The room reeks of urine. The wooden floor is ashen and weathered as if it had been neglected for decades. It looks nothing like the lacquered mahogany spread throughout the rest of the three-bedroom apartment. For some reason I feel like laughing. I’m tickled by my own boldness, to take this leap into the unknown only to find myself standing in a room that smells like pee. Outside the threshold, Daniel and Rebecca share a chipper mien as if the acrid smell surrounding us isn’t stinging their noses too. Maybe they’ve become used to it and don’t notice it.
Rebecca gestures to the few furnishings inside: a vintage wooden vanity with a large oval mirror and too many drawers and a flatscreen TV. In the corner next to the rectangular window is a boxed up inflatable mattress.
Rebecca says they’re on their way to a yoga class in the city, which means Manhattan, and that Cathy and I are welcome to come. Cathy looks hesitant and I’m thinking about how odd it is to do yoga at six in the evening. I politely decline with a nervous laugh. I’ve just met these people for the first time in person and my social awkwardness is breaking through. Cathy looks relieved. Rebecca’s husband Daniel tries again. He says they’re throwing a party later that night at some hotel downtown and that we should come. Cathy looks nervous again, but this time I’m intrigued and accept his invitation. Despite having been on a plane for the last eight hours, I’m energized.
After they leave, Cathy pulls out a tiny bottle of lemon essential oil from her luggage and starts flinging droplets in every direction like holy water. The room now has the scent of sharp citrus and dog pee.
I think about the hyper Pomeranian and stuck-up Shiba Inu that Rebecca and Daniel own and if they’re to blame. Regardless, I’m not as bothered as one might be. All I can think of is that I made it to New York City on my own. I’m actually here, albeit in the Bronx. At the moment this realization sinks in, Cathy remarks on how Rebecca and Daniel seem so grown-up. I’ve noticed it too, but I don’t say it out loud. I think it’s because they’re both exceptionally tall. Rebecca is at least five foot eight and Daniel is over six feet.
I have two more roommates. Matt, who is Daniel’s younger cousin, doesn’t have a room of his own and sleeps on the couple’s couch. He has thick, black eyebrows and pale skin which I find oddly attractive. He has a friendly and optimistic way about him and he smiles a toothy grin with straight teeth when he talks. I intuit that he’s used to being taken care of and not prone to worry. Raul is more hardened, almost brooding. His voice sounds aged and raspy which I later find out is because he smokes cigarettes. He’s tall and lanky and tells me he’s Dominican and Spaniard and I don’t know if that supposed to mean something. I know that Daniel is Puerto Rican and Rebecca is Ukranian and that the Black girl completes the ethnic milieu.
Raul tells me in a tone that is both mocking and sympathetic that my room used to be the dogs’ bathroom. He has white female pit bull that he keeps in his bedroom in a giant cage and I wonder why anyone living in a place like New York City would do something so cruel as to own a dog. This admission explains the ugly state of the floors and I take the bottle of essential oil from Cathy and proceeded to empty it all over the room.
Rebecca and Daniel don’t work regular jobs. They run an online fashion magazine called Fashion Indie and I’d been a contributing writer for the past year. I’m impressed and a little jealous by the fact that they’re able to live comfortably in a place like New York City while running a small independent company. That they work from the comfort of their home on candy-coated MacBooks seems unreal, like something out of a millenial HBO series.
When I e-mailed Rebecca several months earlier telling her I wanted to move to New York, her response surprised me. She said they had an extra room they could rent to me for $300 a month in the Bronx and that I could move in anytime if I was interested. I immediately started putting away chunks of my paychecks from the YMCA and prepared to leave California for good by the end of the summer. I land at LaGuardia Airport with $800 to my name and my closest friend from college who decided to tag along.
They’re throwing an event at the Soho Grand Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Cathy seems anxious while we get dressed, over-analyzing what she should wear. I put on a black mini shift dress that I bought from Macy’s and some drop gold earrings that Cathy gave me. It’s something a grownup would wear.
Inside the hotel are two ornate marbled staircases that lead into a dim alcove. The leather sectionals are filled with stylish and sophisticated-looking people. The air is heavy with expensive perfume and liquor and animated adult conversations. The music is loud, even though only a few people are dancing in the small open space. Cathy and I are sharing a love seat and we remark on how it all feels so adult, nothing like what we’re used to back in California. The hours of bumping and grinding with boys in basketball jerseys and t-shirts while drinking overpriced syrup laced with alcohol from plastic cups is so far away.
I see Daniel and Rebecca schmoozing nearby with colleagues and friends. Rebecca is wearing a tasteful designer dress that was probably gifted from a PR company. Daniel looks dapper in an expensive-looking fitted blazer over a crisp button-down and dark denim jeans. They move with the ease. They speak the language. They exude maturity. I try and do the same even though I get the feeling that everyone I speak to seems more intelligent, more cultured and years ahead of me. But I try my best not to show it.