Our winning story for the Selected Shorts presents Apartments and Neighbors contest was sent in by Jane Rubinsky! What follows is Jane’s story:
My first New York move, out of a rented room, was accomplished with one trip in a Checker cab … which tells you how long ago it was. When I left my roommate’s apartment seven months later, my dad’s Dodge van was pressed into service. Twenty years later, the tiny apartment I had scored at 22 had become as tightly packed as a Japanese train compartment, and leaving it required three moves: one to take away the boxes I had stacked in the space created by throwing away my couch, so I could continue packing; another to move the furniture; and then a follow-up move, after I had spent a week sleeping in an empty apartment while wrapping and packing all the dishes, kitchenware, and collectibles hastily emptied out of the cabinets and shelves onto the floor.
So it’s understandable that the prospect of moving again nine years later brought a sense of unease. In one of those quirks of fate, I was being paid enough to purchase a new apartment by leaving the one I had. But there was a catch: I could not collect the money until I had vacated the first apartment, and could not close on the second one until I had the money in hand. There was only one solution: all my furniture, books, clothing, records, pottery, prints—everything I had amassed in 30 years of living in New York—was packed into two moving trucks by five men over the course of two days and carted off to a warehouse in Brooklyn, and—at the age of 52—I was rendered temporarily homeless.
It was supposed to be for a week, but a glitch in the schedule stretched it into a month: a week and a half spent in guest-faculty quarters in the dorm at Juilliard (which wasn’t so bad, provided the kids stopped working out in the gym on the other side of the wall by midnight); two and a half weeks on a friend’s couch – and then three nights on an air mattress on the floor of my empty new apartment before my stuff arrived from Brooklyn. (Let me tell you, the fastest way to meet your neighbors is to knock on every door on your floor, asking to borrow a toilet plunger.)
There was something oddly liberating about living out of two suitcases for weeks. (Mercifully, my coworkers never commented on the fact that three outfits appeared in regular rotation.) Without all my stuff, all the stuff I had considered essential, I thought I would feel anxious, but I didn’t. Enjoying the spaciousness of my new apartment in those three days before the boxes arrived, I vowed that I would deaccession and declutter as I settled in. Alas, that didn’t happen.
Five years later, now nicely settled in (and having acquired even more stuff since I arrived), I can say this: if the moving fairy ever knocks on my door again, she’d better have at least a two-bedroom.
Thanks to everyone who sent in stories!