Discovering Delight in Nonattachment

How hopskotching through sublet apartments in Brooklyn helped one woman tackle her detachment issues.

| January/February 2013

I wept when my husband and I had to give up our apartment in Brooklyn so I could go off and teach at the University of North Texas. My landlady simply would not let me sublet. “I’ll pay a year up front!” I pled. (So what if I risked my savings?) “I’ll let you approve the subletter!” (Surely we could find somebody on whom we both agreed.) It frightened me to have no home in the city in which I’d grown up—as if I’d become a stranger to myself. But the landlady was adamant: No, no, and no. She needed direct control of who lived in her building.

All that final summer I walked around the neighborhood, morose. Goodbye, fruit market on Atlantic Avenue, where sunset-orange mango chunks and beds of ruby pomegranate seeds gleamed, raising my spirits on difficult days. Two of my literary heroes had written about this roaring, ragtag thoroughfare. Frank McCourt lived for a year right over Montero Bar & Grill after his first marriage broke up. He’d both hated and loved the place. His apartment pulsed with music and seemed a shameful spot for a schoolteacher to live in, but the bar did have its charms: one need never be alone. And here was Montero still, with its creaking blue neon sign, its dusky interior.

And the nature writer Edward Abbey, on the very first page of Desert Solitaire, talked about the docks at the end of Atlantic Avenue. The fact that two of my favorite authors had referenced a street in my neighborhood made me feel a covert affinity with them, a secret strength—if they could find success despite real limitations, so could I. Oh, I did not want to give up this place! I was a mess that August day when the movers hauled my possessions down the stairs.

“But you can sublet places on Craigslist!” said my friend Sally, during our goodbye supper. “Sample other parts of the city during winter and summer break. It’ll be an adventure!”

I sighed. What a Pollyana! Didn’t she understand it was change itself I most disliked?

Yet Sally was right. For the past four years I’ve been the vagabond queen of, hopscotching Brooklyn. And the adventure has been wonderful. While I live in each apartment, I study what it has to teach. I read its books, eat the food on its shelves, and consider the perspective from its windows.