The end of last month marked 10 years of owning our apartment in Tarrytown, a sweet little one-bedroom unit (one of 12 in a converted Victorian house circa 1900) in a sweet little village on the Hudson River about 30 minutes north of New York City. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one place (not one town, at least not yet, but one physical space). When I was a kid, we moved around a lot—like, a lot a lot. The math is complicated because financially challenged divorced parents, but even looking at just one half is a map of unsettlement.
By the time I was three, we’d lived in two states—Colorado, where I was born, and North Carolina, where my brothers were born and I grew up—and at least three houses. My father was a long-haul trucker (no, this is not the start of a country song), which is how he fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is how we ended up in Asheville when my mother was heavily pregnant with my brother Middle E. By the time I was seven, the number of houses had tripled. And by the time each of my parents moved into their final North Carolina houses, where we stayed from the time I was 10 (my father’s house, where we lived when my brother Little A was born and where I first made sense of my early childhood memories of my father sexually abusing me and Middle E) and 11 (my mother’s house, where we lived through her short-lived third marriage that ended in her pathological liar husband stealing and disappearing in her car, among other doomed relationships) until I graduated high school, I clocked my 18th and 19th moves respectively.
My wife Kim’s mom still lives in the house where Kim grew up. It’s all there, in one place, in the same place. The kitchen where they ate breakfast. The dining room where they had holidays. The three bedrooms Kim and her brothers rotated through as they each aged from one to the other. The tree-shaded acre where they’d toss their bikes and pitch their tents and the woods where they’d eventually throw their empty beer bottles.
In our final North Carolina houses, Middle E and I rotated through bedrooms, too, but not because we aged in and out so much as new housemates made bedrooms complicated.
In my father’s final North Carolina house on Edgewood Road, there were three bedrooms, which was plenty until Little A came and then my grandmother moved from Denver to help look after Little A. Middle E was eventually moved to a makeshift room in the damp unfinished basement where we’d once helped my father shovel out a moldering cat carcass. I sometimes shared a room with my grandmother and sometimes had my own, but I’ve lost track of the chronology. I do remember we shared a room while Little A was an infant. Through the ghoulish green wall that separated us from my father and stepmother’s room, we could hear my father shouting at infant Little A in his crib when he’d wake in the middle of the night, spanking infant Little A in his crib when he wouldn’t stop crying. I was only 11, but I’d chosen the paint for my room and for Middle E’s too, Swell Blue, a cheerful tone for a cheerless house.
In my mother’s final North Carolina house on Maxwell Street, the number of bedrooms depended on what you consider a bedroom. Technically, there were two, I guess, but my mother made her bedroom out of the dining room, which sat in the center of the first floor, with one door into the kitchen, one door into the living room, and one door into the first-floor bathroom that took up two thirds of what was originally an enclosed porch. The second floor had two bedrooms—one that was absolutely massive and was sometimes my bedroom, one that was less than half the size of the massive one and was sometimes Middle E’s. When our bedrooms weren’t our bedrooms, my mother rented them, often to her friend Andy and also to her friend John whom she was sometimes fucking, which I know because it was inescapable. When our bedrooms weren’t our bedrooms, the laundry room, which comprised the other third of the poorly converted enclosed porch, was my bedroom, and a section of the bathroom next door was Middle E’s. Once, my laundry bedroom flooded, and I stepped into a puddle of red carpet. And always, the sounds of fucking echoed through the house from my mother’s dining room bedroom in the center of everything.
When I first moved to New York City, I didn’t intend to stay. It was August of 2004, and I was here to do my Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry and then move on to whatever final destination my ex- (who obviously wasn’t my ex- at the time) and I decided, maybe even Asheville, which in spite of all the terribleness was still the town I thought of as home. I’d come to New York City after a series of moves of my own—college in Ohio, semester abroad in Aberdeen, six months post-college in London followed by six months in Toronto followed by three and a half years in Buffalo—and I frequently longed for the misty mountain backdrop against which I’d grown up. It would have been different, of course, if any of my family was still there at the time, but they’d all left almost as soon as I had (somewhat ironically, my mother has since moved back to Asheville and was living in New Jersey when I moved here, but that’s a story for another day).
When I first moved to New York City, I’d never heard of owning an apartment. When I first moved to New York City, I’d never heard of Tarrytown. When I first moved to New York City, I was always on my way somewhere else. Kim, on the other hand, has never lived more than an hour from where she grew up in Florida, NY (seriously, there’s a Florida, NY). When we decided to move in together, it was clear I’d be U-Hauling up from Manhattan and not the other way around—Kim had already been in Tarrytown for more than 15 years by then. When she suggested we look at this condo for sale, I said she was crazy. We’d only been dating eight months (of course, in lesbian, that’s a lifetime)! Moving in together was stressful enough without the financial entanglement of home ownership! It was smaller than the apartment I was leaving behind in the City! “But can you see yourself living here?” Kim asked.
I used to think I could live almost anywhere, which COVID-19 aside is probably still true, but I’m also perfectly happy where I am (and it’s not just because we replaced that disgusting carpet).
Happy condo-versary to us, Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.