I live in a New York space, the kind that’s larger than the apartments I lived in when I was in Bangkok and smaller than the living rooms in houses I used to own. A tiny entryway holds a closet that’s as big as the galley kitchen that faces it. The kitchen itself is the identical twin to the one where my grandmother made instant coffee and heated TV dinners in midtown Manhattan. But while hers had a refrigerator that was tucked under the counter, just large enough to hold a carton of milk and a deli sandwich, my refrigerator is the size of a rock in Stonehenge and lives across from my bed. Sometimes I think of offering it a blood sacrifice. I stack books on top of it instead.

This is the apartment I dreamed of having when I was a teenager, hatching plans to move to my birthplace, New York, New York, center of the universe. That never happened. Somehow Seattle became my home base. It’s where my adult children live along with friends I’ve known for more years than I care to count. It’s a city where once nice little houses could be purchased for $20,000 and people could live on the minimum wage of $3.50 an hour. Almost forty years later, those sweet little houses command a six-figure price and living on the $15.00 an hour minimum wage is a struggle. Seattle has become one of the most expensive cities in the country.

Five years ago the building I’d lived in for years was sold to a developer. When looking for another place, I discovered that I was not only “low-income,” I was right at the poverty level in this high-tech boomtown where the average income was almost three times higher than my own. Although I’d never thought of myself as elderly, I was approaching seventy. A friend told me to apply for low-income, senior citizen housing and I was put on three different lists–with the city, the county, and the Pike Place Market. 

Then I pivoted as quickly as I could. I rented a bedroom from that friend. I moved to Tucson. I came back to that same bedroom and found a basement apartment in a house owned by another friend. I looked at rental sites in different cities every morning and began to investigate the visa requirements of other countries. Cambodia looked like my best bet.

Then covid came along. Not only was I stranded in my own country, I was stuck in Seattle, in a part of the city that was almost rural. Isolation wasn’t the word for it. I couldn’t even visit my friend who lived above me. The sound of her footsteps on my ceiling felt like an auditory hallucination and when her dog came to see me, that was a festive occasion. The internet became my lifeline. Then one morning I received a letter. I’d reached the top of a list that I’d forgotten about.

The Pike Place Market has always been an oasis of low-income apartments in the center of downtown Seattle. From my first visit to this city, I longed to live in the Market neighborhood, with its cobbled streets, its photogenic flower and vegetable stalls, and its views of Puget Sound. Suddenly there I was. Here I am.

Even before stratospheric rents had me scrabbling to keep from being homeless, my life has been nomadic since 1995, when I first moved to Thailand. I can’t count how many addresses I’ve had in the years that followed, but they were in three different countries, not counting the one that issued my passport. After spinning in almost constant motion for 25 years, more than one-quarter of my life, I fell into the heaviest culture shock ever when I moved into this apartment. After furnishing it and living in it for six months, my internal clock told me it was time to move on but covid had other plans.Not only have I not shown my passport to another country’s immigration officials for what seems to be forever, I’ve been on a plane just three times in the past two years. I’ve visited only three other homes in that same time period.

This small apartment that I was lucky enough to find has been my entire world. I’ve become my grandmother, but while she lived that way by choice, I’m still grappling with this new existence. I tell myself nothing is permanent and then realize that the accompanying truth is life is change. The world is changing, this city is changing, and so am I. I look at the walls around me and let myself sink into the comfort of staying in one spot. A happy ending? Could be…