is a 28-year-old English major at UB currently in her Sophomore year. She's always loved reading, and more recently has discovered an enjoyment in writing about the simplest moments of life that also hold a kind of everyday loveliness. In the future, she wants to be an editor for a publishing house, ideally in children’s literature. To that end, she interned for the Buffalo Spree last summer and had the opportunity to publish a few articles. Other favorite pastimes include art (both making and viewing), music (mostly classical and BTS), and spending time with her sweet 4-year-old, Maryam.
A Slice of Life
My name is Taya Park, and I am losing my mind.
You know, normally— normally, I’m an averagely level-headed person. I’ll think more than twice before buying that gorgeous blue coat that is way too expensive for my budget, I’ll keep my cool in the face of my five-year-old refusing to eat her Cheerios after asking for the same cereal less than a minute before, and I’ll even try to be magnanimous about an asshole cutting in front of me on the highway.
But today. Oh, today. Just one (admittedly large) branch thrown in my path and I’m caught unaware, floundering in confusion.
Of course, what makes everything feel exponentially horrid is that I’d thought I’d finally found my place in life, without looming crises or nagging worries. I’d gotten Charlotte into the kindergarten I'd wanted and figured out how to manage her schedule along with mine. I’d reached a point in my career where I felt stable enough to save consistently while also being able to indulge in little luxuries, like going to see BTS in concert. The mess with the ex had been over for a while now and I’d started to come out from under the shadow of that burden at last. I could come home with Charlotte every afternoon and feel at ease. Everything seemed to have aligned into place for me at the tender age of thirty-two, and I was cautiously content, if not blissfully happy.
And now it looks like everything will have to change, and it’s because the landlord of our apartment building wants to raise the rent.
After a rare slow day at work, I’d picked up Charlotte from her after-school daycare and gotten home to see the notice tacked onto every apartment door. I just stood and looked at it for a full minute before the words registered in my brain, and the reality of it didn’t hit me until I was sitting with Charlotte eating dinner. As I stared at the roasted potatoes on my plate, the dawning realization of how this would affect our lives seemed to overcome my senses, and it took every ounce of willpower to finish the evening in relative normalcy until Charlotte was put to bed.
Now I lie awake next to my daughter’s sleeping form, staring unseeing at the shadowy ceiling as my mind struggles to turn up plausible ways I could try to make this work, and my heart tries to overwhelm me with how everything is going to go wrong.
That gets tiring quickly, so I do what every first-world millennial living in 2019 does: I grab my phone and Google It™. An article catches my eye.
“How to Respond to a Rent Increase Notice.”
Okay. I scroll through, mentally considering each option. Negotiate? Maybe if I was living in a smaller building. Considering the mass handout of notices I saw on my way up, this is a well-thought out plan of action, and negotiation won’t be of much use… I frown and shift to my side, rearranging my clothes and pulling my quilt over my shoulder.
The next two options are accepting the increase or moving out. The natural advantage of accepting over moving is saving myself from the whole moving ordeal— first finding a new place, then the process of packing everything up, and then actually moving— not to mention the expenses of moving itself. It’d also take at least a month to get all this done, so add in disruption of our calm and mundane routine. I blow out a silent sigh.
The article says that leaving would be better if I’d been wanting to move anyway (duh), or if the rent increase makes my rent more expensive than those of similar units in the area. I scroll some more but that’s all the relevant information there, at least for my situation. My eyes start drooping when I scroll through the search results page again to check out a few more sites, so I put my phone back on charge on the nightstand and roll around to face my daughter. She’s sleeping deeply, little face peaceful in the nightlight’s dim glow.
I smile at her, snuggling into my pillows. Sleep steals over me as I think about all the research I have to still do before making any decisions.
“See something you like?”
I snap my gaze up at the teasing tone to see Leah grinning at me from the cubicle across. I laugh and shake my head.
“I wish. This rent thing has me so anxious that I can’t concentrate and keep spacing.” I stretch back in my chair as I talk, locking my fingers overhead. “The dumb thing is that I need to finish up this project so I can actually sit and think about the problem, but I can barely go five minutes before I’m spacing out again.” I make a face, and Leah laughs.
“Weren’t you almost done with the project, though?” She twists a curl of hair with her pencil, eyebrow quirked. “You were saying you just need to review and maybe add some finishing touches, if necessary, wasn’t it?”
“You see my problem.”
“Dang.” Leah pokes her chin with the eraser of her No. 2 for a second before pointing it at me with a flourish. “It’s your lucky day! Miss Leah Abbott here will serve as your fairy godmother and take care of your project so that you may stress properly.” She finishes with a curtsy and grins widely, teeth bright against her still-going-strong summer tan.
I can’t help but laugh again (it’s the Leah effect) but tell her that given she doesn’t know much at all about the project I’ve been working on, it’d be best if she didn’t do the final checkup. She winks and lets me know it was worth a shot against my perfectionist tendencies, before going back to her own work. I’m left to my own thoughts again, but this time I find I can reign in the anxieties long enough to finish the minor task I had trouble with all morning. Leah’s diversion had been useful in waking me up and getting me on the task, at least.
A half hour later, I stand and stretch out my shoulders and legs, completely this time. It’s been a long morning, but I’ve finally finished the pressing tasks, project sent to my supervisor. Time to mull over my options for the home situation. I glance at my watch to see it’s almost 11:30, so I call out to Leah that I’m going for up for some air. She shoots me a thumbs up in response as I walk to the stairs.
