I bought this antique table last summer at a street market in in my old neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The table came with two chairs and was the perfect size for my comfy studio apartment. This table made me happy. I’ve always been a lover of stylish things and this modest sewing machine turned table was a symbol of my being a survivor.
You see, that studio apartment was all I ever wanted. I moved into the place in 2011 with a boyfriend ready to create a home. But looking back, life with him wasn’t home, it was misery. He left breaking his financial and personal commitment to me and the battle began. Making the rent every month was relentless. But I did it and I had no energy for anything else. After this 8th failed relationship, I developed this low grade distrust of men in general so I did not date. I made the money to feed my obsession…and gave it to a disgustingly rude and greedy landlord who’s only concern was collecting as much money, control and property as possible. It’s interesting, even with all of the buildings and money they had, my landlord and his wife were suffering with the weight of owning several properties while dying of cancer for the entire 5 years that I knew them.
When people asked where I lived, and I said “Park Slope” I absolutely LOVED seeing their surprised faces. “Wow, that’s expensive” they’d say I would just smile and say something like, “I’m worth it.” I am a dark skinned African-American woman and I love shaking up stereotypes. Living in a posh neighborhood like Park Slope was the PERFECT way, in my mind, to say fuck you to people who thought I did not deserve to live there because of the color of my skin.
My studio was so comfortable and took so much effort to keep that I began to really isolate. Instead of making the effort to go out and be social, I’d cuddle in. I had to work so hard to keep my place… it did not seem worth it to spend precious money on brunch, parties, dinners, events where I would probably be pretending to fit in and not have a good time anyway. I did not have much but I bought quality peices and put everything together beautifully. The few times I had friends or guests over, they’d say how good my little home made them feel.
As I’d cuddle in, my thoughts would slowly become dark. I’d start to think that because my ex left me I wasn’t loveable, I wasn’t worthy, that there was something wrong with me, without him I couldn’t financially survive. It was really hard for me to connect with my friends. I’d say I was going to go to a party, spend time getting dressed and putting on make up…only to end up lying in bed watching PBS, Netflix or HBO Go. It was this horrible cycle, the relationship took so much out of me, that I did not work on my friendships, which were weak to begin with, and my friends had turned to aquaintences. Then depression would kick in I wasn’t able to be there for anyone so I had no one to turn to when I needed emotional support.
But I had my antique table. My favorite day of the month was the second. That day rent was paid, and the panic of making the next month’s rent haddn’t set in yet so I’d enjoy my apartment. I’d look around the space at the walls I’d painted, the brightly colored artesan plates I’d purchased from Tarzanian West (my favorite expensive kitchen store in Park Slope) and just breathe. On the second of the month I’d cook myself something delicious and set my table with a beautiful light blue place mat and a cool coaster I got from Anthropologie. I’d pick one of my blue glass wine glasses and fill it with Simply Lemonade, set the table with my Ikea silverware, sit down knowing that I had worked my ass off for this moment. I was here, in my own apartment eating a homecooked meal that the sweat of my labor had created. I did it on my own and it felt so good, for that second day. Then the fear would kick in. The mania to make the money. to pay the rent began again.
The crazy thing is all the money I made went to rent and the very basic living expenses. I had blocked out the fact that I’d filed for bankruptcy back in 2010 and I haddn’t made any payments on the student loan I’d not been paying (for over 20 years now…the interest is more than the original loan) and the fact that I had not had a date in over a year and a half. Then around the time of my birthday I got a residual check from a commercial I wasn’t expecting and it infused new life into me. I felt better about a side gig that was brining in income so I signed up for an improv class, a script analysis class and focused on auditioning more. A couple of days later, there was a knock at my door. A man hand delivered a letter, from my landlord’s lawyer. It said my landlord had decided to terminate my lease and unless I wanted to pay market value rent for my studio apartment, $3,000.00.
I did not want to do that, frankly… I couldn’t do that I was killing myself to make the current rent this is like a new sort of slavery!! It wasn’t worth it. So with a little over a months notice, I started the process of letting go.
It wasn’t easy I did it in stages. I found a really cheap room not far from my place, activated a tinder account and started going on dates, joined a Meditation center I’d been hanging around ever since 9-11 and just enjoyed my apartment. I read plays and worked on new audition material and went on every possible audition I could go on.
I got a storage unit for my table and chairs, a few boxes and suitcases. I diddn’t have anyone to ask to help me move so I went on taskrabbit and hired two guys to move my mattress and summer clothes to the room and poof…new life.
But a week in, I realized that this new place was a mistake. The stout morbidly obese toothless Puerto Rican woman I rented the room from was crazy. There were some unusually cold nights for spring and in order to keep the apartment warm, she leaves the gas burners of the oven burning blue flames all night long. Her adult daughter and teenaged son share a bed in one of the bedrooms and my new “landlady” spends most of her time wearing tee shirts and underwear as she obsessively does laundry and cleans the bathrooms, floors and kitchen with amonia and screams “Manny…Manny” at her grandson for whatever mistake he has made in the house. I’m not allowed to use the kitchen, and the woman freaks out on me whenever I use the shower and when I use the toilet she immediately goes in after me and cleans.
So I told her June 1 I’d be leaving on June 30th. I’m leaving New York for a while. So I’m packing my things and getting rid of more stuff. Today, I went over to my storage unit and pulled out the wicker trunk I bought from Pier 1 Imports when I was 16 years old, the converted sewing machine table and the bike I bought right after September 11th. I left the bike with a bike lock and key in the hallway..a gift for whoever wants a bike. I put the wicker trunk and the table on a flatbed cart and took it down the elevator.
As I was pulling the trunk off of the cart a woman came over and looked at my sewing machine table. I’d find out later her name was Shirley. She smiled and said, “That is one of those old sewing machines that they used to have when I was a little girl!” I smiled and said “Yep. It sure is.” “Wow.” she said. “You want it? It’s yours.” I said. I left it on the cart so she could take it to her car. “Thank you so much!” She said. “I’m gonna put this in my bedroom. This is nice.”
I watched as she pulled the cart with her new old sewingmachine table over to her van and I turned and walked away from U Haul. As I walked down 4th ave towards the Union street subway station on the N R train, I felt lighter. As I’ve shared with people this fucked up story of how I have to go to Virginia to stay with my family people usually say oh it’s so good to clear away stuff… they don’t understand… I did not HAVE that much stuff to begin with. I had these few precious possesions that represented so much in my mind. I held on to those things to keep going and was so afraid if I let go of these things I would literally loose my mind. But I did not. Loose my mind. At least I don’t think I have… I’m writing this…. Anyway.
All I know is that Shirley’s eyes sparkled when she saw that table and I know she will cherish it as much as I did, perhaps even more. And I know that for me now home is wherever I am in my heart, and letting go of that apartment is the first step to my journey of financial freedom, wich for this dark skinned single African American woman is the ULTIMATE symbol of…not just survival…but thriving.