The last thing I did before moving out of my apartment in Prospect Heights was knock a tall bottle of rum -- an unwanted leftover from an egg nog recipe many years ago -- onto the floor that I had just spent an hour scrubbing. It shattered, the vile liquid spreading like a layer of filth across the gleaming, Murphy Oil-coated wood. "Damnit," I cried, ripping my headphones, playing a cleaning mix, off my ears.
After three days of sorting through my possessions, finding old diaries that read like amateur compositions, throwing junk away and then, finally, cleaning so that the apartment was in top condition, I was ready to leave. When it had been furnished, leaving the apartment had been a heartbreak. As I tore it apart, it became a nuisance, a dead weight. I wished that I could pack a suitcase full of old photographs and my favorite dresses, close the door and leave everything else there to be collected by someone else.
The only reason why I didn't do it was because it would have been an imposition on my landlords, who lived on the first floor. For the past six years, they had become something of a family to me. I had watched their older daughter, Brittany, become a teenager. I had been there through the birth of their youngest girl, Summer, who is now a rotund and jovial 3-year-old. She says my name "Brie-EN," with an emphasis on the last syllable.
When I slept in my apartment, despite the fact that I am haunted by nightmares, I always felt safe. It was a miracle, really. I spent most of my childhood being terrified of the night. Staying up long past my parents went to bed, listening for noises. Haunting them myself, in the corner of their room. When it got to a certain hour, I would start crying, and then my father, infuriated, would turn all of the lights on in the kitchen and tell me to go sleep on the table, because he couldn't listen to me whine any longer. Falling asleep was a phobia for me. I wet the bed. I couldn't go on sleepovers.
In my last apartment, the only apartment I've ever lived in alone, I never once woke up in the middle of the night too terrified to move. It was partially because my bed faced the front door, which gave me a panoramic view of any dangers that might emerge from behind it. It was also because my landlords both worked in the enforcement business -- he was a parole officer and she was a nurse on Riker's Island. An intruder would have to get past the two of them before he got to me.
But mostly, it was just the feel of the place. It had a good aura. When I woke up in the middle of the night from one of my lucid dreams -- my dreamworld is full of vivid color -- I would climb out from underneath the down comforter and the mound of pillows where I nested and pad my way to the bathroom. From the end of the bed, a mere three steps took me to the living room. In the darkness, through the wide open windows, lights from the apartment buildings across the garden lit up the room with shadows, making it appear huge. On windy nights, these shadows swayed back and forth, like dancers, across my parquet floor. Before turning on the light in the bathroom, I would look across the expanse of it, and in a state of half consciousness, think, "I cannot believe how lucky I am."
In my new apartment, where I just moved in with my boyfriend, the living room is dark during the day, a forest of chairs. At night, it's pitch black. Coated in shadows of black ivy. With the creaky front door right behind the wall our bed touches, I'm finding it hard to sleep. There are other sorts of happiness here, however -- a man who loves me, a settled life. A soft transition into adulthood.
On that last day, the old apartment was full of gray light, a state between light and darkness. It was empty without my things and it looked tiny, like a dollhouse. From a box in the hallway, I pulled out an old white IKEA towel. I used it to sop up the majority of the rum. The rest I picked up with paper towels, the tiny shards of glass pricking my fingers. When it was sufficiently clean, I carried the last bag of garbage out into the hallway. Then, alone, I made my way down the three flights to the bottom of the brownstone with the last of my loads. The things that I had found hidden in the closets. The cleaning supplies. My last suitcase.
I found my apartment on Craigslist. It was only ten stoops away from where I lived with two roommates. On the day of the open house, I brought one of my friends to look at it with me. Down the three flights of stairs trailed a line of eager young people who wanted to rent it. It was just as perfect for them -- with its tin roof ceilings, cozy bedroom, open light, boarded up fireplace -- as it was for me. By the end of the day, my landlords had received 50 applications, including my own.
For the first time in my life, my salary was fifty times more than the rent, which qualified me to be my own guarantor. I signed my own paperwork. I put down my own deposit. I gave my bank information,and my credit score.
The next day, miraculously, the landlords chose my application. They interviewed me a single time and then handed me a lease. In 2007, the rent on the place was affordable for a 24-year-old. They never raised it the entire time I lived there.
Wearing flip flops and a sundress, I moved the majority of my things by myself, in garbage bags. My sister came and we carried my couch. Another friend helped me with my bed. At Target and Ikea, I bought small things I could afford to furnish it with: Cheap frames. Throw blankets. A shower curtain. Blue plates.
For months, I saved and bought the only piece of furniture I'd ever wanted: A chaise lounge upon which to read. Above it, I hung a huge Polaroid taken by one of my best friends. Over the years, the walls became crowded with artwork from friends and the mantelpiece bursting with vintage photographs I collected from markets when I traveled.
I put all of these things in boxes for the move. I unpacked these boxes in my new home. But most of the things no longer have a place here.
But that doesn't make me sad. And neither did leaving my keys. After the last box of junk was loaded in the back of the Jeep I just bought with my boyfriend, I texted my landlord. "Leave the keys on by the front door," she said. So I did, relieved to finally be done with moving.
"I will miss you," I texted her. "And the whole family."
She wrote me back something long and loving, but it was too heartbreaking to read. I swallowed my sadness. I let the door close behind me, knowing that I would never again pass through it freely.
Then last week, I realized I was missing paychecks, so I texted my landlord again. "I wonder if you have mail for me?" I asked.
"I do," she said, characteristically succinct. Not only is my landlord a mother and a nurse, she's also in school. And she owns a number of properties in Crown Heights with her father, a elderly Jamaican man. She is one of those women, like my own mother, who always encouraged me to be independent.
"I am so proud of you!" she exclaimed when I told her I was going to live in Buenos Aires for a summer. "You need to travel as much as you can before you get married. See the world. Don't worry about things here."
Before I moved out, she met my boyfriend. "You better take care of her," she told him. "She's one in a million."
I asked my boyfriend to come pick up the mail with me, because I was too shy, given the intimacy of our moving-day text messages, to go alone. So we rode our bikes, from Carroll Gardens, through Park Slope and up to Grand Army Plaza. "This is hard," I said to Caleb.
I had to ring the door when I got to the old brownstone. My landlord came to greet me with Summer. "Hello!" she said, and held out her arms to hug me. "Brie-EN!" Summer exclaimed, and ran up, arms outstretched. I picked her up and squeezed her tight.
"Thank you so much," I said, avoiding her eyes, when my landlord handed me a bag with the mail.
"We miss you," she said. Unexpectedly, I think for both of us, my landlord teared up. I held my eyes low so she couldn't see that I had been crying as well.
"Anyway," she said. "I hope he's treating you well." And then waved to my boyfriend on the street.
"He is," I said. "He's one a good one."
I wanted to say something, but everything I felt was wordless. I didn't know that I had been so attached to her. I didn't know that moving was like a death. I didn't know that we shared a common fondness, or that ultimately, I would miss her more than I did the space itself.
"I'll come visit soon," I said, not able to bear staying there much longer. From the pain of it.
"Yes, we will see you," she said, her voice choking.
As I hurried down the stairs, her husband came to the door. He held her from behind as they waved goodbye to me.