A New Lease

I've raised the horizontal blinds that cover the floor-to-ceiling windows of my convertible studio apartment.  The Chicago River is frozen over, cars on the expressway are slogging in both directions, and the sun is sneaking above the high-rise and loft buildings that complete my view to the north.

A new lease waiting to be approved is on my small Lime Ricky green table. As of April 15, I will have lived here for one year. I settle on a pillow that softens the seat of a wooden chair and start reviewing before I sign on the dotted line.

The view distracts me, so I drop my pen and allow myself to muse over the decision I made just two months after my husband died November 2, 2012.  Elbowing past advice to make no major moves for at least a year, I put our house on the market. And five months later I landed here, in this new apartment and life. Now, as the lease renewal approaches, I decide it's time to review the pros and cons, and changes, which have occurred since that swift transition.

First the pros:

I love my living space. While the views are new, the furnishings are warmly familiar. A dozen paintings that burst our house's walls with color and interest are now hanging in my 612-foot-cocoon. My Kingsbury Plaza maintenance men leveled, nailed, and attached all; one of many tasks they have undertaken with sweet eagerness.

I am typing this essay on a gaunt MacBook Air, which I exchanged for a muscular desktop that would've overwhelmed my Sapphire blue worktable and pint-sized apartment. Instead of the home office I once had, I now work in a snug corner with a built-in bookshelf that holds the few volumes, photographs, mementoes, and supplies I brought with.

I am managing without owning a car. A major change between my former life and current -- other than I'm absent my husband -- is that I no longer own a car. Finances were the primary reason, but also, I can walk to grocery and department stores, am a few blocks from three CTA lines, and can hail taxicabs or use an App for shared rides.

I have boosted my physical and spiritual health.  The East Bank Club is adjacent to my apartment building, so no matter what winter delivered, I've been able to travel underground and work out at least five days a week.

The club has also become my afternoon distraction. At times, my apartment feels claustrophobic, so I return with my laptop to an alternative, people-filled environment. And because, off-and-on, I've been a member for 30 years, I greet many old friends and meet new ones.

I've joined Chicago Sinai Congregation (walking distance) and attend weekly Torah study. Along with filling in the holes of my religious knowledge, membership has brought a sense of community and new friends.

I don't have to worry about home maintenance. When weather forecasters warned homeowners to beware of frozen pipes, icicles dangling from eaves, and sidewalks and driveways needing plowing, I was grateful I was no longer a homeowner.  

And now the cons:

I have made only one friend in my building. In my old Dakin Street neighborhood, I knew nearly every family on my block. I watched kids grow from babies to teens. In my apartment building, which is more like a dorm because of its thirty-something population, I have made only one good friend. She's the age of my daughters, and cares for me and makes me laugh just as my flesh-and-blood do.

I miss owning a dog. Although my building allows pets, and there are many I can coo at, including my friend's bity boy, I pine for a pup. But, the practical me understands I can't afford the extra expense, I'd have a hard time racing to a vet without a car, and potty breaks in a high rise are challenging.

I'm spending too much money.
I think it's a wash between my monthly rent and my former mortgage payment. And, with the absence of car expenses and lower utility bills, it would appear I'm in good financial shape.

But, with the pros I mentioned earlier, like my pricey health club and proximity to grocery shopping (Whole Foods) and department stores (Nordstrom's), I'm finding temptations hard to pass up. Thus, I'm wary every time I face a monthly statement.

Despite the cons I've confessed, I know that if I had stayed put, the traces of Tommy and our Golden Retriever, Buddy, would've trumped all and tinted my mood. I signed the lease. A new year, a new me.