I waited five months for this. Over 150 days I yearned and dreamed and sustained myself off the idea of it. My own place. With Jay. Two bedrooms. A large kitchen. A loft in Philadelphia all our own.
Last Tuesday, after the movers came, the cleaners cleaned and everyone left, Jay and I sat in our new apartment and talked about great it was. How much space we had. How nice the light was that poured in through the row of windows. Yet as we spoke I found myself holding back a gnawing pain the way one holds back the overwhelming feeling of nausea. I pushed it back and put on a smile to keep the tears from falling, and me from admitting how I didn’t feel happy at all. All I felt in my beautiful new apartment was like I wanted to cry.
But this was just the first day. The first day after a long day and I chalked it up to being tired and fatigued. Yet when I awoke the next morning in my new bedroom that I thought was so charming, it didn’t feel charming at all. It felt dark and cold. And the pain was there, deeper and heavier than yesterday and all I could do was lie under the covers, trying to catch it, or a shard of it, so I could name it, identify it, figure out what it was and where it came from.
It felt like…college. Yes, the first day of college. When everything is new and your life is in front of you and you can hear people shouting and laughing on the quad but you won’t dare leave your room for the loneliness and fear has you chained to the bed. And even though you yelled and shouted at your parents about how you couldn’t wait to get away from them, you now just want to curl up back in your own bed, safe in their home. Yes, I thought, that’s what it felt like.
But then I heard Jay making coffee in the kitchen and I remembered I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t in college. Though I didn’t know this city well, it was still my home. Still knew a few people here. Had friends and a job and unlike college, everything I wanted. So why was I feeling like this?
When the pain was still there on the third day I started to become really concerned. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it from Jay much longer. And I knew if he knew how miserable I felt, how lonely and depressed I was already, that his deepest fear would come true. That my happiness was impossible to catch. That we were in yet again another new place and I was already miserable.
But then something incredible happened. I didn’t have to worry about hiding it from Jay because he said to me while unpacking the last box in our living room, “I think I’m getting sick.”
“Oh no!” I said. “Let me feel your head.” When I felt it it was cool and dry. “Well you don’t have a fever,” I proclaimed. “What are you symptoms? Are you queasy? Is it your head? Your stomach?”
“No, I just feel flat. Like no energy. Kind of…
I finished his sentence for him. “Sad?”
“Yea!” Then he started backpedaling. “But no. I mean, I think it must just be the move. It must have taken more out of me than I realized.”
It was so obvious. Of course, I thought. Men don’t admit when they’re depressed or anxious or overwhelmed or sad. They don’t realize emotions have weights and degrees. They just think they’re sick.
“I feel the same way,” I said. “Only I know I’m not sick. I’m just sad.”
“But why?” I couldn’t tell if he was asking me or himself.
That evening, as we went through the motions of making dinner in our beautiful new kitchen and eating at our beautiful new table, trying to chit chat but trying harder to hold down our food and our pain, there came an unexpected knock at the door. I was in a robe and Jay in his boxers (the air conditioner already broken) so I ran to the bathroom and he hurriedly threw on his jeans, the heavy metal of the belt buckle clanging as he buttoned up.
I listened from the bathroom as he opened the door. It was a woman’s voice. Jay called for me. Even though I was still in my robe I hurried down the hall to see a charming woman with white hair and lines across her face like folded silk. She lived on the floor above us and wanted to welcome us to the building with cookies, a gift and an invitation for cocktails tomorrow evening at her place. Were we free? Of course we were.
Maybe it was the fact that her apartment was filled with large pieces of art and bronze statues. Or that her husband had a room dedicated entirely to model trains. Or that they made us watermelon cocktails from a recipe they clipped that morning from the newspaper, but when she asked how I was doing, as any neighbor and new acquaintance would, I told her the truth. I told her I was having a hard time. I told her how it didn’t make sense that I was finally in the apartment I dreamed about, yet felt so empty.
She wasn’t taken aback. She didn’t stare at me with surprise. “Well, yes, darling,” she said. “Moving is notoriously hard. On account of all the change.”
“Yea, I guess you’re right.”
“I know I’m right. It’s a shock to the system. Good or bad, change is always a shock.”
Her words flowed through me like light entering a room at daybreak, corner by corner. It spread across me and the dark pain that sat at the bottom of my stomach didn’t feel as heavy. I could see. I could hear. I felt lighter. Freer. Calmer knowing that it wasn’t weird or bad or unacceptable to feel sad or empty upon getting something you wanted, but normal. Change is hard. Change changes you.
I started to think back to my college analogy. Then about how not matter what age you are, change, whether it be something big like leaving for university, getting a new job, moving cities, having a baby, or smaller, like having a friend have a baby, using Zoom instead of commuting, having to work out in your 600 sqft apartment instead of a gym, or novel and incompressible like a pandemic, change is always hard. It takes a toll. And it manifests in physical and emotional ways.
We watch the news, our Facebook feeds, or inflict change on ourselves in big and small ways, and then wonder why we don’t feel ourselves. We go through our days, weeks, lives absorbing change and carrying on like we’re not affected. But we are. We are constantly evolving and moving and confronting.
And it’s only after the change wears off and we’ve fully absorbed the shock, that we start to feel normal. Find our footing. Settle in. Feel ourselves again. Only we’re not ourselves, we’re better, more grown-up versions of ourselves who have just shed a new layer.
And as I sit here writing this Sunday afternoon, five days since moving in, the pain isn’t as bad. For the first time I woke up in my new apartment, in my new bad, and didn’t feel like closing my eyes again.
Throughout the day small waves of pain pass through me, but not nearly as large and destructive as before. The ocean inside me has calmed and in a way, I’ve now gotten used to the current that continually flows through me. And I can look out the window above my new desk with the green leaves rustling in front of the charming brick townhome across the street and feel hopeful.
Change, I’m learning, is inevitable. Like hiccups or rain, it comes out of nowhere. It’s part of being alive. And the more I can get used to change and the pain that comes with it, the less I learn not to panic when it arrives.