The Apartment Is Sinking ~ 12th April 2013
It’s raining in Brooklyn and that seems as good a detail to start with as any.
I’m sitting in a small apartment on the top floor of a brownstone that is slowly slanting to one direction. Slipping with time, into the earth. The Slope’s very own Leaning Tower of Pisa.
I tested it once, when I found my sleep disturbed.
I took a small tennis ball, the kind my small dog plays with, and placed it gently on the floor. It rolled with resolution to the other side of the closet that pretends to be a room and where I place my bed. So wooden slats were found to hoist the bed frame up on one side and my slumbers improved.
The faucet drips in the kitchen and was driving me to distraction, so I turned that off. The other faucet in the bathroom sink is so worn it will no longer turn. Now I have hot water in the kitchen and cold water in the bathroom sink.
Two other small closets posing as rooms, side by side. But it still presents difficulties.
The large, old, thin-glassed windows let in cold air with every breath and the small radiator in the corner does very little to heat my abode.
The fireplace is merely ornate. I have taken a large gargoyle head from a commercial my husband was working on and placed it on the rusting grate. To ward off the evil spirits? It is only made of plaster, but it weighs a ton.
The original flooring is quaint, but splinters lodge in my feet.
The locks never work right.
The doors open with a creak.
My dog spends most of his time here curled up on the couch with me, somewhat bored and resigned to the small space and waiting patiently for me to finish my work and take him out.
And I’m pregnant.
Six months or so along now and the stairs are becoming more and more of a hassle as I try to balance my bags of groceries, little dog Simon, and whatever else I might be hauling up.
I’m not very big. At least that is what some women have told me in a rather catty voice. That I don’t look like a pregnant woman. That they have a “friend” less along than me and showing more.
These women don’t mean well. They are judging me and I presume that this is only the beginning.
I live in neighborhoods where child worship is the norm. Child rearing an exclusive cult.
The pressures mount, and my daughter is not yet even born. So I search out ways to fight against them.
My doctor says I’m fine. That I’ve gained the “right” amount of weight for my size, that I look and am healthy.
Yet, already, I am not “big” enough. Not matronly. Not maternal. As if my stomach size was somehow in my control and I am failing miserably. Failing my child. Failing at even being pregnant.
Failing at parenthood.
God-forbid when I actually become a mother.
The men still cat-call.
I posed the question the other day, “Are pregnant women the new MILFS?” Only half in jest.
But then maybe they can’t tell.
I’m a radical feminist and vocally so, but small things – the “Hey Mami’s” – don’t really bother me in this city. I usually just smile and nod. And keep walking.
Our plight is too big to take offense to such innocuous comments, I think.
I reserve my strength for all the other ways I am assessed and measured and sized-up. Controlled and oppressed.
That man on the corner who felt the need to tell me I was looking beautiful today? I truly don’t think he’s the problem. Not in the macro sense. And I certainly don’t feel that I’m special.
It just humans interacting. Not always well. But can we fight everything? React to everything?
I may take a lot of flack for these statements.
But back to my crumbling apartment. The one I am slowly clearing out and have attempted to make as un-charming as possible in the hopes that it will be easier leaving.
God how I love it.
The rooftop deck outside that grants me a view of downtown Brooklyn and even a bit of lower Manhattan.
I have a perfect Rear Window view – looking out over the gardens of others.
Some are perfectly manicured delights.
The rest are wonderful in their old-school state of disrepair. Slapdash adornments cluttering the yards.
I even own binoculars but have yet to find that voyeuristic courage to use them. I can see enough with my naked eye and I love it.
There used to be a cellist on the first floor and entering the building felt like being transported to Paris. Or some other romantic city.
New York has a romance. A wonderful kind of spell it casts. But not the kind I associate with a cello I suppose.
I have spent over three years here, in this one place. This one apartment.
Have lived in this neighborhood for five.
The muffled sounds of Brooklyn that remind me I am not alone.
Birds mingling with planes and car honking. Construction. Muffled voices, shouting voices, laughing. These are the sounds that feed me.
These are the sounds that remind me I am alive and vibrant.
That I can create as the whole world is creating.
And that I am not alone. I am not special. I am not unique. Such comforting thoughts!
The world will try and tell me otherwise.
I am either “worth it” or a complete failure, depending on which message I listen to. And this is only the beginning.
I am 33 year-old woman with a Master’s Degree from a rather prestigious university.
I am married.
I am technically unemployed. Just a bit too old. Just a bit too over-under-non- experienced.
And I am pregnant.
I have become the supported housewife of my fears.
Or have I?
Because in the end we are only the stories we tell ourselves.
There are external realities, of course. And forces at work about which I have no control.
For example, last night I couldn’t sleep and instead wound up reading the most fascinating article in Al Jazeera about the state of professional academia. A profession I sought to join.
Nothing I didn’t know, in the end. But the picture painted was so fabulously bleak and depressing. Perfect for 4am.
And yet I digress.
We are only the stories we tell ourselves. We frame our own worlds.
I think I am the furthest thing from a housewife as one can get. Whatever that might be. Just the idea that I resist? The anti-Stepford Wife. No white picket fence. No baking.
The laundry? The 1950s all over again. The submission and heels and lipstick with dinner on the table by 5?
Perhaps I am deluding myself. But this is not my life and not the one I want.
I create. I work. Religiously and at all odd hours. I am hard on myself. The bar is so high.
I remain technically unpaid, but I hold out some degree of hope.
I have a child on the way. True.
But I don’t think I am going to become one’s typical sort of mother. Again, whatever that might be.
I won’t have it. I won’t do it. Not the way I’m told it’s done anyway.
Mercifully I am quite used to being sized-up, reviewed, and found wanting.
And yet, as I type these words, desperately hoping they don’t come off as ridiculously cliché, I think of all the moments in my life that have brought me here.
All the things that drive me to begin to write again.
To reclaim the personal voice I pushed aside in pursuit of intellectual academic meditations.
And I think that maybe, just maybe, I might have something to say. Something for someone who must also be like me. I’m nothing new. Nothing special.
Jane Austen commented that she wrote on tiny pieces of ivory, observations of the small minutia of daily life. One’s experiences, real and imagined. Experience and experiment.
I’m just a woman and I could be any-woman. Everywoman. Well, at least like some women. I know I must be.
And, as that,
I have decided to voice my way out.