When we talked about moving and I imagined our New York apartment, I imagined a fourth floor walk-up, cramped and small, high in rent and a far walk from any desirable area. I imagined a giant brick box on some charmless street beside warehouses surrounded by razor wire.
Our first apartment in New York couldn't be comfortable or affordable or spacious or lovely. That's not how New York works, I thought. We'd have to crawl over one another to get to and from the bathroom, bumping butts in a tiny kitchen with no room for even the smallest of tables. Noise from our drunken, fighting neighbors would keep us from going to sleep and the cries of a baby next door would wake us far too early in the mornings. It would be ugly. It would be tiny. It would be cramped.
Because New York is hard. New York makes you work for it. New York is full of magic, so you must live in a rat-infested shithole at half your monthly income in order to partake in it. This is what I thought. We'd perservere through all of it, but this is what I imagined.
That didn't turn out to be true. Our place is gorgeous. And it's big. Dominique found us a 950 square foot two bedroom flat mere steps from one of the liveliest and most desirable streets in the entire neighborhood. And the rent is not only fair, but affordable and far below the price of what we'd have paid for the same spot in San Francisco. Like, a thousand dollars less.
We live on a residential street, home to friendly neighbors who wave to us as we pass, making sure to come over and introduce themselves and offer warm welcome. I chat with the lady next door, Sandy, about the weather and what it was like living in California and her cats, all the cats that her animal-loving daughter adopts then somehow end up with her.
There are six stairs leading up to the porch -- a porch! -- a lovely, spacious sitting area with boxed flowers and an American flag. The autumn weather has been unusually warm since we arrived, and sitting on the porch to watch passersby and listen to the trains roll just one block over has been heavenly. With Halloween just around the corner, we'll be ripe for candy-hunting strick-or-treaters. Astoria is a family neighborhood, but not everyone has a porch.
Our front door opens into a hallway -- a hallway! -- and immediately to the left you'll find a large living room with lovely hardwood floors and crown molding and a ceiling fan. A ceiling fan! (The cats have never lived with a ceiling fan before, and they are still unsure of the spinning monster in the sky, though at first they were utterly terrified.)
This hallway also contains a closet, one large enough to serve as a bedroom. It's huge! Not only can I stand in it, I could turn it into a nursery if the occasion ever arose. My friend Joanna marveled at its size: "You could totally make this a baby's room. It wouldn't be child abuse until they were three years old."
The hallway then leads to a kitchen, a good-sized kitchen, with a window. There is a gas-burning stove (standard, I think, in New York) and a full-sized fridge with still enough room for a breakfast nook or a table for two.
The kitchen then leads to another hallway -- a second hallway! -- that contains two more closets, one pantry like, the other deep enough to store many, many things. We have so many closets that we need to acquire more stuff to fill them all.
In that hallway there is a door to the master bedroom, a sizable affair with another ceiling fan -- ceiling fan! -- and a window that overlooks the small backyard that belongs to the people who live below us. I don't think they use it, because the greenery is overgrown, but it's still lush with leaves from large trees that are home to many loud and squawking birds that keep Gracie occupied for hours on end. She sits every day looking out the window into the green of the backyard, daydreaming of snagging herself a fat squirrel or unsuspecting blackbird.
Despite our not having access to it, I love that little backyard. It allows us a peek at nature, however small that peek may be, even as the sound from the subway trains arrives every five or so minutes.
I love our proximity to the subway. It's literally a two minute walk, one short block away, but it isn't loud enough to rattle the panes. Commuting to Manhattan is just a short fifteen minute trip, and the sound of the incoming and outgoing trains is comforting, a reminder that life happens always, in and out, in and out. I often stare into our backyard to a soundtrack of trains.
In addition to the master bedroom there is a smaller second bedroom, also with a ceiling fan. A ceiling fan! The second bedroom is his space for working: literal paycheck-making work, as well as for his music, a place for him to write and play and record. It pleases me to know he has a little sanctuary, a room of his own, in which to create. His creations are one of my favorite things about him.
Lastly, there is a bathroom. It's nothing special, but it has a fantastic full tub with arched tile overhead. There is also a non-functioning shower stall that we use for the cats' litter box, the perfect use for a shower stall you can't take a shower in.
All of this is situated mere steps from Broadway, a street that has almost anything you could ever want. Within two blocks I can do all of the following with ease: grocery shop, hit the ATM at my local branch, buy barista-made coffee, drop off laundry to be washed and folded, purchase a terrarium, select from a dizzying array of baked goods until well past midnight, brunch, get my hair cut and my nails done, take the subway, buy an entire roasted chicken, hit the drugstore, buy cheap utensils from a discount mart, play pool, drink beer and dine on Greek food so delicious you'll sigh throughout the entire meal. And that's literally just the two blocks in any direction from our place. The convenience is staggering, and I suppose that's why they say that New Yorkers rarely leave their neighborhoods. There is just no need.
The streets of Astoria are teeming with life, vibrant lives of all kinds. Pregnant women pushing strollers, couples kissing on stoops, pockets of boys headed to a local bar, families with straggling toddlers, old ladies gingerly traversing the sidewalks, and all of them are from every place in the world. Our neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the country, with everyone from Greeks to Italians to Egyptians to two people from Texas and Tennessee who are still marveling at all the city has to offer.
I've lived in New York before. I lived in Manhattan, in Hell's Kitchen, and I hated it so very much. It was too crowded, too noisy, too far from the subway for me to ever feel relaxed and at home. Astoria is so different. Our street is not quiet, but it is peaceful, and it is safe. And just down the road is a lively strip of city life that we can tap simply by putting on some shoes and heading out the door. We live on a residential street that feels homey and welcoming, and that street meets another street with all the things that New York City does best. It's the best of both, and I feel so lucky to live here.
It still hasn't sunk in all the way. I live here. I live in New York, and it's different this time. It's better. It's so, so much better. I am not lonely. I do not live above the Lincoln tunnel and the constant honking of horns trying to make their way back to New Jersey. I live with a man I love with a fierceness I have never known. This is our home. This is our city. I am not visiting. I do not have to leave in five days. I have the keys.
I wouldn't be here if it were not for Dominique. New York was his idea. He asked me to join him, and I couldn't fathom life without him, so I said yes. But I'd never have returned to New York of my own volition. The first time left a terrible taste in my mouth, as well as some lasting scars. But he had a dream, a specific one, and if I know anything about Dominique it's that he doesn't allow dreams to remain as such. He works hard to make them real, and I'm so lucky he invited me to be with him as he made this one happen.
I am happy here. I am jobless still, but so very happy. After a stressful and expensive stint to make it happen, we have arrived, and it is wonderful. We are only two weeks in, but this home, this neighborhood in this city, is like the last porridge: not too hot, not too cold, but juuuuuust right.
And we've only just begun.