When my husband and I started telling people we were moving back to the midwest, some of them assumed we were buying and not renting. After all, that is what many young couples do in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s not like New York, a city of renters. It’s normal to buy a house in your twenties there. They are expensive but affordable, like a smartphone.
Buying a house seems very permanent, even though it isn’t really. Marriage is arguably much more permanent, and it was easy for me to buy into this institution that my more liberal friends still sometimes call “oppressive” or “archaic” when they are in bad moods. Truthfully, I’ve always rented because I’ve never lived anywhere longer than two years as an adult.
This is mostly due to life circumstances. Of course I moved out of the dorms to a duplex off-campus, because you had to. Of course I moved back from Budapest after teaching abroad. I lived in three Brooklyn apartments because of Eliza getting married, and then because of me getting married. I loathed moving the boxes but never minded the novelty of a new place.
As a kid I was always losing my mind over hotels; I loved them no matter how nice they were. I loved them because they smelled different and it was exciting to wake up to the AC unit switching on loud and the light working hard to come through thick floral curtains.
I also very much liked the freshness of sleeping over at a friend’s house. Just recently I was notably more excited than my husband to stay over with our friends in Jersey City, sleeping on an air mattress to avoid the long commute home. “You guys should just slumbie,” they had suggested when we solidified our Saturday evening plan to grill dinner and play cribbage. We agreed and ended up staying well into the next evening.
We spent hours at a corner restaurant on Sunday afternoon and had to sit outside because the inside was packed with people watching a soccer match. Not long after taking our order, our waitress brought us a plate of greasy, undercooked bacon and a round of shots on the house. She felt bad because they had run out of breakfast sausages, and most of our meal orders included them. The shots felt a bit agressive for brunch, but they warmed our insides. It was one of those days where it probably isn’t yet warm enough to be outside without a coat on, but the sun still feels pleasant and you can eat without your bare hands getting cold. This was in early March, and I think about it often because it was our last outing before everything closed, and when I was just starting to be sad about leaving New York but thought I still had time. After brunch we went on a long walk by the Hudson and looked at the skyline. I remember that we talked a lot about the museums we still hadn’t been to and what we definitely had to do before we left.
Now we’ve spent so much time in our little apartment that it almost feels normal. It would feel bizarre to get up and leave for work at this point. I keep thinking about all the people working from home all over the city and then about a line from a Frank O’Hara poem: “One day I’ll be useless / not even an office building.” I picture myself swiping my Metrocard and walking into the subway, and it makes me feel weirdly nervous and excited at the same time, like waiting in line for a rollercoaster. One day I started thinking about how people become agoraphobic, and how each day you spend inside makes it that much scarier to go outside. I read a book where the narrator was agoraphobic, and she always knew how many days it had been since she last walked past her front door. Now we all do this like it’s normal.
Someone I know plays a different record for everyday of quarantine, and he is up to #51. He posted one on Instagram recently, and I had the overwhelming need to make sure that he remembered that it was me who introduced him to Lucinda Williams. I care a lot about things like that. I want people to remember good things about me. I was a good tenant in a temporary relationship.
Yesterday, my husband and I signed a lease for the place we will rent in Grand Rapids. We promised to be good tenants. It’s hard to picture your future life in a place you can only associate with the past. But there is a new apartment now, and I can put my mind there. I can picture myself at the sink, filling the kettle and looking through the kitchen window at the park. It’s called “Pleasant Park,” I will tell people when they come over for dinner, “Isn’t that cute?” We will have a garbage disposal and it will make the sound that normal garbage disposals make, chewing up the scraps of vegetables my husband leaves behind on his plate. (I never leave scraps.) It will snow one night because it’s always doing that there and I will hear the sounds of shovels scraping driveways. We will have one of those too—a driveway—and even a car for me to drive. I can map the turns I would take to get to the farmer’s market, my sister’s apartment, the lake. It’s something to look forward to. It helps.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.