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Sunday Soliloquy: Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent March 14, 2010

Painting By Alice Neel - Westreich Family

For sometime now I have been sporadically posting. I should share with my readers that that I suffer from panic/anxiety disorder.  The condition cropped up when I was living in New York, triggered by September 11th stress and the death of my beloved Dalmatian- Paloma.  Afrocity thought she knew how to cope. She handled homelessness, starvation, September 11th…Why should the death of a dog be any different?

It was.

"Last Sickness" by Alice Neel

After staying awake all night with my dog who was obviously having trouble breathing, I fell asleep for one hour.  When I woke up, she was dead. What do you do with the body of a dead Dalmatian in New York City?  I decided to call the veterinarian who instructed me to physically wrap and bring the body four blocks to 75th and Broadway.   My hair was all over my head, dark circles were under my eyes.  I smelled musty.  Must run a bath first.  Must wash up.  The dog is sleeping upstairs.

Then it hit.  A sharp pain in my left arm. Throbbing chest pain, my heart began racing. I was sweaty and faint.  I was gonna die. This is what a heart attack feels like. Oh my God, I am dying.  Call 911!!!

The next thing I knew, paramedics were carrying me down five flights of stairs, past a few onlookers. What a beautiful Saturday morning and I was dying.

That day, my heart rate would dangerously elevate four times before the doctors finally decided to dope me up with Xanax.  Before discharging me that evening, the physician gave me a card.  It was for a psychiatric facility.  I had panic disorder and would deal with it the rest of my life.

Why now? Why after all of these years of coping with molestation, hunger, cold winters in Chicago without heat– why would the death of a Dalmatian send me to a shrink’s Eames daybed?

Questions still persist five years later. I  still deal with anxiety, especially when something from the past harasses my present and future.

My lease is ending and I need to find an apartment. The scars of evictions past haunt me to this day, despite my well heeled zip code, my more than adequate income. Despite my good fortune, I am still anxious and at the mercy of young Afrocity and mother, walking the streets with the Chicago Reader classified ads.  We wanted to live on the North Side of the city. With the white people so I could attend better public schools where my classmates did not get pregnant.

Alice Neel, "Nancy and Olivia"

Our being on welfare was a huge obstacle.

Section 8 housing was beneath us. Mother never applied for it. She hated welfare enough as it was.

“Section 8 only puts you in projects with other niggers,” she told me.  “If we want to live in Lincoln Park, we can. We just need a co-signer or someone to give us a break.”

Day after day, mother and I would look for apartments. Levolor blinds were always a draw for me.  It just sounded classy, unlike the newspaper that covered my windows at the time.  Levolor blinds, electric stove, elevator building with a doorman.

That break never came for mother and I.  There would be no co-signer. No welfare moms in Lincoln Park.  We could not afford $500 a month for rent when our check was only $225.

“Maybe if you found a job-“

“Be quiet Afrocity,” she retorted as we sat on the stairs of a brownstone apartment. We were just rejected again. “I am thinking…Shut up and let me think.”

Heat was shining on us. We were getting blacker by the second.  A half eaten bag of Doritos would do nothing for my thirst.   Across the street was a school, white kids were playing on the swing sets with their nannies.  See Sawing up and down without a care in the world. Though I am ashamed of my thoughts then, for a moment I wondered how our lives might be different if we were white.   There would be Levolor blinds,  a father who worked on Michigan Avenue.  I would attend fancy schools and learn to play Suzuki string violin.

“Here is a place on Pulaski and -“

The very mention of the street name “Pulaski” snapped me out of the daydream.

“Pulaski!!! But that is on the West Side you promised we would live where the white people lived this time,” I protested. “You promised me we would live on the North Side with good school and the Levolor-“

“Not this time,” she shook her head. “School is about to start and we need an address. We can take one of the places where we can get a place… You said you liked Oak Park better than Chicago anyway.”

Glass came over my eyes. I put my head down.  She did not like to see me cry.  She never allowed it. Lumps came in my throat.  Envy swelled for the kids in the school yard.  Mother stood up which meant it was time to go.  I left the paper and bag of Doritos on the brownstone steps,  the #72 bus was waiting to take us home.   While I looked out the window, the bus passed through neighborhoods turning from vanilla to coffee, to chocolate.  Within an hour, we were back in the ghetto, defeated again.

As I leaf through home decor magazines today, I see much of the same furniture not through some North side stranger’s window but in my own apartment.  The Levolor blinds of yesterday are now the stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops of today.  I have a real estate agent that helped me find an apartment.  My foot and more is in the door.  Open houses are now offered by private condo owners facing foreclosures.  Beautiful empty apartments once inhabited by slap happy metrosexuals. Others by families who have to move in with their parents because someone lost a job.

“It is cheaper to rent my condo out and live with my parents,”  a woman would tell me.  “…Recently…there have been some unexpected circumstances in my life…It can even be furnished if you like.”

Somewhere in the Bible, there is a verse that says:

The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

-Psalm 118:22

Funny how life works out.  Who ever would have thought that the nappy headed little girl would now get calls from people in Lincoln Park actually needing her.  Needing her to rent their apartments. That once  enviable feeling has now turned into pity. Pity over the foreclosure sales, pity that healthcare is being shoved down everyone’s throat while people are losing their jobs and homes.

Painting by Alice Neel

I still have my own bitter pills to swallow.

Xanax guards me from my nightstand.

The thought of moving yields night sweats and panic.

So what is it like to rent an apartment now?

It is not different than before.

