It’s a stressful time. The weeks after the new year. I think it’s part due to the sudden jolt, the sputter that occurs from turning back on after weeks of being on pause. I imagine it’s why everyone’s sick right now. Everyone’s coughing up the rust, readjusting to life again.
It’s true I added more stress by deciding to move. On the way to taking Jay and I to the train station after Christmas, my mother asked why we always had to make things so hard for ourselves. Why we couldn’t wait until the right time. I told her that I couldn’t help it. I’d fallen in love.
I’d fallen in love with a three-bedroom loft. This three-bedroom loft with its exposed white brick and wood beams. With the large living room that moves into a large dining room that begs to host dinner parties on crisp winter evenings where the laughter of friends travels throughout the hallways which are littered with candles and books. And they’re refilling their drinks out of a glass punch bowl while jazz plays in the background (or this amazing cover of Dancing in the Moonlight by Ohashi Trio).
This three-bedroom loft where the windows are large and rectangular, and on the sills sit flower boxes, four in a row, that look onto the building’s courtyard, the light pink walls, giving me the feeling I had when I lived in Spain. The windows that line the hallway go from the living room, past two bedrooms, to the furthest room at the back of the apartment, an office with warm hardwood floors and a Tuscan leather chair with a window that looks onto Old City, the pavement of which is cobblestone, on the sides of which sit stores and restaurants, the type of restaurants where candlelight reflects off large glass panes, through which Jay and I will sit and talk about our days. And down the street from the restaurant is the park we will take walks in the summer. The park I grew up in. Where I used to run with boys and girls around flower beds and stood on statues and once jumped in the large fountain, feeling the hundreds of pennies beneath my feet.
Like all dream apartments, there’s a caveat to this one. A glaring imperfection that makes it within reach. The hallway. More specifically, the entrance hall to the building. It’s damp and musty and fluorescent lights flicker as you walk down it. And the three flights of stairs up to our floor are covered in linoleum so dirty they are now grey and the smell of mold hits you from somewhere we believe in the basement that’s rotting. It’s so dreary that by the time you get to the third floor you want to leave, turn back. But because we saw the pictures online we decided to venture further on, to go inside even though the first impression hurt us. And that’s when we fell in love. Deep enough to forget the hallway.
I know it’s real love because Jay felt it too. Because even his rational, pragmatic self couldn’t stop him from making an offer. Because even though Jay doesn’t believe in stuff like homes having souls, he saw something in this apartment that made him want to throw everything away and start again. He couldn’t ignore the dream that emanated from it.
But you don’t buy an apartment for some dream, he said when we were discussing it weeks after having made an offer, a decision that roped us into a new life we hadn’t been thinking about a month ago. I’m not moving to Philadelphia so you can have dinner parties. He was arguing with me but also with himself.
But that’s exactly why you move, I said. Why does anyone move anywhere? Because they like the life they can see for themselves there.
Nora Ephron did. The building that saved her on west seventy-ninth street. The one after she found out her husband was cheating on her and she moved from Washington back to New York, alone with two small children. It was a building that gave her hope again. That gave her this sense of home and future at the same time. “I honestly believed that at the lowest moment in my adult life I’d been rescued by a building.”
It was an emblem of the moment in my life when my luck changed. It was part of my identity—or, at least, part of my wishful thinking about my identity. Because it was on the unfashionable West Side, just living there made me feel virtuous and brainy. Because it was a rental, it made me feel unpretentious. Because it was shabby, it made me feel chic. In short, it was home in a profound, probably narcissistic, and, I suspect, all too typical way, and it seemed to me that no place on earth would ever feel the same.
I know, an apartment won’t solve my problems. Nothing, outside of myself, can solve anything for me. But these things that we’re attracted to, these things that makes us dream and hope again are catalysts. Emblems rising out of the fog, reminding us that the good life, the life we want, is still within reach. They wake us up and give us purpose again.
So many of our decisions are based on signals, signs, beautiful things that speak to us. To that small pocket of our soul where we’ve tucked away our dreams. The job that’s terrible with terrible pay but is in the same building as Vogue or The New York Times. It represents the job you could have one day if you stick around long enough, make enough connections in the elevator. You’re not sure how you’ll do it, you just know something in this building, this bad job, makes you feel like you’re on the right path.
Same with people. We’re drawn to people we don’t know for reasons we can’t understand. That man you met for another date last week, the man who isn’t really your type, but has illuminated something within you. And even though he’s not anything like the man you imagined yourself with, you will see him again. And again. Because something in him, something about him, called out to you, promised to give you something you forgot you wanted. A life full of laughter. A country home with warm fireplaces. Trips to Paris with someone who loves you. Their soul is speaking to your soul and whether you’re ready or not, you won’t be able to stop seeing them.
That’s how it works. Our soul recognizes things meant for us. Our soul attaches to things other people pass without notice. A café, a painting, a scented candle, a box of greeting cards. This thing. This beautiful thing that makes me feel better. Makes me feel at home. These beautiful things direct us towards our beautiful lives. The signposts to look out for when life feels dreary and tough and planes are falling out of the sky. We need to follow these things, the ones our souls scream out for, because they are beckoning, calling us towards the life we could have, if only we’d take the risk and follow the beautiful thing that wants to take us there.