Move In the Direction of Your Fear*
The painful, epic search for an apartment seems to be over. Yesterday, I went to the credit union and sweated copiously while a cashier withdrew more than $1200 from my account and turned it into one of those magical bank check/whatsises you get when people don't actually trust you with your own money. Who could blame them? If I handed you a check for a thousand dollars you'd look for a hidden camera and a subcommittee - not that I have empirical proof of this assertion, mind you. When I write a check for $200, my hands shake. When the cashier made yesterday's account-depleting withdrawl, I gasped for breath and tried not to yak.
This represents progress. When I used to cut straight to yelling for Buicks I...switched banks a lot.
Last week, I looked at an apartment and I loved it. It was more space than I believed possible, rent was reasonable, and the location nearly ideal. Unfortunately, when I saw a living room large enough that I could dance again I became knuckle-dragging stupid. Important details escaped my notice, like that it was a third-floor walk-up and I am an arthritic little old lady who shops in bulk. I pictured myself with a premature granny cart. I craved that apartment like some devotees crave chocolate but faced facts and called the manager, and I asked if a ground-floor one-bedroom was available. Not only didn't she hang up on me but she made an appointment for me to see something right away.
Tata: Pick me up and help me look at the apartment.
Daria: Why? What's your problem?
Tata: Faced with an unsigned lease, I can't feel my hands and feet.
The family has a long and colorful history with phobia. For years, Mom didn't drive over bridges or fly. It takes effort to keep an irrational fear from blossoming into a full-blown, debilitating phobia. I work at it with a rigorous regimen of laughing at my own stupidity and fearfulness. And just look at you with the helping!
The manager takes us to a door and buzzes. A young woman answers the door. Her hair is dyed black; she is a member of my tribe, Artists. I stand up straight. She takes us into a foyer too crowded for four women and Daria's three-year-old Sandro, who refuses to touch the floor with any part of his tiny body. I walk into the living room and - right on cue - become very stupid.
See, this is a new phase of life and I've been thinking about things I've never done before. I want things I've never wanted before. I want to paint a living room in the colors of growing things. I want to sleep in a cornflower blue bedroom. When I walk into a sage green living room in an apartment that is otherwise white, I stare, dumbstruck. The manager and the tenant - I hear this distantly, as if miles away - talk about the costs of repainting the room to white. I'm still staring.
Tata: Leave it green. This is my apartment.
Daria: Did you bump your pointy head?
Tenant: I'm sorry it's such a dark color.
Manager: My husband will paint it white and -
Tata: No. This color. I've been dreaming about this green.
Tenant: I'll leave you the rest of the can!
Daria: Are her pupils fixed and dilated?
Near my feet, a small black cat looks awfully familiar. The tenant says, "The cat was rescued by a woman in North Jersey. The cat probably will not come to you. It's a kitten still, and skittish." The kitten, whose face is identical to my cat's, comes right to me and licks my fingers. In the bedroom, where I feel terribly self-conscious, Daria throws open the closet door and smiles. She does the same thing twice more in the foyer. I throw the light switch in the bathroom and we both gasp.
Fourteen years ago, our father's mother died. She lived all our lives in one of these World War II garden apartment complexes in New Brunswick. The bathroom is the dead-giveaway: pink tiles, black and white tile floor. In a way, I have come home and I'm still speechless. Do I need pink towels?
Daria: Let's look at the kitchen.
It's big. I can roll out dough. I can do a few other things, including the tango. The manager tells me the rent is slightly less than the dance studio of last week - but not much, really. The tenant looks me in the eye, which I love. I ask why she's leaving. She explains that she's chosen to get a teaching certificate in Ramapo and it's a good program and it's expensive to live up there and I listen to the sound of her voice for any quiver of duplicity. I hear none. I can tell Daria doesn't hear one either. The young woman's on her way up, and the vibe - if we can be so bold - is very positive.
We leave the apartment. Outside, we ask about facilities. Then we see the laundry room and Daria whispers.
Daria: If you ever walk down here I'm having you committed.
Tata: I'll macrame the leather straps.
Change is terrifying. This, I know, is where I should go. I am very much afraid about money and time and loneliness but I've put down my security deposit. In a few weeks, I will move here, live here, write for you from here. It seems strange when I think about it: all this time I've been urging you to live bravely, I've never told you how hard I struggle against fear myself. It is brave to do the thing that frightens you, whether it is moving house or refusing to submit to the current climate of desperation, fanaticism and fear. Thing is: it's totally worth it, especially when we are in it together.
*p.92 Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars
Terrible book. Read p.92 only.