How I Stopped Hating My Apartment (And Maybe Also Myself)
What halted my search was a realization that I cannot afford to move because I have no money. I know that’s a thing we say with different degrees of veracity — “I have no money” can mean a lot of things, but rarely does it mean a bank account at zero. For me it means that right now I am living paycheck to paycheck and paying off $20,000 in credit card debt. I have no money. Lots and lots of people are in my situation and worse. I’m lucky that in my paycheck-to-paycheck existence, I find room for falafel sandwiches, for drinks, for flowers to bring to dinner parties, for bus tickets to visit friends. There is a great argument to be made that I should cut these things out of my life and put those dollars towards my credit cards. It’s not an argument I’m particularly interested in, so I’m ignoring it, for now. But I will acknowledge that I could have used some of that fun money and food money to save up for moving costs. I have rent each month, but I don’t have rent plus first and last and a security deposit, and I haven’t done a thing to get closer to it.
This has been true everyday that I’ve been searching for apartments, but I’ve kept looking because: It’ll work out somehow. Because: It always works out somehow. It wasn’t until I was home with my parents — watching their cable and eating their food and drinking their drinks and enjoying their air conditioning and their company, happily telling them all about my wonderful life in the great big city except for the small complication of my terrible apartment — that I realized my secret plan all along was for it to work out with their help. I felt sick, disgusted at the thought.
A long time ago my dad told me, asked me, to please always keep at least emergency health insurance. One, because it was the Right and Grown-up Thing to Do, but also because if anything ever happened to me and I couldn’t pay for it, my parents would do anything to help me. He was asking me not to put him a position of giving up everything, because he would. I have always known this, because they’ve always made it clear: My parents will do anything for me if I really need it. Would that we all could say that about our families. I will never, ever begrudge my parents their generosity, and I hope they don’t feel like it’s been a mistake. It’s one of the things I value most about them, and not just generosity with money, but generosity with advice, with stories, with jokes and laughs and love. I’ve always had two people on my team, every step of the way. I’ve met enough people and read enough books to realize how special and rare this is.
If I had to move, my parents would do what they could to help me. If I had to be out of my apartment tomorrow, I could. That is one of the great, great joys and privileges of having a safety net. It’s a great tragedy that we don’t all have that net. I will not sleep on the streets or go hungry. What a gift to be able to think that, to believe it.
I’ve also realized that with that generosity has always, always come the trust that when I ask, I actually need. That when I cry, I’m actually hurt. I’m learning now — I keep learning, over and over and over — that I’ve never known need, and that I’ve justified so many things by a false definition of it. I trust my parents to help me in an emergency, but they have also trusted me to respect the definition of an emergency, to ask for help not just because I’m unsatisfied, but because I’m feeling unsafe or unwell. And it’s there I’ve failed them, and myself.
I’ve complained a lot about my apartment, and yes, I’ve categorized my wanting to move as a need. I feel unhappy there, I’ve whined. It’s too small, I’ve cried. I think everything would be better somewhere else, I’ve moaned. But I have never felt unsafe there. It is not infested with mold or, as it turns out, bed bugs. I’ve never felt uneasy walking home from the train, even at night. There are two locked doors between me and the street. The windows are two floors up. My roommates are nice people and when I’ve met their friends, they’ve seemed like nice people, too. Needing to move has never been about actual need. I’ve been dramatic. My mom has told me that when I was little, my demeanor made it impossible to know whether I needed an ice cream cone or an emergency room, a back rub or a full-body cast. I used to laugh at the image of a tiny girl crying cancer over a stubbed toe. But I’m not laughing anymore. That ambiguity of distress has continued, even with myself.
A fat stack of credit card statements proves it. Every charge on my credit card was because I needed it. I couldn’t start living until I furnished my new apartment, I couldn’t start working until I bought a faster computer, I couldn’t interview for this job until I got a professional outfit. I couldn’t possibly go on with the day until I had a latte and a chocolate croissant. Getting rid of my credit cards has put a stop to day-to-day justification of need; there’s no need to justify a purchase that you cannot make. But I haven’t been able to let go of it completely, apparently. I still want to be kind to myself. Only now that I can’t use my credit cards to have it all work out, I’ve fallen back into a place of magical thinking, of expecting someone else to make it all work out for me, maybe even of whining and complaining so that they might. I’m glad I’ve realized this. I’m sad it took me so long.
Last week after a long bus ride to the city, plus two trains and a few-block walk, I climbed up the stairs to my apartment. Nothing had changed, except it was good to be home.