Shortly before I graduated college, I bought a pair of salt and pepper shakers at a Target in suburban Long Island. I pictured them on a round, white table in a modest apartment. I told myself I would keep them in the box until I had a kitchen that was mine.
Seven and a half years later, there is a shallow, rectangular storage bin on the floor of the closet in my childhood bedroom. Inside is a collection of items I’ve long pictured in the Brooklyn living space I have yet to sign a lease on. Off-white mugs featuring faded fruit motifs; ivory-colored salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like owls; extra Moleskine notebooks, for when I’ve filled the others.
Without realizing it, I grew accustomed to this sort of waiting. The purple paint on my bedroom walls antagonized me for years. The color was a compromise my sister and I had made when we shared a room; and when she moved out, it seemed a waste to change it. I was leaving, too.
The idea of investing time and money in changing my current space when my goal was to find a new one did not make sense to me. As a journalist and part-time barre instructor, my funds have been limited even in my most prolific periods of work. Professional success and financial stability, for me, are often on separate planes.
It was a year ago to the day that I realized I wasn’t leaving yet. As I drove home from a friend’s house, I realized I would be confined to this childhood bedroom of mine for a while longer. A newspaper on her kitchen counter had informed us of the novel coronavirus no one knew much about. What we thought would be two weeks of quarantining became 12 months — and counting — of caution and claustrophobia.
Slowly, I started to make changes. I painted my bedroom walls a pink-tinged cream, collaged photos as if they were wallpaper, organized my closet and dresser. I sit today at a desk purchased a few months ago, beneath newly-curated bookshelves and beside a recently-erected book tree.
In balancing aspiration and acceptance, I also set out to solve a different problem. Working out and teaching virtual fitness classes with little floor space was less than ideal. Doing so with family members vocal about their frustration with the related sounds proved severely unpleasant.
After a lengthy negotiation, my father agreed to cede the dilapidated backyard shed to me. Its contents included a chicken-less chicken coop, a bag of peat moss for who knows what, assorted shovels, and several red gasoline cans. Rat droppings lined the perimeter and sunlight entered through openings between loose wall panels.
Intent on doing all of the work myself, I was disappointed to find that research confirmed my parents’ concerns about working around rat droppings. I hired someone to remove the miscellaneous items from the shed and deconstruct the chicken coop, then an exterminator to spray the space with alcohol. And then the space was mine.
Alone, I painted the interior walls the same barely-pink color as my bedroom, then rolled beige over the exterior. I hung string lights meant to complement rather than drown out the natural light that comes through a small circle-top window. My dad helped me to install a wooden ballet barre at the hip height specific to me.
On a rainy day in October, I drove to a warehouse in Queens to buy flooring from a martial arts supplier. In the wake of a pandemic-induced rush to buy home fitness equipment, weights were hard to come by. Over the course of several months, I collected dumbbells, amassing them slowly in pairs.
I brought in the freestanding heavy bag I’d ordered before I had a place to keep it, nailed loose wall panels into their rightful positions, hung mirrors for form checks. I added a small rope storage bin to hold boxing wraps and equipment that might otherwise roll away. The walls are clean, save for a vertical row of my own framed photographs and a five-inch pair of gold ornamental boxing gloves.
Most mornings, I move the clay flower pot I use to seal shut the crooked doors I haven’t yet repaired. There is quiet as I enter the space, take off my shoes, step onto rubber martial arts flooring that looks like wood.
Once inside, I have largely escaped external stressors and feedback. Instead, I catch my own eyes in the mirrors behind the barre. It is only my voice now providing critique, and it is my choice what that sounds like.
The wood ceiling wears the white splotches of a partial paint job. I tell myself that it’s an artistic choice, but lately I wonder whether I’m afraid to finish. Once I do, I don’t know what comes next.
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