It may seem counterintuitive to leave a home for a new one when the entire world is encouraged to shelter in place. Covid-19 has made us spend more time in our abodes than ever, illuminating the good, the bad, and the ugly of these enclosures we call home. We’ve looked at our furniture with new eyes, we’ve heard our neighbors with new ears, and not all we discovered proved pleasant. We created new ways of moving through the home, perhaps through new habits or the deepening of old ones. We’ve invented ways to amuse ourselves, variations on what we value as entertainment or novel explorations.
In my case, I learned to walk like a ballerina. Not because of some hidden childhood wish that could now find expression in those YouTube beginning-ballet-for-adults videos. But because the floor of my apartment, in a defiant and loud display of age and decay, gradually turned into a symphony of cracking and popping sounds—noises it made with gusto and domino effects of other noises by whatever secret nervous system connects the floorboards together underneath the carpet. Add to that a downstairs neighbor who was fortunately employed but unfortunately forced to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and go to bed at 8:00 p.m. by virtue of her job. In time, my movements throughout my bedroom became frequently accompanied by hysteric yelling at every pop and crackle of the floor. I could hardly get from my bedroom door to my bed without a reaction from downstairs, usually in the form of an increasingly loud monologue that would reach its vocal climax with “What’s going on up there?” I refused to engage. What could I have yelled back: “I’m walking to my bed so I can get in it”? I knew that any illusion of privacy would shatter if I acknowledged her words and responded. I clung to that privacy with every shred of my imagination. But the separation between the two apartments, the boundary between them had already been trespassed since she was addressing me directly from downstairs as though we inhabited the same space. I did not want her to know that I heard and understood, so I ignored the yelling as best I could.
I mapped out paths through the bedroom, paths that caused the least floorboard clamor. I walked on pointe… almost. I perfected the long jump from the door to the bed… in my dreams. The super did not want to get involved, and neither did the owner who was struggling with her own quarantine, in Florida. And still I avoided direct confrontation. After all, anyone can yell whatever they wish in their own apartment. The vocal neighbor never spoke to me. She never even banged on walls like normal angry neighbors do.
Walking on the floorboard minefield was not the sole reason I needed to leave that apartment, but it was the last drop. Well… maybe not a drop, more like a suffocating flood of stress and annoyance. But, combined with other factors, it precipitated my decision to move, now of all times. At first, I felt overwhelmed at the thought, and assumed that no one would want to show me apartments, not during a pandemic. Was I mistaken! Not only did agents and property managers welcome me with open—and safely distant—arms, but some actually had to find room for me on their busy schedule. Initially, I took that as an inflation of self-importance, but I was wrong there as well. It turned out that many people had been inspired by the same idea. A migration of sorts had been in progress for a while, mostly among those dwelling in New York City who were looking to get out of their apartments, some for a while, others for good. Renting apartments in counties like Westchester and Rockland had become a preoccupation du jour.
The viewing of apartments proved a fascinating saga in itself. With some listings I delayed making the appointment, and they were off the market the next day. For the ones I did get to see, agents would meet me at a distance, masks and gloves on, and they’d send me into the apartment alone. In a few apartments I was told not to touch anything, not even the light switch, and I had to use my phone to illuminate bathrooms. I signed disclaimers left for me on kitchen counters with one-time-use pens, affirming that I have viewed the apartment while not having a fever or any other symptoms. After the viewing I could ask my questions from a distance, mask on, always. In one place I had to remain in my car until the manager phoned me, exited the leasing office, and got in her car. I drove behind her through the pretty complex of garden apartments, and had to wait in my car until she unlocked the door and was safely back in her own vehicle. With her voice on my phone, I walked in, explored the apartment, asked her questions, and left. I imagined I was in a John le Carré Cold War spy novel, a participant in a covert operation where I couldn’t ever meet my “Control” face to face… nor leave any fingerprints.
Fortunately, it did not take too long to find an available apartment I truly liked. Moving itself was, as moving always is, exhausting and as liberating as you allow it to be, depending on how much accumulated “stuff” you are willing to discard. I adopted a minimalist’s laser focus, and still felt burdened by all the material possessions I ended up packing. As for the moving company arrangement, that was the easy part. They showed up punctually, equipped with masks and gloves, and transported everything in record time. This happened two weeks ago. It is still hard to believe at times that I am now stepping on solid, shiny, hardwood floors on which I can walk around in heels if I wish, and jump, and dance without avalanches of yelling following my footsteps. My new apartment is on the ground floor.
Two months ago I thought it impossible to undertake such a major change, which is, come to think of it, a change of my sheltering-in-place location. I’m still homebound as many of us are, but in another space with a different interior landscape, soundscape, and geography. Now that the moving upheaval is over, the newness of the place and its surroundings somehow makes me feel like I’m on vacation, staying in an Airbnb somewhere. I remember the wise words of a major store furniture seller who told me on the phone: “You won’t believe how busy we are! People are home so much that they’re taking a good look at that couch, at that dresser, and they realize they can’t stand them anymore! So they want to buy new furniture, more than before. It just shows how badly people need change right now.” I thought, we all long for change now, on so many levels. If we can’t yet experience the big, collective changes for the better in our world, we can at least create something new in and of the spaces closest to us: at home.
Top photo courtesy of Maria-Cristina Necula: The Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly Tappan Zee) on which Westchester and Rockland Counties meet.