with exposed brick and blessed with in-unit laundry was above a nail salon, down the block from a 24-hour diner, and across the street from the bus stop I would take every day to Manhattan. Some days I didn’t like it; didn’t like the fellow commuters in their 20s who seemed both younger and more put together, didn’t like the yuppie families who never moved their strollers out of the way on the sidewalk. Sometimes I just resented not living in the city, worried my co-workers were thinking less of me as the only non New York State resident or annoyed at myself for falling short of my dream of a cooler Lower East Side life. But it was home. I hesitated to call it that, especially when the relationship that made it home was destabilized, but it was. Though I haven’t lived there in any real way since November, I had to leave it for good yesterday.
There aren’t many pictures of my old apartment. Maybe one of my best friend that got part of the couch, or my bed in the background of a mirror selfie. As I walked out, I was tempted to take a few of the gutted living room and kitchen, ugly and devoid of what made them mine, or to write MOLLY WAS HERE somewhere hidden, but not too. It was a stupid impulse, just to be able to say look! This is where that conversation happened, this is where we sat when…, this is where… “It was the room in which most of the real things in his life had happened,” is a line from The Age of Innocence that fucks me up regularly. Articulating the nature of its tragedy is an ongoing puzzle for me, because it can be read in more than one way, each uniquely sad. Is it sad because many people never have such a room? Or is it sad because so much of ourselves and the most formative parts of our lives not only can’t be tied to a room, but can’t be called real? It could also be sad because we feel like when our rooms are taken away, the real things in our lives are erased.
New Jersey was not where most of the real things in my life happened, but it was a room (or a few rooms) where some of them did. If I take pictures of these ghost rooms, they won’t tell you that I asked for a divorce in that corner, that two friends who loved each other brought home a puppy who tried to dig the grout out of the floor, or that I leaned against the kitchen counter and somehow kept myself together as I listened to words that should have shattered me. They won’t impart the sad quiet of sneaking back in after indulging in a habit of taking late night walks in your pajamas. They won’t make you feel the warmth of coming home from work with a bag from the liquor store (one bottle of wine, one bottle of vodka), knowing there could never be a better Friday night than ordering in and watching Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju.
When I moved in on a glaringly sunny day in May and my empty apartment was still full of hope, I climbed out the back window and daydreamed. I imagined slipping out to enjoy twilight with a drink on the fire escape, or wrapping myself up in a blanket on late fall mornings. Some nights when I was very sad and afraid for the future, my roommate would make me look out this window, point to where the skyline of Manhattan poked out above the trees, to remind me why it all mattered. This ritual shared the beating heart of my favorite thing about Hoboken – a spectacular running route.
My favorite time to run is at night, and in less than five minutes I could be down at the Hudson riverfront, the entire city laid out and sparkling in front of me. From there, while running, it seemed absurd to question whether fighting to stay in New York was worth it. My life seemed to line up more neatly in that view. I still think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The closest place to run from where I live now is Riverfront Park, but looking across the river to New Jersey is often unspeakably painful. Without seeing the city in its entirety that felt like it could embrace my entire world, I feel so lost in the middle; just a mess with nothing to orient me.
In the summer, our small square of wrought iron was overgrown with leaves. In the winter, coiled with bare twigs or covered in snow. It always seemed vaguely dangerous or not the right day to clean it up. I never got around to having a glass of wine on the fire escape while living there. As usual, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends” rang true. There was of course a time when I thought I would have – not forever – but longer for the fire escape I took for granted. Doing something for the last time is weird, and making a point of it can just end up empty. Divorced from the attachments and the relationships as they were when they made places more than places, doing The Last Time can feel like kitsch. I’ve never been good at emoting appropriately at monuments and memorials, so I especially don’t want to fail a self-made monument. But it seemed necessary and right to finally have that drink. I sat there on a beautiful evening and let my heart break. I remembered why it had all mattered.
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