Ten years ago this past October I moved into my apartment, or well, our apartment, as I share it with my wife and children. (My wife's grandfather bought the apartment in 1948.) I've lived there longer than any other address where I received mail, showered, stained sheets, or threw plates of cold rigatoni against the wall. Longer than the suburban house cut out of North Carolina farmland where I grew up, longer than my many, many years as a junior in college, far more than my time in anonymous apartments and houses I didn't own, but for some reason, painted the walls sunny mismatched colors, constantly.
I never imagined I'd live in my little corner of the Lower East Side for ten years. A few months I figured, a year or two at most, before embarking on a fellowship to Iceland or a long residency at some remote college. Some dramatic shift, like all those that had come before. But I grew and aged with the apartment. My smoking by a clear glass ashtray in the kitchen, turned to hanging out the window, turned to skulking outside, turned to using the newly-built gym in the basement.
When we moved into the building ten years ago, there were few children. Most everyone was around 700 years old. We knew almost no one in the neighborhood under 500. The shiva notices were posted weekly in the lobby, almost daily in the winter. Followed by households of furniture carted to the basement, or the street. Sometimes ancient photo albums with black and white pictures of smiling toddlers dressed in knickers taken at long gone Grand Street portrait studios. We furnished our home mostly with the discarded remains of other peoples past lives: a bookshelf, a Depression-era wardrobe, a couch, another wardrobe, bizarrely ugly chairs that had never had the plastic covers taken off, uglier lamps. Inevitably, work crews arrived, and then weeks of banging and scraping and drilling, then people under 500 began to move in. We'd catch glimpses of strollers, hear the roll of a tricycle in the hall, encounter the amazingly rare sight of smiling and flushed couples being dropped of by cabs late at night on a weekend.
This winter, as the arrival of our second child approached, after emptying our apartment of its contents, we demolished it. Ten years of accumulation donated or in the trash, and no one had to die. It was oddly satisfying to see the rubble, the detritus, have the walls knocked down, knowing it all would be stuffed in black bags and trucked away. Vanish. Strange, but thrilling. That moment after destruction knowing it would be rebuilt, new, ours. That the past was gone, and I didn't exactly know what the future would look like.