What We Lost in the Fire

I’m in New York City, staying on the couch in my old apartment on the first leg of a long road trip that will take me up through New England and back down home.

The dishes aren’t mine, but they’re where I left them; the kitchen is arranged the way I like it, with the coffee mugs on the bottom shelf, where I can always reach. The spices in the cabinet actually are mine, as is the reminder pad I left on the fridge. The walls are the gray color Stipps and I picked out together partially because the name reminded us of an inside joke; B came over and helped us paint them one long day, then stayed and watched basketball on the furniture that was all pushed into the middle of the room. The front entrance wall is still a bright statement turquoise.

Time – flat, circle, we’re trapped in it – won’t work for me in a linear way today; it stops and starts and overlaps and doubles back on itself. I’m thirty years old and crashing on my friend’s couch, but I’m also twenty-seven, standing in this apartment when it was empty and huge, all but mauling the broker in an attempt to make it ours, ours, ours. I’m three days past my twenty-eighth birthday, lying on the futon, too heartbroken to cry or make a sound. I’m sitting in the living room surrounded by friends and family for Rosh Hashanah; I’m standing over Remy in the kitchen with Stipps, learning to make a perfect old-fashioned; I’m breaking down in tears, telling Stipps I can’t stay here anymore, it’s time to go.

The futon is gone. In it’s place is a beautiful and incredibly comfortable sectional, which I coveted so deeply it certainly influenced my own first-couch purchase a year later. What was my room, cramped and crowded with almost everything I owned, is now Emily’s, done in neutral colors, gorgeous and light, a rom-com character’s perfect NYC dream. I had the biggest closet of anyone I knew; Em bought two more stand-alone armoires that dwarf it. I don’t live here anymore; I will never live here again; I will always live here, on a loop. The ghost of me is everywhere I’ve been, and I’m the only one it haunts.

I told my mother my twenties were for having adventures, and my thirties were for figuring out how to pay for them while I build a whole life. I meant financially – non-profit employment made those adventures scrappy, to put it politely – but it’s more than that, and I know it now. Little pieces of my life are everywhere, and I can’t walk away from them; they will always call me back. I know what I gained when I moved this time. It’s easy to assess when I’m sitting out on my porch in the warm Kentucky sun, sipping iced coffee. But I spent my twenties avoiding acknowledging what I lost, too. A short bus ride to South Station; several close communities that are now the diaspora; an idea of what kind of adult I was going to be. Those things and more I can’t name yet are gone, and I’m not getting them back. As much as what I’ve gained should be cherished and celebrated, what I lost can’t be forgotten and buried. It all wants to be felt, and New York City is not a place that will allow you to pretend not to feel things. After all, you’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve cried on the subway.