Issue No. 19 • Spring 2018
One month. That’s how long Madelyn could afford her apartment on 103rd and Central Park West before she headed back the same direction. Four Friday nights in a row, I dragged my listless body up five incredibly steep flights of stairs, before reaching her doorstep, panting to the point of quasi vomitation, and knocking. We would go to art galleries, get smoothies, pass bowls on her firescape. Sometimes, we would get beer, Corona or Heineken, deli sandwiches, or, order Grubhub, and then argue with the customer service people when they wouldn’t let us use our $10 coupon three times in a row, with four different fake phone numbers.
Growing up my mother always taught me to put others before myself. She lead by terrific example: she would never sit down to eat until every single person at the table had food on their plates, she would give out all the things we grew in our garden, like squash, tomatoes, peaches, and figs, to most of the neighbors before we were ever able to nibble at the leftovers. She hardly even went shopping to buy her own clothes. She would wait until the post-Christmas sales, and hope to find something in her size, before putting most of the money she had from that paycheck into a bank account to pay for my college courses. She told me that people needed her help, and that’s what made her a good person. It’s what others always recognized in her.
When I met Madelyn, I was instantly protective over her. She was younger than me, with a little less of an idea of her place in the world, in a big city that was thousands of miles away from her home back in Colorado Springs. We first hung out through a mutual friend at Fordham, and before long, we realized that, slight differences aside, we basically had the same personality: sarcastic and witty, albeit a bit of an outsider complex, with resentment against our fathers. Hers worked for the New York Yankees and was a deadbeat, when it came to both emotional and monetary support (even though he makes more than 5 figures.) My father hadn’t been there to see me grow up. When I made jokes about punching Madelyn’s in the face, I wasn’t so much joking, as I was debating showing up where he worked and navigating my way through the secret tunnels.
When her freshman year ended, she started planning to live off campus for the 2017 school year. She had dreamt about her own apartment in New York ever since she was a little kid. I was also excited. I had already started planning aesthetic decor schemes for this hypothetical apartment. Since I still lived at home, it was the closest thing I had to my own concept of freedom. I fantasized about smoking out the window, having sleepovers and coming home whatever time we wanted, drinking on the living room couch. We made big plans like going to concerts, visiting museums, or maybe stopping by Yankee Stadium to confront the fact that her father never answered her emails or paid child support. We joked about it a lot, but we really just wanted to just show up there and look him in the eye and make him understand what he had been missing all those years. Since her apartment would vicariously be mine too, I felt like I needed to make sure she would be okay living by herself.
From the beginning, times were rough. A week before she was planning to leave for New York, having already signed the lease with two girls she met on the internet, she had to take a leave of absence from Fordham because her mom refused to co-sign her loan.
“Everything is falling apart,” she called me crying one night. “I’m going to have to work full time to try to make this all work out and I’m scared.”
“You can sleep on my couch if anything,” I told her. “Just get here and we’ll figure it out from there.”
After some initial panic, we pieced together that she had just enough money saved to pay the first month’s rent and the security deposit. The first week we were hopeful. She got a job walking dogs, which would take care of pocket change, while I went out of my way to send her links to jobs that I found on the Internet. I wanted so desperately to find her a job that I asked my cousin, who worked at Hallmark, to see if they had an opening there, even though it was over an hour from where Madelyn lived in the city.
By the second week we started worrying. She still hadn’t found an actual job and she knew she probably wasn’t going to be able to afford rent.
“I might have to go back home,” she texted me one day. “I just don’t think I can afford it.”
“I’m going to give you my next freelance check when it comes in the mail,” I said, even though my bank account only had $50 in it.
“No. Nope. You’re not,” she said back, prideful as ever, still convinced that she could save herself when the two of us didn’t even have the capacity combined.
“I don’t need it as much as you do,” I tell her. “And I’m still asking around to find you a job.”
“People like you really make me believe that there’s still good in the world,” she texts back, though in that moment I felt as if I could truly hear the resignation in her voice.
Towards the end of the third week, not even my next check, and her sporadic wages could help us untangle the mess. It wasn’t even my apartment, and I felt as if I had inherited an amassed responsibility. I wanted her to stay in New York where she was happy. I wanted to keep making memories. She had gotten a job as a hostess at this upscale restaurant in Central Park but it was too late; her rent was due. I frantically began searching for cheaper apartments, even suggesting with disdain that she consider moving to Jersey city. I tried to do anything I could, but deep down we both knew what was coming.
I always took New York City for granted. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I never had to pay my way into living a life that was almost solely based on a pretense of indie glamour, factitious importance, or apartments with views. It was a dream I never understood until I started college and actually interacted with people who weren’t born here. I eventually grasped the figurative significance this city had and the fact that it was seen an escape from the mundane, a new beginning, or just a place where someone could brag about “making it.” It was to the point where people didn’t mind skipping their next meal to make sure they made rent, eating on the floor out of paper plates, or pretending they tolerate their insufferable jobs even as the city chews them up and spits them back out. It seemed increasingly like a trap.
The day before Madelyn went back home to Colorado we ate at Dallas BBQ and then played mini-golf in our half-high, half-drunk state. We laughed. We ate one last acai bowl for old time’s sake, and we sat by the pier to watch the sunset. By then, her room on 103rd was all packed up in boxes, ready for the subletter to settle in and make it her own, eradicating any traces of the fact that Madelyn had even lived there in the first place. All that was left in the hallway was the purple box with stickers she had in storage, and two acoustic guitars she wished she would have gotten to play more.
That night, I said goodbye to the deli with the borderline creepy worker who called us beautiful each time we went in, but always gave us discounts; I said goodbye to the five flights I would not miss climbing, staggering, light-headed and out of breath and with my shoes in my hands, because my feet were always hurting. When I said goodbye to her, I swallowed as if my whole mouth didn’t taste bitter with dysphoria.
“I’ll see you soon,” I told her, just like I had said three months prior, when she had gone home for the summer.
This time I was less sure of my words, disappointed more than anything else. We never really figured anything out.
We never went to Yankee Stadium.