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  • No Place Like Home
  • Michelle Herman (bio)

I was twenty-one when I moved out of my parents’ apartment and into one of my own, ten miles away (or, more to the point, nine express stops north on the D train). The apartment building I moved into was tiny—a dollhouse of a building—and crumbling, and tilting: if you set a pencil down near the north wall of my apartment, the one wall that had windows (two of them, which looked out on a weedy square of courtyard), it quickly rolled south into the “kitchen,” a shallow alcove housing just a miniature stove and sink. The refrigerator had its own alcove, perpendicular to the apartment’s door (and when I saw the apartment for the first time, I thought there was no refrigerator, because the landlord had left the door open: the refrigerator was hidden behind it). I spent just five minutes there before I told the landlord, “I’ll take it,” surprising myself (not by what I said, but by the way I said it: by my own decisive, grown-up voice—imitating my father, I realize now), and without giving him a chance to respond—to say no, I couldn’t have it, as I was so afraid he would—I had gotten out my checkbook and was writing him a check for a month’s rent and a month’s security. [End Page 71]

It was my first checkbook, and very possibly my first check; it was the first of many times I would channel my father. It was, I knew even at the time, the beginning of my adult life.

I’d started working a forty-hour-a-week job the day after my last final at Brooklyn College, and I’d saved every cent of every paycheck—minus subway fare and the cost of a daily cup of takeout coffee and a buttered roll from the Market Diner on 33rd and 9th—so that I’d be ready for this moment. It had taken weeks (at $164 a week, gross) for me to understand that newspaper classifieds, even those in the hallowed Village Voice, weren’t going to help me find the Greenwich Village apartment of my dreams—that the apartment I was looking for would have to be handed down, solemnly, to someone who deserved it (like the pearl-and-emerald ring my grandmother had given me, instead of any of my less-deserving cousins). But I didn’t even know anyone who knew anyone who had an apartment in the Village. Every single person I had ever known lived in Brooklyn—except for six of those undeserving cousins, and their parents, who had inexplicably chosen to live in New Jersey even though they had grown up in Brooklyn.

And then one morning I overheard a conversation at the water cooler at the scientific publishing company where I worked (a job I had found with the help of a classified ad, and for which I had turned out to be uniquely qualified, as a recent double major in English and chemistry, but which, I had discovered by the end of my first day, I fiercely hated—and at which I had yet to make a single friend). One of the other editorial assistants was telling someone from the art department that he was giving up his studio apartment on Christopher Street to move in with his girlfriend. It was a great deal, too—he hated to leave it and move uptown without passing it along to someone who’d appreciate it as much as he had.

I had to make an effort to keep myself from saying that I was sure I would appreciate it more than he had—he was leaving it, wasn’t he?—and say only, “Hey. Hi. David—it’s David, right?—I’m interested.” A week later it was mine.

And I didn’t just appreciate that apartment. I was wildly in love with it—in love with it the way you love a person. Even when I think of it now, thirty-three years after I first laid eyes on it, I think about it...