It never will be I suppose.

The fear always moves with me no matter how much I box, bubble wrap and pack it away.

I can find the perfect place with the perfect arrangement of bay windows,  a lakeside view.  Like the place I live now. The place my mother died before she got to see it.  A high-rise in the sky.

Mother never made it to the promised land.

She never got to see me with the blinds.




19 Responses to “Sunday Soliloquy: Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent”

  1. liontooth Says:

    Afrocity, really sorry to hear you’re having a hard time.

    I hope you feel better.

  2. Peter Says:

    I’ll add you to my routine prayers for a little while. I am positive that He knows the person behind the knicknames and, perhaps, His sense of humor will be piqued and He might just give you a little help with the anxiety.

  3. gs Says:

    My parents were destitute refugees. Their bright futures were shredded by the Depression, WW2, and the Communist takeovers that followed.

    I live with the sense that, no matter how well things are going, they might abruptly and completely be ripped away at any moment.
    This too shall pass. Do what needs doing, but be kind to yourself. Take care.

    • afrocity Says:

      The sky is always falling…because it did.

      • gs Says:

        Here’s some harsh comfort:

        ‘Tis five years since, `An end,’ said I;
        `I’ll march no further, time to die.
        All’s lost; no worse has heaven to give.’
        Worse has it given, and yet I live.

        I shall not die to-day, no fear:
        I shall live yet for many a year,
        And see worse ills and worse again,
        And die of age and not of pain.

        When God would rear from earth aloof
        The blue height of the hollow roof,
        He sought him pillars sure and strong,
        And ere he found them sought them long.

        The stark steel splintered from the thrust,
        The basalt mountain sprang to dust,
        The blazing pier of diamond flawed
        In shards of rainbow all abroad.

        What found he, that the heavens stand fast?
        What pillar proven firm at last
        Bears up so light that world-seen span?
        The heart of man, the heart of man.

      • afrocity Says:


  4. yttik Says:

    What beautiful writing, Afrocity. You take my breath away.

    Just know that you are not alone. There are people all over the country who grew up with the ground moving underneath their feet. When you don’t have a firm foundation to build your life upon, there is a lot of anxiety, fear that the sky is falling, fear that the ground will shift, fear that it might all get taken away.

    Of course the instability that is going on in the country right now makes everything so much worse. Myself, I’ve got a garden in and we have chickens for eggs and I’ve stocked up on beans and rice in the pantry. I don’t really need any of these things, but they’re a security blanket. I have survived much worse, so bring it on. My parents did the best they could, with what they had at the time, but this time, I’m in charge.

  5. Alison Says:

    I agree. Your writing is breathtaking, completely unique and free in thought. I wish you well. These are indeed tough times and I fear the movement of the ground beneath my feet as well.

    • Sharon Says:

      Afrocity you are not alone; there are many that revere and admire your talent, intelligence and most of all, courage.

      I frequently visit Chicago / Evanston to see my daughters; and I’m
      always secretly looking for you. I hope one day we may meet.

      With deepest regards.

  6. me Says:

    I’m glad to see you’re okay. continue to take care of yourself. for some reason many people are ashamed of mental health issues and prefer to sweep them under the rug. I think anyone raised poor or in the ghetto should seek some type of talk therapy. God is real and he is there for you. You are never alone.

  7. ozzieaussie Says:

    It is good to see that you can talk about it. I have anxiety disorder. It is not the same as yours. I panic when people start checking out my work or peering over my shoulder….. it still happens… and like you I know that the roots of the disorder happen to be within my childhood. Some things just never go away.

    Good luck with finding another apartment.

    • afrocity Says:

      Ozzie I have found something, thank you. I work better alone as well. You have to have an open mind when it comes to criticism. I try to welcome it as feedback that is good and helpful. However, you also have to consider the source.

      I do a number of presentations and it is interesting that that is not a panic situation for me like it is for many others. I panic whenever I buy something or see my old neighborhood.

  8. Raptor Says:

    Afrocity, You are therapy for many thousands of people! Not because of your childhood but because of your grasp on reality. A survivor, who shares a unique perspective with so many. I have never been to Chicago but have been everywhere else on this planet–and I have seen you there. I look for you here, I see you as the neighbor, as the girl in the doctors office, as the woman in the store. Thanks for sharing.

  9. afrocity Says:

    Thank you all for your continued support. This blog brings me so much joy and all of you are a blessing.

  10. LJSNAustin Says:

    Well, just checking in to read another Sunday heart-rending posting by my friend. Have not been able to keep up with your blog as much as I’d like, but each time I read your writings, you reveal yet another aspect of yourself that I did not know. You are truly that “phenomenal woman” that Maya Angelou wrote about and Ruthie Foster sings about. Hugs to you and best of luck with the new apartment.

  11. LuAnn Says:

    Sorry to hear about your recent low period. I love your blog and send my prayers for your well-being.

    • MissTammy Says:

      Your writing never fails to move me ; I wonder if you fully realize how many people you touch in some way?

      I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains, with no electricity or running water. 30 years later, I am still unable to invite anyone other than my family into my home, and have anxiety attacks if anyone even remotely hints that they might want to visit.

      My home is lovely, (and fully plumbed and electrified, I might add!), but I don’t seem to be able to let go of the hurt I felt being mocked as a child, especially by some of my teachers in town.

      I’m sorry you have been going through this, but am oddly comforted by the fact that I am perhaps not such a freak after all! And if you ever make it to northern Arkansas in the next few years……. it’d be an honor to have you over.

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