I grew up in Manhattan. That is New York City. Not Brooklyn. Not the Bronx. Not Queens. Not any other borough. Just Manhattan. THE CITY. A small island. We lived in a two bedroom, one bath apartment on the 30th floor of a high rise in Tribeca. It faced the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. It was cozy. My mother is good at making curtains and painting and laying rugs so it was always a nice home.
When I was in the fourth grade our name came up for a larger apartment in the complex we lived in. Let me explain, this is how it used to work in New York. Your family would move into an apartment, and if you wanted a bigger apartment you’d have to put your name on “the list.” It could take years for your name to come up – but it eventually would and you could then move into a bigger apartment.
So our name came up on “the list“ and it was a big deal. We moved into a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom triplex townhouse on the Plaza level of the building. Hard to really explain “The Plaza” but it was 3 stories above street level. It was just a little concrete circle of townhouses. The Plaza was awesome. The townhouse was amazing. I had my own room. My brothers each had their own room. It was spacious, and my mother was great at making a house beautiful, so I was living a dream life but didn’t know it.
My younger brother and I played with the rest of kids from the buildings out on The Plaza every day after school and all summer. My mother would stick her head out of the kitchen window and call us in for dinner. We’d ride our bikes, skateboard, roller skate, play manhunt and dodge ball in the cold and in the heat. It was everything childhood should be, and everything childhood no longer is.
I lived in that townhouse until I was 25 years old. I went to NYU, so I didn’t dorm. When I got out of college I continued to live with my parents, and I had to contribute to living expenses. I worked as an actress, so I was happy and able to do that. When I was 25 years old my name came up on the list for a smaller apartment – just for me. So my best friend and I moved across the street from my parents to a one bedroom, one bath apartment. But we converted the dining room into a smaller bedroom, and it was great.
My uncle offered to paint the place for us. I asked him to paint the living room Crimson Sunset, and he painted it Tomato Soup. Wasn’t exactly what I was going for but it was nice. My mother came over and hung curtains and bought me a new bed. My older brother came and installed a rack underneath the wooden cabinets that held a toaster over. Making my first apartment as cozy as my home had been was a joint effort, and I appreciated everyone’s love and support.
I lived in that apartment until I was 28. By this time, I was married and had a child, and we needed more space. So we moved to Jersey City to a 2 family house. It was a side by side deal.
A Greek Family had owned this huge house for many years and had split it into 2 houses. 2 stories, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. I didn’t like it there. I could see the city across the river, and I just wanted to be back home. Back in New York, not New Jersey. I worked hard and spent many hours in BJ’s, (BJ’s is a kinda Costco on the East coast) buying home decor trying to make it feel like the house I grew up in. I think I did a good job but I never liked it there.
Tribeca became the most expensive zip code in the country so there was no way I would ever really be able to go home again. So after I had spent a lot of time in Los Angeles for my career, I decided that if I couldn’t go home then I was going to go far, far away. I asked my husband if he would be willing to give California a chance? August 2005 – the moving trucks arrived and we were gone.
We had friends here in LA who lived in a building in Valley Village, and it just so happened that there was a 2 bedroom apartment available. It was a Melrose Place type of complex, and we were so excited that we had a pool, 2 parking spaces and a shared laundry room – all for $1200 a month. It was fantastic. We enrolled our daughter in the nearest Public School for kindergarten and wouldn’t you know it was one of the most sought after schools in the Valley.
We lived in that neighborhood, in that apartment, for 5 years. I loved that apartment, and it always felt like home. It was flooded with sunlight just like that first apartment I lived in that faced the Hudson River. The surrounding neighbors we so nice and welcoming. It was a great experience.
By 2009 – my husband and I had somewhat of a down payment for a house. I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy a house. We were apartment dwellers – we were accustomed to calling the buildings maintenance men to fix a leak. We had no experience with fixing anything on a house ourselves.
