In my last post, I wrote about commuting to the city from my partner’s home in Peekskill to do a day of in-house work.
This week my partner, Bowen, and I begin another commute. On Mondays we’ll come into the city from Peekskill to stay in my studio apartment in Manhattan so he can catch the subway to his campus in the Bronx to teach his Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. classes rather than fighting through rush hour on the Taconic. On Friday mornings, we’ll go back to Peekskill so we can be with his teenage daughters, he can help them with math homework, and we can all enjoy movies-on-demand together. Sunday morning we attend a nearby Quaker Meeting for Worship and get ourselves organized to come back into Manhattan again.
Bowen is a professor of computer science, a math kind of guy, and a high-level programmer. He’s got a mind that’s really different from my own. He’s all abstract and super-rational and mostly oblivious to his surroundings. (A touch of the Laputan there, for you Jonathan Swift fans.) I’m off-the-charts intuitive, highly visual, and often too deeply connected to my surroundings.
I’ve lived in my studio apartment in Manhattan since 1973. It’s at the top of five flights of stairs and has two north-facing windows. When I took it, I thought, ‘It’s dark and small, but I’ll only be a here a year or two.’ What I didn’t factor into my figuring was that the apartment is rent-stabilized (meaning the rent can only be raised by a small percentage each year). As the years went by and unstabilized rents rose much more steeply than my freelance wages did, the apartment became more and more precious.
Then three years ago, Bowen and I became a couple. He worked at IBM-Watson in Westchester County at the time, and that’s when I began living in his apartment and mine. A year ago, after he retired from IBM, he bought the one-bedroom co-op in Peekskill, and while my studio in Manhattan is my legal residence, I’ve gotten used to spending more and more time in the suburbs.
The view is better. Life is slower and easier (as long as you have a car). The Hudson River is a little under a two-mile walk from our front door. We have a balcony where we breakfasted in the summer and I grew flowers for the first time in my life. I’ve sunk into our life in Westchester seamlessly. And I’ve been musing on what it means that I haven’t missed any of the stuff in my Manhattan apartment.
I’m thinking what it means, as we begin spending more time here than we do in Peekskill, is that a great deal of that stuff is about to head to the thrift stores and the trash! A new method of de-cluttering? Move away for several months and see what you miss.
But what I’m also musing on is this: Where do I live? Do I have a home? For decades I was centered in my studio, my artist’s garret. I felt a great sense of accomplishment at having created a happy, independent life for myself, running my freelance proofreading business, enjoying the city, and delighting in Central Park and the birding community I discovered there.
Now, this garret, this center of my solitary life, is becoming our weekday pied-a-terre. How much energy will it take to make it ours instead of mine? What has become of my solitude? Was it something I truly needed? Or was it something I found a way to make a life with from necessity?