How to Be…On 42nd Street
by Lindsay Timmington
When I was ten years old and dreaming of a life in New York City, I had a street sign that said 42nd street hanging in my bedroom. That street represented the place I thought I should pin my dreams to, so I did. But as I moved through adolescence I was told my dreams were unrealistic and worth abandoning. I watched 42nd street from afar, and in the back of my head–hoped some day I’d get there. Four years ago I got a little closer when I moved to New York.
Every year on the anniversary of my move, I’ve written about the past year. It’s the anniversary I’m most proud of because it’s the one that’s solely mine. My four-year anniversary in NYC has come and gone and I’ve thought about writing this for three months. I’ve started a few times, abandoned a few times and given myself a deadline. Tonight, that deadline is hours away so I’m at my desk in front of my open window facing Queens Boulevard trying to shift all the shit in my head onto the page. The 7 train roars by every two minutes with consistency and I lift my head every time it passes.
The train made me cry the first time I walked into this apartment four years ago.I found this apartment (or rather my dear friend Chunk found this apartment) in the eleventh hour of a quick trip to NYC to secure a place to live before moving my entire life halfway across the country. I’d spent the entire weekend in my broker’s car travelling from BedStuy to Bushwick to Flatbush in search of a place I could afford and still came up empty.
I returned to Chunk’s apartment in Astoria, sat on her couch and cried. I was meant to board a plane in two hours and I didn’t have a place to live. Chunk jumped on Craigslist, called a broker and an hour later we were standing on Queens Boulevard looking up at the third floor apartment facing the 7 train. We walked up the narrow, rickety stairs to the apartment, and I stepped into the living room that had two giant windows facing the street. The train roared by and the broker quickly closed the windows to prove how quiet the apartment “could” be. I didn’t care. I kinda loved it. Something felt right. I put in an application, wrote a check and got on a plane back to Minnesota.
This apartment made me cry when I first walked in after an eighteen-hour trek from Minneapolis to Sunnyside the year I decided to change my life. I walked into an apartment that had seemingly shrunk, with a noisy train and heavily trafficked street sending noise through the open windows. I wondered what I’d done when I opened the fridge to find a half-empty Starbucks iced coffee and kitchen drawers full of Dora the Explorer party supplies and trash. Four years ago as I unpacked on a summer night in early June I wondered if I’d made the wrong decision. Four years later, on a summer night in late June I’m packing my life up and wondering the same thing.
My desk in front of the window overlooking the street and train is without doubt my favorite spot in my apartment. It’s where I’ve hung out the window to catch a sunset behind the Empire State Building. It’s where I’ve witnessed lovers’ quarrels underneath the train and late night fights on the sidewalk outside the bars. It’s where torn sweater finally came to life, and Squirrel Screams found its way outside my head and onto the page–it’s where so much of my time has been spent, for better or for worse over the past four years. And tonight I check one more day off the calendar to get to Friday, when I close the door to this apartment and leave.
I know the door I’m opening is good and what I’ve been searching for over the last year. I’ve known it since the minute the 42nd Street listing populated on Realtor.com. I knew after a year and half of looking at co-ops and going to open houses and placing soon-to-be-rejected-offers that this place was it. I knew it so deeply that I placed an offer, wrote a personal letter and sent it to my broker five minutes after viewing the listing, having never stepped foot in the building. I knew it the minute I walked into the co-op and walking back out when my broker said it would be a fight to get the apartment given the inventory and demand in Sunnyside. I fought anyway. A week later it was down to me and another buyer.
My friend dragged me to a movie to prevent further wear on my hardwood floors thanks to my tireless pacing and I really tried to focus on “Boss Baby” while stealing glances at my silenced phone in my open purse. A scintillating scene momentarily stole my focus and I missed a call from my broker. I grabbed my phone and bolted from the theatre, leaving my pregnant friend to contend with “Boss Baby” on her own.
