“I saw your Instagram story—did you get a tree??”
“Yes!” I said, turning my phone so the cover faces my chest. I slowly move my arm left to right, hopefully getting my decorated fireplace and lit tree within Meg’s view.
Damn, my apartment is cute at Christmas.
“Did you see it?” I asked, turning my phone back around.
“Yes I love it—I miss your apartment,” Meg said. It’s been almost three years since she lived here, spending all of February, 2017 camped in my tiny spare bedroom that I’m convinced, at one point in history, was meant as a food pantry. The entire width of the room doesn’t clear six feet, leaving just enough space for a day bed, side table, and walkway. It’s cold as fuck during the winter, and I’d wake up to find Meg buried under a pile of blankets, covers pulled up just underneath her eyelids. She called it her cave.
“Really?” I ask. I have a love-hate-mortified relationship with my apartment. Only a small number of people have ever seen the inside, although I live walking distance to almost every person I know in this city. I don’t have central air, making summers completely brutal; there’s a water heater just hanging out in the center of my kitchen, and I flooded the Chinese restaurant below me not once, but twice. Not even for the same reason.
Meg pulls her beanie off and runs her fingers through her hair. After September, Meg always wears beanies indoors. I don’t understand how Canada is an actual country with an actual population. According to the Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion I just typed into Google, her actual temperature outside is -35 actual fucking degrees.
“No seriously. Like, if I had to switch lives with someone—or any of my friends, I guess—I would switch lives with you.”
This is the biggest compliment anyone has given me in a calendar year.
“Yea, I mean, I don’t know. I just loved our lives that month I lived there. You live above a coffee shop, I feel like that only happens in movies. And you live on such a cool street, and you friends are near you—”
It’s so weird, seeing yourself through someone else.
I always assume that some people—actually, most of the general population—could never live the way I live. My apartment is a standing health hazard. I have no form of regular income. There were multiple times in my adult life I blatantly went without health insurance, until my mom cried and guilt tripped me into buying it.
I was raised in a place where five-bedroom houses go for the same price as a 400-square foot studio in my current neighborhood. People have actual yards with actual grass and trees and shit, and usually I don’t think about it until I go home for the holidays and want to bang my head against their actual drywall (mine are plaster, thank you).
And when roles are reversed, when you go from a place built on space, quiet, stability, and a decent cost of living, I thought outsiders looking in thought something around the lines of, “How…do…you…live like this?”
As I type this, I know I shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks about my life, as I’m the one living it. And therefore, I’m the only person this life has to work for.
I’m not that mature.
I’m not a big enough person to evaluate my life on my happiness alone.
If I did—if I were that person—I’d default to the fact that this is the happiest I’ve been since my senior year of college. And you should know me well enough that I don’t just throw that shit around, replacing honesty with whatever I think should be written in a gratitude journal. Or something.
I know I’m happy because I don’t want anything to change.
My twenties were chaos. Before I moved into my current place, I renewed a lease exactly one time—from eighteen to twenty-seven. Even then, I didn’t stay the full second year, forced once again to find someone on Craigslist to finish a lease I wouldn’t stick around for. I moved every six months to a year, crossing state lines five different times. The longest I stayed at any job was one year, ten months. The shortest was my notorious eight-day employment before being fired in Boston.
My life wasn’t stable until all the things that supposedly give you stability were no longer there.
I wasn’t employed. I lived in an apartment that floods annually, even though I live on the second floor. I fly to see every member of my family.
Freelancing is, ironically, the longest job I’ve ever held, hitting my three-year mark next month. My lease is month-to-month—giving me the freedom to leave whenever I want— yet I’ve been here three and a half years. My DC friends stood by my side and answered every panicked phone call for almost nine. I wish I could teleport my parents, brother, and sister-in-law here, but until we find out Harry Potter’s real I continue to fly home regularly because I’m looking at a lifetime of unlimited vacation days.
And fuck if I don’t love my home.
I’m not talking about the actual plaster walls I live in. I’m talking about my block, the itty bitty bubble of 14th Street on which I live. In the past forty-eight hours alone, I ran downstairs to my baristas because I couldn’t get my dress zipped up, my mail lady hugged me while standing on the sidewalk, and my next-door neighbor texted me to text my upstairs neighbor that he had her Christmas packages.
I spent an entire decade trying things on—new apartments, new jobs, new states, entirely new career paths—then ripping each one off and tossing it to the side because I hated how it felt. And now I’m in this place where I feel so good, and can’t remember the last time I felt this good, that I’m afraid of peeling this life off—this life that may not flatter you, but happens to fit me perfectly—because I’m afraid this feeling will go away.
You always hear that jealousy isn’t a bad thing
—That it’s just a signal pointing you in the direction of something you want. I felt a lot of jealousy in the past ten years, wishing I could trade jobs, incomes, houses, or lives with someone else.
My list of envy is much smaller now. I’m envy of people who live driving distance to their parent’s house (like Meg). I’m jealous of basically every published author, ever. I’m jealous of every person who takes central air for granted.
Here’s what I’m not envious of: direct deposits. Having a yard if it means living in the suburbs. Electric heat (yo, radiators are cute as shit). Commutes. Driving in general. Not being able to order Indian when I’m craving it.
Oh, and living in a place where I don’t have an army of friends willing to move mountains for me (so I don’t sound like a dick, understand that I would do the same for them).
If I had to trade lives today with anyone else I know, I honestly couldn’t give you a name.