My daughter sent a text last week with a link to an apartment she’d found on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It’s a beautiful place with polished hardwoods, a small grassy space for the dog to play and a spiral staircase leading to the ground-floor master. All in 800 square feet.
She and her husband have been shopping for a two-bedroom, one they can stretch out in a little, and where her dad and I can actually stay when we visit. It’s a grueling process, she tells me, finding the right fit in the neighborhood they love, something they can afford, that feels like an upgrade, where she can imagine raising a family.
This tiny brownstone, with kitchen and closets, rooms for living and dining, two bedrooms and a bath, is about the same size as our third floor addition, the one she moved into when she was 11. And the rent? They could pay mortgages on two houses here for the same price.
But, I am reminded, this is New York!
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Her first apartment in the city was a third-floor walk-up on the Upper East Side, where the stairwell looked like the setting for an episode of “COPS.” (My husband, who practically had to sell his soul to serve as guarantor for a space she couldn’t afford without help, would never have let her stay if he’d seen it.)
But I’d been with her, when at 13, she professed her love for all things Gotham, after having been Blue Mooned on Broadway by the actors of “Grease.” Nine years later she was living in the midst of it, scraping her way up from the lowest rungs of the PR ladder, enduring boss after boss who couldn’t recognize Southern grace if it stood before them daily. (Which it did.)
I fixed dinner that first night in her new place – spaghetti I brought from home. “That Girl,” I called her then – and her boyfriend “Donald” – both after one of my favorite TV shows when I was growing up. (Played by Marlo Thomas, “That Girl,” was years ahead of Mary Tyler Moore in making it on her own in the big city.)
My “That Girl’s” Donald lived a few blocks away, and that night as they headed to the market for salad fixings and wine, I pulled out the pots and set the sauce to simmer on the tiny stove, imagining myself at 22, having the guts to make such a bold move as this one, not knowing how I would fare.
A few moments into my daydream, a thought: I had, in fact, done this very thing. I didn’t choose one of the largest cities in the world, but moving from a town of less than 2,500 to a city of close to 50,000 seemed like a huge risk. I’d known not one soul in Augusta, Ga., in 1980, except my editor, whom I’d met only two weeks before. But I jumped anyway, hopeful of changing my future, which then felt so clearly drawn. (My own Donald, unbeknownst to me, waited for me at the end of that first day.)
Had my daughter heard that old story and imagined something similar for herself? I wondered.
That Girl and Donald (he is nothing like THE Donald, please note) married on a day well-suited for Southern living, beginning their married lives in yet another apartment, this time a high-rise with a rooftop view. For the past three years, they’ve lived in a pre-war place with tall ceilings and the perfect window to raise the orchid her grandmother gave her two Christmases ago.
That Girl found a better job in a sleek office that overlooks Times Square, and it seems to suit. A recent Instagram post showed them all playing Beer Pong to celebrate the company’s anniversary.
And cashews are for the taking in the staff kitchen. (That would be the end of me.) A few weeks ago, she sent her Dad and me a picture: the stories-tall image of a tall young woman dressed in black, stretched across the Nasdaq tower, after a day when her company rang the bell. Even with a window darkening one of her eyes, I recognized the smile of the child who once occupied our third floor, not surprised, somehow, at where she’s ended up.
Susan Byrum Rountree is the mother of two grown children and the author of In Mother Words, a collection of essays. She blogs at writemuch.blogspot.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.