Saturday, November 24, 2012

Moving On

I have lived in Manhattan for over ten years, in six different places. But only one ever felt like home.

We moved in when my daughter, now four, was only six weeks old. I found it months before, while my husband had been busy studying for the bar exam. "Its great!" I said, pushing a floor plan towards him over piles of law books. The truth was that it was quite a wreck, which he would come to learn after we had already closed on the place. He never ended up seeing it beforehand, one of the crazy stories we would tell over and over -- how he entrusted my words enough to sink our very last dime, and many other people's dimes. When he finally saw it...the cracked walls, the awful blue stained carpets, the popcorn ceiling, he grew quiet. "That place is a dump!" he would finally say, several city blocks later as he would walk quickly ahead of me, stewing in disbelief. "Well, it's our dump." I said, knowing he was too shocked to see yet what I saw -- the gorgeous view with a sliver of river, the proximity to the park, the kitchen possibilities. By the next avenue I finally caught up with him, mumbling to himself. He was devising a plan to transform this dump into the place we would call home for four years.

In the ensuing months we spent endless hours at Home Depot. I chose grout colors (did you know there was more than one) while sweating in front of a floor sample fan, nine months pregnant that July. Our daughter would come sooner than the apartment would be complete, so we stayed at my parent's place, a.k.a. every son-in-law's worst nightmare. Every tile, fixture, appliance, paint chip held infinite possibilities, though my enthusiasm waned in the face of new motherhood and my anxious need to finally settle into our new life. "What do you THINK" he would ask me weeks later, with the same cautious enthusiasm I had used when I first showed him the place. The walls were brighter than those paint samples had promised, Romper Room-esque I think we said. The ceiling was smooth. The kitchen gleamed in cinnamon wood tones offset by black granite whose name will never fail to amuse me - amazonubatuba. Light dimmers, crown moldings, brushed nickel drawer pulls. We had done it. Lemons were officially lemonade.

I would bring two more babies home to this place, totaling three in all. My first spend six months in our room before we were brave enough to move her into hers, one that was a beautiful bright green that is usually reserved for crayons. Our second baby would remain with us for 14 months, and then finally join his sister. Most kids would hate to share a room that small, but ours loved it. Both children would learn to take their first steps down the long corridor. They would delight the doormen with their antics, waiting on the stone steps for daddy to finally come home. In the summers when I was huge and pregnant we would eat popcicles deemed too messy for inside, letting the sugary, sticky mess make puddles between our flip-flopped feet while we sat on those steps.

The space started to shrink and rapidly as the children outgrew sneakers. Toys became larger, more demanding of shelves that we did not have. The bathtub was chipping, requiring our almost 4 year old to bathe in an inflatable tub. Clothes overflowed closets, food spilled from pantries once there were so many more mouths to feed. While we loved our home -- the lemon yellow living room walls, the great shared outdoor space, the friends that we could visit with a few pushes of an elevator button -- it became clear that we were stretching at the seams (much like I was, pregnant for the third time).

When the last baby arrived, we became a good joke for parties -- five people in a one bedroom apartment! We put ads in the paper and lots of stuff into storage. Strangers came, running hands over granite, opening the drawers filled with our life and slamming them closed again. I would smile and brag about the place, taking compliments for its lovely view with the slice of river if you squinted the right way. Like the desperate girlfriend, I would wait for the phone to ring. For someone to buy the home we had grown to love but that our love had outgrown.

Just when we were beginning to give up, someone left a note with our doorman. She had admired the same unit on another floor, might she see ours. Fast forward some months and we were moving out, moving on. We found a new apartment a few avenues over that was comparatively palatial. The kids room was huge, enough for all three. We were a block away from our favorite playground. In the chaos of the move, I did not have time to say goodbye. So my husband would call me over a week later while he scrubbed the floors for a final inspection. It was just me and the new baby, the one who would have no memories of the place that the other two had lived so much in, a place that they still now say they would trade it all to go back to. When I walked into the empty apartment, it looked like it had already started to shrink even more. I felt guilty for trading up, this place had been so good to us. The details my husband and I had chosen when we were only "just us" were being left for someone else to embrace or discard. I walked around, trying to breathe it all in one last time, desperate to make an imprint, overcome with memories. And then a baby's cry penetrated my thoughts. He was still new, a cry not yet familiar. He was ready to go home, make new memories of his own with his brother and sister and the swings and the slide. It was time to go, our first official home was officially now someone else's.

Its been several months and the key to that house is still on my chain. While I am sure the locks have been changed, a small part of me still wants access to that time in my life.


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