“Not all those who wander are lost.”
My father took his last breath at home. No hospitals, machines, wires or drugs. “I want to die peacefully in my own bed” he said.
We honored his wish and with the help of a hospice nurse, he passed with all of us by his side. Moments before he died, he suddenly sat up and looked each of us in the eye, unable to talk, but acknowledging that he knew we were there.
Then he was gone.
When they came and took his body, I felt a pain so searing, I could barely breath, unable to accept the finality of this enormous loss. I was twenty two and would never see my father again.
Soon after, everything about that apartment in New York City began to feel painful. I now hated the elevator. It reminded me of that fateful last night when I raced to the fourth floor to get to him. I suddenly hated the washer and dryer too, they reminded me of those middle of the night washes I did the week he passed away, unable to fall asleep or focus, I did laundry.
I could barely look at his desk. Everything still impeccably organized. As if he were going to walk in at any moment.
Dad was a writer and his manuscript still sat prominently by his computer with his designated black and gold pen right on top. That infamous pen that never seemed to run out, it had signed my birthday cards, graduation cards, written his articles, notes, journals for so many years–how my father’s signature pen outlasted him I will never understand.
Our family home, on that quiet, tree lined block, changed from a place of comfort, an oasis from the cities chaos, to a glaring reminder of our loss.
As the weeks went on, I felt as if a grief filled tsunami kept crashing down on me, knocking me back, as I gasped for air, “you will never see your dad again” played on loop in my head. I knew I needed a change. I was restless, craving something else…wanting to disappear a little.
My step-mother decided to move–being in the last home they had shared together was really painful and exactly one week after graduating with my master’s degree, I moved across country to Los Angeles. A friend and I made the drive from NY to LA, stopping in many places along the way. With no set agenda, we were free to roam about small towns in Iowa and Nebraska, bars in Chicago, casinos in Vegas and the mountains in Colorado.
When I finally arrived, California was a welcome escape. I wasn’t really “home” but I was absorbed in a distracting adventure.
I met great friends, traveled up and down the coast, loved waking up in August without the sweltering humidity and writing for hours on the balcony of my Hollywood apartment. My dad was always on my mind, but he became my silent companion on this adventure, each day helping me learn how to live without him.
But as time went on, the itch inevitably returned, I missed the East Coast, my family, my friends and the feeling of being grounded somewhere–I decided I was ready to move back and was forced to begin one of the most dreaded tasks–looking for a nice, affordable place in the city.
The search was daunting. I was beginning to feel as if I would never find my new home. I subleased an apartment for the first few months I was back and despite that colorful place in Hells Kitchen, it wasn’t quite “home.”
I scoured apartment sites and Craigslist, but most of the ads were dead ends. Apartments advertised as “large and sunny” were dark, dreary shoe boxes. Or in the wrong location, or way overpriced, or to long of a commute to work. There was the apartment on West 55th Street with the sleazy super who shut the door and then proceeded to hit on me, the dingy, moldy smelling apartment that looked like someone had died in it–the search seemed endless.
Feeling frustrated, one morning before work I flipped on the computer and saw it. An ad for a “sunny, open design, apartment a few blocks from the park.”
When the broker told me the address, I quickly scribbled it down as I hurried to get to work and didn’t realize at first that the building was on my father’s old street—right across from his old apartment.
In some cities this probably isn’t that unlikely–finding a place on the same street that your family used to live, but in NYC’s massive, fast paced, never stopping, good apartments go in seconds, real estate market, this is virtually unheard of.
That Saturday, my then boyfriend and I went to see it, but as we got closer and passed my old favorite brunch spot, Annies, where my dad and I ate on Sundays, the local market where we bought our favorite sourdough bread, Carl Schurz Park where our playful dog, Chloe, kept us outside for hours, I began to realize for the first time in years, I felt something different. Our old home and neighborhood was no longer a painful memory, it now felt comforting and inviting.
Almost as if my dad was trying to help, subtly steering me back to our tree lined street.
When I walked in, I knew this was it. It was sunny and open, with an amazing brick wall fireplace. As we left, my boyfriend commented “Now that’s the kind of place you could really call home.”
If finding a place on my dad’s old block wasn’t unusual enough, the next part certainly was. The landlord, after hearing about my connection to that street, lowered the rent.
Now that is unheard of in NYC.
Two weeks later, I moved in. Whenever I walked by my dad’s old building, I instinctively looked up to that fourth floor window, where his bedroom once was, and felt his presence surround me.
After a tumultuous few years, a painful loss and two cross country moves, I was finally home.