We found a house and by this time we had a second daughter who was 9 months old. We moved into our three bedroom + a huge den with built in shelves, two bathroom house. There was a fig tree in the front yard and a POOL in the backyard. There was a brick fireplace next to the French doors in the living room and a PERSONAL laundry room. My husband gave me a single key that was decorated in the animation Nemo – and said, “Here you go baby. Here is the key to your new house.” It was scary. Could we keep it? Could we afford it? Would it be home to my children? Could I do what my mother did and create an environment that was unforgettable? Should I invest in this place and paint the walls Crimson Sunset and frame and hang family pictures? Was this all too good to be true?
I painted the living room Dandelion. The kitchen Tangerine. The dining room Mint. And the long hallway two tones. I painted the upper half of the wall Cranberry and the lower half Mauve. It was broken up by pretty white crown molding. I made an investment.
Our older daughter was 8 when we moved in and I remember her building fairy gardens in the yard with her friends. We had our baby’s first birthday party in the backyard. We had a jumpy house, and Dora the Explorer showed up and I cooked lots of food. Many friends came, and we took a lot of pictures and it felt like home. It felt like such an accomplishment. It felt like we were giving our children a great life. The American Dream? Really? Is this what it felt like?
BUT – I’m an actress and I was having a hard time getting work after having my second child. My husband was working night and day to pay the bills and on the weekends, he was working on the house … Yard work, pool work. There was not a lot of money left over after the bills were paid, but we kept up hope. In 2012, I landed a sitcom on CBS, with some really heavy hitters, and I was so happy that I would be able to take some of the financial burden off of my husband’s shoulders. I remember when I booked it, I thought, “We can keep the house.” It was one week of thinking that our California Dreams had come true. Until I got fired.
Not for any personal reason. In this industry, we call it, “getting replaced.” They wrote me an email saying that it was “with a heavy heart” that they would not be moving forward with me. The producers felt the role would be better played by “a woman of color.”
From that moment on, it was a race against the clock. Every time, we turned around the bills were due. We needed more money. We needed two incomes. We could not accrue any more debt. By the summer of 2013, three years into owning our home, we were buried. I said, “Let’s just try to sell it.” My husband wasn’t sure. I said, “Before we foreclose or before we ruin our credit let’s just try to sell it.” So we put it on the market and within a month it was sold. To a 70-year old woman from New York whose late sister was a wealthy voice over actress. The sister had left this woman A LOT of money. She wanted the house, and she had cash to buy it. When a house is bought for cash there is no escrow. The property was purchased outright, and we had exactly one week to get out.
We had a weekend-long garage sale. My husband and my brother worked night and day driving furniture, toys and clothes to donation bins and a storage room we quickly acquired. We sold things like our refrigerator on Craigslist and the old lady from New York already had a painter there. He used a flesh colored paint to cover up all of our hopes and all of our dreams. I watched as he flushed my Dandelion off of the living room walls and as my Tangerine kitchen dissolved to neutral. I just stood there as everything became one color – even the pretty white crown molding.
We found a building to take us and our dogs. Because we had to find a home within a week, our options were limited. It came down to a two bedroom, two bathroom second story apartment back in Valley Village.
We heard things like, “It was only a house, you can always buy another one.” And, “You didn’t own it. The bank owned it. You were just renting from the bank.” Yep, that’s all true. Sort of. Nothing made anything better when we moved out of the only home my three-year-old daughter had known. She asked me every night before bed, “When are we going home?
My older daughter asked questions too. “Why did you have to sell the house Mom? I miss my room.”
What could we have done differently? Perhaps it was a mistake. Maybe we made an impulsive decision. I often wonder if there was anything that could have changed this course of events?
The truth is I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I can only tell you that nothing hurts me more than knowing that we created that home for our children and couldn’t find a way to keep it. My mother once told me that when raising children, “consistency” is key. She was right. When children know what to expect and don’t have to question what they can rely on, they are bound to grow up to be responsible adults.
Maybe one day we will have another house. Maybe it isn’t as bad as it feels…The way it feels still, almost two years later.
Maybe there is more to life than houses.
My advice to you would be DON’T SELL YOUR HOUSE. Do whatever it takes but DON’T SELL YOUR HOUSE.
Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Regen All Rights Reserved