I stood outside the theatre and dialed my broker’s number. She answered somberly and my heart sank. “Lindsay,” she began, and I steeled myself for the coming rejection. “They very gladly accepted your offer,” she continued and I burst into tears in the lobby of a theatre in Queens. I cried as confused and worried movie-theatre-employee-teenagers orbited around me wondering if I was a violent threat, mentally ill, or just another person trying to deal with life in NYC.
A few days ago, after three months of running a real estate marathon, I signed a million pieces of paper and was handed the keys to a co-op that I now own, in a city that I’ve loved since I was ten. It’s a little surreal. I’m a little panicked. I’d be lying if I said this is what I thought my life would look like at 36, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little scared that it’s not the life I thought I “should be” living.
Right now I find myself living in a space between excitement and grief and it’s a strange, uncomfortable spot. For three months I’ve been busting with excitement to share this news, but was hesitant to do so until the ink was dry on the paperwork. Now that it’s done and I’m faced with the reality of this chapter closing, it’s harder than I thought it would be to say goodbye to this crappy but charming little apartment.
For four years it’s generated stories and fodder and memories that now flood back at me with ridiculous ferocity. Memories of nearly burning the place to the ground a month after moving in after accidentally setting my laundry on fire and then hightailing it out the door to get to an audition. Memories of a battery-powered stove, a pillaged toilet, early morning rap music through bedroom walls, and all the stories this sweet little spot has produced. This has been my home; my bunker protecting me when life here got tough and I’ve stayed here two years longer than I’ve stayed in any other apartment, ever.
It shouldn’t surprise me that I cry as I pack up the last four years, years that have been the most wonderful, challenging, incredible years of my life in a city I never knew I could survive in on my own. But it does. I know it’s partially because, as someone dear to me recently said, when I shut the door to this apartment I’ll leave a little piece of myself behind. And to be honest, I’m not sure I want to leave any part of the person I’ve become here, behind.
Because that person has records on her wall that she grabbed off a sidewalk in Astoria after walking home from a friend’s house late one night, that person has collected milk crates to fashion together a haphazard bookshelf, that person has worked six jobs at a time and chugged coffee at 10pm in order to write for two hours before bed at her little desk perched above Queens Boulevard, that person has loved the idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies this apartment held: the clogged sinks and holes in the floor, the unsecured doors and unanswered calls to landlords and mostly, that person has fallen in love with the millions upon millions of extraordinary memories that floated in through open windows that faced the 7 train.
To leave that feels, I guess, a little like a sell-out move. Like somehow by making this “adult “decision I’ll forget the little girl’s dream that got me here in the first place. That by abandoning the shit you face with an NYC rental and “moving on up,” it somehow means I’ll forget about the late nights spent at my desk in front of my window trying to weave together a story that would stick.
But with keys in hand and movers booked, I’ve hours left before this place empties and I shut the door on the last four years. And that makes me sad. Over the course of a week a million memories that I thought long since archived have flooded back. Memories of crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York for the first time, memories of opening the door at 43rd and Queens Boulevard and wondering what the fuck I’d done, memories of friends gathering my first night here with pizza and beer, memories of being surrounded by boxes and no living room furniture because my couch didn’t fit up the stairs, memories of rent checks issued leaving me a total of $5 in my checking account for two weeks ahead but not caring because I was so happy in this equally terrific and terrible city.
A few weeks ago, early on a Saturday morning, I awoke to a sound coming from the airshaft window in my bedroom. I crawled out of bed and peered outside the window. Below, a man was hauling out an air conditioning unit from the crawl space. The space hadn’t been cleaned in at least three years and I knew that for a fact because I was the one who dropped the air conditioner into the crawl space three years earlier after an “I can do it by myself!” moment. It’s been my standby joke each time someone new visits me. But he was he hauling that old, weathered AC away, and with it my story.
That that morning I closed the window and took a deep breath, recognizing it was time to say goodbye. Because just like that–overnight–my apartment went from my home to just another memory to share and story to tell. And that’s okay. Because tomorrow, by some strange twist of fate I’m headed two blocks away from where I live now. To 42nd Street.