The air up here is bracing, and I inhale deeply and look out at the city sprawling out around me. It’s a familiar sight, and there’s some comfort in that. I lean against the railing, pulling the sleeves of my sweater over my hands. That cool air lifts away any residue of bleariness that had remained, and I can think clearly.
There are two options, really. Either I stay and pay the increased price, or I look for a new place. Even entertaining the idea of moving makes a headache hover. I think of how I’ve settled in nicely with Charlotte in our current apartment, the little things I’d gotten to make it home— like the pair of tiny prints of the sea I’d bought on Etsy last month to put on top of the bookcase. I love looking over at them from the reading chair.
The wind kicks up a little, stirring the hair at the nape of my neck. I straighten and comb back the tendrils of my bangs with my fingers, face relaxing into a smile of sorts.
I’m going to stay.
I text Leah about my decision going down on the elevator, so I’m unsurprised when she jumps up to give me a hug when I get back to my desk. I grin as she lets go.
“It’s not that big of a deal, Leah,” I tease, sitting down.
“Oh, please. You should’ve seen your face before you went up to the roof! Plus, decision-making in adulting is hard.” She smooths her silky skirt as she sits and crosses her legs. “I’m proud of you, my friend.”
A rush of genuine affection warms my smile this time. “Thanks, Leah.”
I tell Charlotte about the whole thing on the bus ride home, my arm around her shoulders. Even though she’s just five, I like to explain to her what’s happening in any aspect of our lives, in a form that is manageable for a child. She listens, peppering my simplified summary with curious questions (“Why do people want more money?”), until I finish by saying nothing will change, and I’ll just pay a bit more every month.
The bus rolls to a stop at a light, and I see Charlotte making her questioning face again, with her dark brows furrowed and mouth quirked to one side. It’s the face she makes when she’s trying to figure out how to phrase a question, so I wait.
She looks up at me, warm brown eyes meeting my gaze. “Is it going to be a lot of money? I mean, like,” she shifts her gaze, thinking, “like, we can still buy stuff, right?”
The din of the passengers on the bus and rush hour traffic in Manhattan goes quiet and I can’t speak for a moment. But Charlotte’s still looking at me for an answer, so I focus my vision and pull myself together. Drawing her closer to me, I reassure my sweet girl that this would not affect our quality of life in any way. She nods easily and looks out the window, content with the world again for the moment.
I exhale softly in a half-sigh. This is parenting, I suppose, where you want to shield your child from life’s unlit parts yet must prepare her to be able to face it all, on her own. I’m glad to be the one there for Charlotte, though, always.
I glance at her little dark head bobbing along to someone’s peppy ringtone, the late afternoon sunshine limning flyaway wispy strands of hair in gold. She must feel my gaze because she turns back to grin up at me, perfectly happy. The love of my life, this small girl is. I drop a kiss on her head, and she snuggles closer in turn.
Charlotte skips through the lobby to the elevator, humming the tune she’d heard on the bus. Must’ve gotten stuck in her head— it was pretty catchy. I get out my keys to check the mailbox, calling out that I’m doing so. As I flip through some junk mail and a couple of bills, I hear her walking around, then pause. I look around as I drop the junk mail into the recycling.
Charlotte’s looking up at one of those rent increase notices, this one on the bulletin board in the lobby.
“What is it, honey?”
Charlotte startles slightly. “This is that notice, right, Momma? It’s the same color as the one on our door yesterday! Light blue.”
I nod. “That’s the one. It says they’ll be increasing the rent right here…” I skim the notice that has been haunting me, then stop short.
Slowly, I move my eyes back up. I stare at the number. Then I stare some more.
Charlotte nudges my side. “Momma? What’s wrong?”
“Hold on a second, Char….” I pull my phone out and tap the numbers into the calculator app. 2% of 1700 equals… 34. I stare at that number, then burst out laughing.
“Mom! Mommy, why are you laughing? What’s so funny?” Charlotte stands on tiptoes, trying to see what the source of hilarity could be.
I swing her up and squeeze her tight, then draw back to see her smiling uncertainly. I laugh and kiss her nose.
“It’s only a little bit of money, darling girl. I was worrying so much! And of course no one likes paying extra money, but I definitely didn’t have to think about moving.” It certainly warranted annoyance at having to spend that much extra every month for services already in use and did bring forth the issue of possible future rent increases, but for now, it was not as huge a problem I had thought it to be. Certainly nothing to lose my mind over.
Hah. I hug Charlotte again and she presses her cheek against mine, happy for my happiness.
Once home, we both freshen up and I get dinner going in the Instant Pot, then get out some raspberry danish pastries to snack on and go over to the couch. Charlotte’s already there, a pile of picture books next to her and her silver Frozen throw blanket arranged around her legs.
“All ready?” I put the plate down on the coffee table and reach for my own book.
“Yes I am! You can read me the conductor music book first today. And then I’ll read by myself!”
I chuckle and make an affirmative sound as I get my book from the bookcase, and the lamplight glints off of a picture frame. I look at the pair of tiny prints of the sea standing side by side, gaze lingering on the strokes of the waves, serene blues in one and sparkling gold in the other.
“Are you ready, Mom?”
I break my gaze and plop down next to my daughter.
“I definitely am. Let’s get reading— oh, you want a danish first?”