When you live that nomad life, you move around a lot. Today I moved into a new apartment. This one marks my 9th apartment in 8 years, not counting my parents house, where I grew up and lived last year. In honor of the occasion, a retrospective with a bit about each place, and the journeys that brought me there.
Apartment #1: Dorm Room, Berkeley, California
The first time I left the house I grew up in was when I went to college. I was eighteen and I packed only my clothes and some books in cardboard boxes (because college dorms have the rest, or you can just buy it there) and loaded up my dad’s SUV. My parents and I drove the 8-hour route from Los Angeles to Berkeley (because my parents hate the 5-hour route, which is ugly but gets the job done faster). We got there and lugged boxes on boxes up 3 flights of stairs because the elevators are always too busy on move-in day. It was late August and there was no air conditioning. I tried to rearrange the pre-fab, university-issued furniture in this 200 square foot cinderblock room into something resembling a place to live. The next day my parents left, and the next time I came home was at Thanksgiving.
Apartment #2: Homestay, Oaxaca, Mexico
I was 19, in my sophomore year of college. I packed one 50-pound suitcase, one duffel bag, and one carry-on backpack. In retrospect, I didn’t really need to bring that much stuff, although I ended up bringing back so much more that I had to mail some of it home before I left. I paid my second checked bag fee, and the very pregnant program director met me at the airport and took me to my host family’s house. Oaxaca was hot and dry (this was also late August) and everything covered with a thin layer of dust. What struck me most was the smell, a strange mix of petrol and stagnant water and dry brick. (Other cities in Mexico smell the same way. So did Barcelona.) The room I stayed in was much bigger than my dorm room, with a queen-sized bed and actual space to stretch my legs. My host mom cooked amazing food every day. There was a huge plate of fresh fruit for breakfast every morning, along with a quesadilla with avocado and her homemade chipotle salsa. When I left, she joked that if we had any adoption papers, she’d love to sign them.
Apartment #3: Can We Find Rent in Berkeley for under $500/month, Berkeley, California
And so I found myself back in Berkeley, in a tiny, three-bedroom apartment with five of my closest friends. The kitchen was barely big enough for one person to fry an egg while another washed their dishes. There was a hallway between all three rooms, no living room. There was one bathroom amongst the 6 of us. I’m sure in some alternate universe, one of us (or several of us) is sitting in prison for murdering her roommate.
Apartment #4: Carleton House, Berkeley, California
But in this universe, we found a house to live in after that. Finally, we had a big kitchen, a proper dining area, a living room, a deck, 2.5 bathrooms, and I had a walk-in closet that my friend Bernadette slept in once, even though we had several good couches and futons upstairs.
When I graduated, I took a job teaching in Kansas City, Missouri through Teach for America. When I had to move out of that house, I nearly had a panic attack cleaning the shower. I was almost 22, and I had to 2 weeks to pack up my life and take it halfway across the country.
Apartment #5: Armour Park, Kansas City, Missouri
I packed my Honda Civic to the brim and my mom and I took a week-long road trip en-route. We visited the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, Taos, and Colorado Springs. I didn’t want the trip to end. Pretty soon, I was gonna have to make good on that promise to bring educational equality to inner cities of middle America, and I was terrified.
After five weeks of training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I moved into a beautifully renovated, turn-of-the-century art deco building with three other TFA teachers. It was a great apartment. It should’ve been a great living situations, but my roommates turned out to be the kind of people who are only good when the going is good. They sense you struggling, or maybe not having as good a time as they want to have, and they drop you from their lives like you’re not in the next room crying yourself to sleep or having a panic attack in the shower. Also, they eat your ice cream when they come home drunk at 4 a.m. then deny it the next day. Rude.
Apartment #6: Living Alone, Kansas City, Missouri
My first time living alone, I was scared of being lonely. But my previous apartment had been so lonely, even though I had three roommates. I learned how to find my own friends, something that is quite hard to do outside of school or a workplace. And once I got used to it, I loved living alone. I love not having anyone else’s dishes in the sink. I love walking around naked. I love being able to come home whenever I want and not worry about waking anyone up. Living alone is the most liberating feeling, and this apartment was probably my favorite place I’ve ever lived.
Apartment #6 1/2: This one doesn’t count, Guadalajara, Mexico
I’m in Guadalajara for all of 3 weeks, then I get into a huge car accident and have to move back in with my parents in Los Angeles. The less said about this, the better.
Apartment #7: Not really an apartment, but the house I grew up in
Moving back in with your parents as adult, once you’ve been away for over 6 years, is strange. Moving back in because of a debilitating accident is even stranger. For 6 years I learned how to live on my own, only to be back in my old room, needing my parents to take care of me again. I looked at the posters and pictures adorning my bedroom wall from my teenage years. Many of the pictures were for shows I no longer liked, or movie stars I no longer lust after. I thought, What if I’m never able to leave this room again?
Apartment #8: Ground Floor, Wrocław, Poland
The day I got to Poland was in the middle of a heat wave, and the first thing my new roommate (also an American expat teacher) told me was, “This apartment doesn’t have air conditioning.” I told her I’ve lived in many places without air conditioning, and she seemed shocked.
When we moved in, this apartment didn’t have a shower curtain. We asked the landlord to install one, and he didn’t seem to know what a shower curtain was. This apartment was near two bus stops, but the buses never ran on schedule and it was a pain in the ass to travel the 3 kilometers to work. We stayed there for a month.
Apartment #9: Friendship Street, Wrocław, Poland
The name of this street means “Friendship” in Polish. Much preferable to our old place, as it’s next to a tram stop, which is always on time. It’s also on the fourth floor, so I don’t feel like people walking past are looking in. Around December, my roommate gets a boyfriend and it’s like I’m living alone again. Yes, I think, I can walk around naked now.
Another thing: the name of this neighborhood means “screams” in Polish. But unlike what you might imagine, it’s out in what some might consider the suburbs, so it’s very peaceful. One hella expensive taxi ride, though, after a long night out.
Apartment #10: Cool Digs Near Rynek, Wroclaw, Poland
Another place to call home. Now when I go out, I won’t have to take a taxi. I’m sure there will be something to hate about this new place, like the novelty of the central location will eventually wear off or it will be too cold during the winter, but right now it feels more like a milestone. So here’s to ten, and to many more.