I was 22 when I finally moved to Manhattan. My parents had scrimped and saved to move my family out of the city, and here I was, moving back in.

"My Sister Eileen": If only I had an apartment, my life would be just as exciting!

I had dreamed of having my own apartment after seeing the movie My Sister Eileen. That basement apartment seemed the epitome of city living to me; I planned on being Eileen, having romantic adventures like being followed home by South American sailors doing the conga. Or Holly Golightly, having sophisticated parties, but in a furnished apartment. It wasn’t until years later, when I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, that I realized that Holly was a different kind of party girl. I may have been naïve, but being single in the city was still my goal.

At the time, I was working in the city, commuting, earning $100 a week. I would meet guys, give out my phone number, even get asked out—until they discovered that I was G.U., Geographically Undesirable. No one wanted to schlep out to Long Island for a date.

I had to move to New York.

So that spring my girlfriend and I went apartment hunting.  Our first day out we found something we could afford. It was on 90th Street, a hike to the subway, but there were built-in bookshelves, and that sold us. We signed a lease, left a deposit, and it was a done deal.  Later on we discovered that facing the back of the building was not as great as we thought it would be. It was dark back there; bottles occasionally went crashing from the building behind us; and people never closed the windows while they were fighting. Or having sex, for that matter.

Next came telling my parents. My mom knew on some level that I wanted to do this, but she never thought it would happen.  At the end of June we were going to my cousin’s wedding and I planned to wait until my parents had a drink to spring it on them. I had told another cousin what I was up to, and she kept egging me on.  She made sure my parents had drinks as soon as the ceremony was over. I took a deep breath and told them I had signed a lease on an apartment. My father walked away. That was how he handled it. My mother gave me her eagle eye and said we’d discuss it . . . later!

We did. For three days. Her arguments were simple: first, I couldn’t afford it, and second, I couldn’t afford it. I presented my budget, which showed that if I had a couple of dinner dates each week and got taken out to lunch by my brother-in-law, I could manage.

Getting married—in The Apartment!

Then came her big gun: Nice girls got married from home, never from an apartment. She mentioned a friend of my older sister’s who had moved into the city, was 28, and was still unmarried. I told her I didn’t care if I got married—I would have a career!

We went back and forth, but on the third day she finally looked at me and said, “You really want to do this, don’t you”? I nodded.  “Well then, you had better do it or you’ll regret it your whole life.” She then proceeded to go through her pots, pans, dishes, and linens, putting aside what she could for me to take.

What a turnaround!

I moved in. Roommates came and went. There were a couple of months when my sister helped with the rent, but I stuck it out, and when I was 28 I got married. In my apartment!!

Years later I ran into my sister’s friend, and she still wasn’t married.

Maybe it was her and not the apartment.

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  • Ellen February 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I loved that article. I remember that apartment. i thought you were so brave. And your dad dealt with everything that way. It’s so your voice. I heard you when I was reading it. When did you wear your hair like that?