When my mother and I moved into our apartment in Queens, I remember standing at the door, gawking at the space. The popcorn paint on the ceiling and walls were crumbling off, there were cracks splattered across all sides of the room, there was literally a hole in the wall like you would see in cartoons where the rats went in and out, and it smelled like something illegal had occurred there. But I bounded inside, stretched out my arms and hooted, “LOOK AT ALL THIS SPACE!”
See, that’s the great thing about children. You can take them to the most dank, strange places, and they immediately latch onto the few things about the place that makes it magical and wondrous. I sprinted through the apartment and touched everything, poking my head into every room and complimenting something about it that I loved: “I LOVE this closet!” “I LOVE this broken door!” “I LOVE my new pet rat!”
That place was awful, and totally unhygienic for any human being. But it was all we could afford, and it was home. I probably had some of my best memories with my mother in that apartment. There was no electricity for a few months too, so we invested a lot of money into buying electric lanterns and candles. You know those corny scenes in the movies where a girl walks into a room and her soon-to-be-fiancé has littered the entire place with softly-lit candles? All the ladies always gasp at those scenes, but I smugly think to myself, “I HAD THAT! EVERYDAY! FOR MONTHS!” Yeah, that’s right.
Our apartment was D-7. And right above us in E-7 lived a pair of the rowdiest twins I ever met in my life. They were the Weasley twins (from Harry Potter) come to life. Every prank in the book was executed perfectly by them, and they were masterminds of making people feel miserable, embarrassed, and infuriated all at the same time. But they became my brothers, and I had a lot of fun with them.
Almost on a nightly basis, I would clamor out the fire escape and sit on the wobbly steel stairs outside our kitchen window and produce bird noises, wherein the twins would appear right above and we would swing around like monkeys. They were the ones who taught me how to shoplift a candy bar from the local liquor store, gave me my first drink of whiskey, and ignited my thrill of attempting daredevil stunts just to show off and prove my bravery. Bad influences, yes. But there were loyal to the end, protected me severely, and always had my back.
They also had a devil-in-residence, incognito as a furry white cat. I was playing with that monster when the twins thought it would be hilarious to yank her tail, and what came out of that was her claw marks all the way down my chest and I was rushed to the ER. My scars have disappeared since then, but I remember coming home from the hospital and all of us prodding my bandaged chest to see how much it would hurt me. I would howl in pain every time, but I would immediately giggle as they hugged me for my courage, then proceeded poking again. Reckless children, all of us.
But that’s how it really is. Even though there’s pain and there may be some blood and tears, we’re reminded of why we’re in relationships with people through the affirmations and encouragement they provide, and all that hurt just turns out to be a balancing act for the reality of how difficult loving people can be. It’s the tough commitment that both parties choose to partake together.
Amidst my unfortunate lifestyle, I recall those twins with fondness, and I’m thankful that they were there to teach me about loyalty, protection, and family-like bonds.