The lights of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
I moved out of my apartment near Bensonhurst, Brooklyn on Christmas eve of 2013. I’d lost my last ever barista job. I’d missed work because of the migraines I always had. It was also because I lost my temper a lot, which, as it turns out, is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which doctors subsequently diagnosed me with.
I tried to negotiate with my roommate, Shirley, to not kick me out. It was her name only on the lease. I paid rent in cash to her – her caveat. I frequently paid the rent late. Yet I wanted to completely withhold rent. She didn’t understand that she made the apartment unlivable. In retrospect, I believe she was overcharging me on rent. I had my doubts about how much money she could possibly have made working as a diner waitress overnights. And she constantly bought new stuff and crammed it into every available counter, cabinet, floor, surface and refrigerator space. You walked through a maze of her stuff. How could she afford it all?
Lost my cat, Munch, on December something. I never memorized the date. She was my whole family and best friend. I didn’t want to remember how quickly she died after the vet tech put her out of her suffering. They first put a needle in her to give her calm. Immediately her head dropped to her paws. Then came an injection that ended her suffering forever. I tried to wrap her up and hold her after they gave her the final shot, and had to give it up. She wasn’t my warm, alive Munch anymore. She’d gone stiff, and her eyes wouldn’t close. I walked home from the vet with the cat carrier strapped over my shoulder, feeling like an exhausted warrior; feeling heavy guilt. Wished I could’ve kept her from suffering and then having to die on a steel table. Wished I could’ve kept her safe; kept an eye on her. I felt like I abandoned her, and I felt abandoned, too.
Moved out and didn’t tell anyone in my blood family. Hired a queer mover who made my life so much easier. Cleaned. Had to leave my hard-won couch behind. Just had no where to store it. Left it for Shirley. Let her deal with it.
I cared deeply that I owed her money. I also wanted her to rot in hell in that rotting apartment. Why wouldn’t she let me contact the landlord to attempt a payment agreement? Huh? She never told me who the landlord was, or gave me a number or email. Guessed she rented out the room illegally, in some fashion. I mean, otherwise, what could it be? The landlord might have been a real pig or something. Both, I’m sure, are true. Yet, it was within my rights to contact the landlord.
Social Worker Faye Levine at Bensonhurst Jewish Community Center counseled me all about housing and benefits, and even gave me a rent grant. This was all thanks to Amy (darling, darling Amy). Faye said that tenants must get thirty day’s notice before an eviction. So I communicated this to Shirley. She back pedaled; claimed it wasn’t an eviction. Faye also told me that I could stay put, because landlords don’t want to take a tenant to court – it costs them a lot of money. Now, Shirley wasn’t my landlord…
Amy researched, contacted, called, emailed everyone she knew and every agency in New York, I think, to find assistance for me. She lent me money, and then forgave the loan. She must have made phone call after phone call. She’s so good at that. She was so generous with me. She helped me get a hospital bill reduced, too, before I had health insurance. She asked whether or not I’d feel too anxious to get some paperwork together. She found a person in a department at a humongous New York hospital to sit with me and look at my documents and try to reduce my bill. Darling, darling Amy.
I can’t help thinking that Shirley was behind in the rent. She never contacted the landlord for repairs: she hired someone. (I wondered how she paid for it). The repairs, the roaches, the ants? Not contacting the landlord about that? Or the super? The super was a super nice guy. So, what was going on with Shirley? I’ll never know. You know, I investigated on my own, looking for the property owner’s name and contact info. I guess I don’t remember what happened with that.
I felt pretty defeated. I was also busy rustling up my damn food stamp benefits, and trying to get a rent credit from these cretins, and running back and forth to different HRA offices. Ugh.
Also, I was getting unemployment. However, it actually amounted to almost 1000 dollars less than I made at work, including tips. In order to continue receiving unemployment benefits, I had to attend various events and sessions with social workers, and job counselors or whoever they were…I had to be actively looking for jobs, so I did. That was hell.
Applying for jobs which I knew I couldn’t bring myself to do anymore completely blew. I couldn’t wait on customers anymore. It hurt me too much. I would always lose my temper in that environment, no matter how small; no matter how much the customers tipped; no matter how well-behaved I found them. There would always be a PTSD trigger right close to the surface. I would always be experiencing constant panic. I would dissociate in order to work. Then I would go home to whatever room I could find, alone, and order delivery, and eat and eat until I couldn’t feel anymore, and I’d be able to sleep. I’d have nightmares all night and wake up sore all over, usually with a migraine, lightheaded and exhausted. I’d dread going back to that job, but I would force myself to get there and get there every day till I got fired. I would always eventually get fired.
I took a small stand and began to cancel job interviews. I had migraines a good bit of the time, and I would email the interviewer explaining that. I might say something else, for example “I think I would thrive better in a small, quiet environment. Thank you for your time. However, I am going to cancel our interview. Thank you for contacting me and I wish you luck.”
Man, I must have applied to every government and non-government social program that would have me. I worked so hard. And my little Munchie got sick. And I had to watch her die. And then I couldn’t snuggle with her anymore. And I had to go back to this toxic apartment that I struggled for dear life to hold on to.
All of this time period included frantic searches for a room to rent. I broadened my parameters over and over. I travelled all over Brooklyn to see places. Then they wouldn’t get back to me, or they’d say they found someone else.
Then I realized I would be homeless soon.