Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Apartment

It's not impressive inside. Three small bedrooms, three tiny bathrooms. A galley kitchen with 50 yr old cabinets and no dishwasher. A long living room/dining room. And that's it.

But it's on the 21st floor, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. You can see the Little Red Lighthouse, beloved icon of my childhood, from the windows. At night, the bridge is a glorious string of lights shining on the water.



It's a neighborhood in transition. Not long ago pretty much everyone in the neighborhood was black or Hispanic and the crime rates were high. You occasionally heard gunfire at night. Now the rich hipsters are moving in and taking over.

For 40+ years my in-laws lived in this apartment. From that small kitchen came the miracles of Nanay's cooking, the rich smells of her baking. My husband and his brothers crammed into a small bedroom with bunk beds and filled the house with their sounds. My sister-in-law grew up and got married, but her small daughter came to stay for long periods.

One by one, the boys grew up and moved out. But at holidays the chaos resumed as everyone gathered  at the house. I married the Man, and it became the place of my Christmases too, and soon it was my own daughter spending holidays and vacations in the apartment with Nanay.


And then Nanay was gone, and the family began to come apart. But we still gathered for Christmas in the apartment, shared food and laughter and family.

Then Tatay, failing ever since Nanay left us, could no longer live in the apartment. My sister-in-law, now the family matriarch, made arrangements to move him down here to Virginia, to the house where he was to spend just a few more months with us. Our cousin, who had lived with the family since coming home from the Vietnam war, made arrangements to move to Buffalo, near where my oldest brother-in-law had relocated.

And the dismantling of the apartment began.
The Man and his sister made multiple trips. At Christmas, SC and JR and I went to the apartment for the last time, to say goodbye.

Tatay left us a month ago. And today the Man said goodbye to his childhood home forever.

I'm not a believer. But somehow I hope that there is a heaven.
And I hope that in Heaven there is an apartment high above the Hudson River where you can stand at the window and watch the lights of the GW Bridge blaze at night. An apartment which smells sweetly of freshly baked bread and of tea rose perfume.

Even if it's not there, it's here with me. In Nanay's steel mixing bowls and her wooden spoons. In her picture on our wall. In the faces of my husband, my daughters, my brother-in-laws and my sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews.

It's here with me.
And I feel so lucky to have been there.

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